Atlantic Coast Conference ADs stick with 8-game schedule

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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — One of the hottest topics at the ACC spring meetings this week didn’t take long to resolve.

The league will hold steady with an eight-game conference schedule, ACC commissioner John Swofford announced Monday.

The 14 conference athletic directors voted in favor of eight as opposed to nine, with the caveat that teams must play at least one non-conference game against a team from one of the other four “Power Five” conferences: the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

“Our schools have discussed this at great length over the last year or two, even,” Swofford said. “In the last two or three sessions, you could see some consistency in the discussion and where it was probably leading.”

Pitt’s Steve Pederson confirmed that he was one of the athletic directors who voted in favor of sticking with eight games, citing the league’s agreement with Notre Dame to have the Irish play five ACC teams every year as a driving factor.

In years that Notre Dame is on an ACC team’s schedule, that game can count as the team’s “Power Five” game.

“I think it played out as I anticipated it would,” Pederson said. “I think just the logic of it, given Notre Dame’s involvement in it, makes it reasonable to go forward in that way.”

Pederson said he was also in favor of requiring the game against a power conference team. Pitt has a non-conference home game set up against Iowa in 2014 and Notre Dame in 2015. The Panthers also have a four-game series with Penn State from 2016-19, as well as a home-and-home series against Oklahoma State in 2016 and 2017.

“We felt like that was part of the deal with what we want our football program to be like,” Pederson said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a dramatic change for anybody.”

The vote Monday was only a recommendation by the athletic directors, which will be voted on by the ACC’s faculty representatives Thursday. Once the measure passes, which is widely expected, it will become official.

Swofford didn’t characterize the talks leading up to the vote as “debate,” but rather “a thorough discussion.”

One of the main arguments for moving to nine games is to beef up the ACC teams’ strength of schedule, which will reportedly be a significant factor in selecting the four teams for the College Football Playoff.

Some Pac-12 coaches have gone so far as to criticize the SEC, which also recently voted to stick with eight conference games, for not playing a comparable schedule. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, though, argued that fewer conference games simply meant a chance to improve a team’s non-conference schedule.

“You’re telling me that us playing eight conference games, going to play Florida, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame isn’t tougher than them playing nine conference games?” Fisher said. “I don’t buy that at all.”

The ACC also will stick with the current scheduling model of two seven-team divisions with six divisional games, one permanent crossover and one rotating crossover. While this means Pitt will continue to play Coastal Division rival Syracuse every year, it also means Florida State, for instance, won’t return to Heinz Field until 2026.

That gap was coach Paul Chryst’s main concern about the scheduling model.

“In the bigger conferences now, you can’t play everyone,” he said. “Every kid should be able to play every team, but I think everyone identifies the things that everyone wants. It’s how to make it practical.”

Swofford said the athletic directors also discussed the possibility of eliminating games against Division I-AA teams, but ultimately decided against it.

When asked about the possibility of the College Football Playoff selection committee knocking down a team because of games against I-AA teams, Swofford said that was something the league would evaluate moving forward.

“Obviously if we felt like that was very detrimental for one of our schools to play an [I-AA] school, then we might have come to a different conclusion,” he said. “But I think it’s more of a wait-and-see.”


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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