ACC Football Divisional Realignment: What are the Most Important Factors for a Better Divisional Setup?

If the ACC Considers Realigning its Divisions, the Florida State-Miami Rivalry is at the Focal Point

If the ACC Considers Realigning its Divisions, Talk Will  Revolve Around the Florida State-Miami Rivalry

Now that the ACC‘s no longer in imminent peril, everyone can shift away from realignment theories and focus on other things… like divisional realignment theories. While the ACC does effectively have a wall built around its borders, that doesn’t change the issue it’s been having with the on-field football product of late. Due to expansion (both the first and second round), rivalries have taken a backseat to a hackneyed divisional alignment solely meant to match up Florida State and Miami for the ACC championship. Eight years after the formation of the “Atlantic” and “Coastal” divisions, that title game has yet to occur and now, with 14 teams, this nonsensical setup has never appeared more pointless. For the sake of more compelling matchups, as well as improving the quality of all the league’s teams (theoretically, at least), the best solution seems to be realigning the divisions. But what makes the most sense?

First, you have to outline the most important factors for divisional realignment; what are the top priorities if we’re going to blow up the current model and start over? From my point of view, those priorities are as follows:

1. Geography: Rivalries are inherently built out of geographic proximity — something the current alignment largely misses out on. With a league that spans from Boston to Miami, travel costs should also be a consideration to re-work things along geographic lines.

2. Eliminate Crossover Opponents: Under the current setup, each school is locked into six games in their respective division, plus one permanent crossover and then a rotating crossover opponent. With just one flexible slot each year, many schools in opposite divisions end up playing each other just once every six years. While some small exceptions can be made, the rule that every team needs a crossover opponent (since many of these are forced “rivalries”) must go. By freeing up another spot in the schedule, teams face each other more frequently, which is something virtually every fan base wants.

3. Get Teams Exposure in Florida: This is where things get a bit tricky. Getting in front of Florida recruits is a big deal for every school, and a pure geographic realignment largely cuts off the northeast schools from that recruiting hot bed. But if Miami (tons of northeast alums, anyway) was put in a hypothetical “North” division, this largely solves that issue. Every “North” team would have Miami on the annual schedule, while every “South” team would have an annual tilt with Florida State.

“But, but, but WHAT ABOUT THE FLORIDA STATE-MIAMI RIVALRY?!” We’re getting to it…

As you might’ve already realized from that list of priorities, my preference leans toward an altered North/South setup. This is a pretty standard desire from fans, though no one’s entirely sure about the best way to go about it. BC Interruption‘s Brian Favat and I had our own conversation about it in the BCI comments yesterday, and coincidentally, TigerNet’s David Hood also reached a similar conclusion as to the best setup. Over at Tomahawk Nation, the battle is still raging, with everything from eliminating divisions to flex-pods being investigated. While the more creative ideas over at TN are certainly worth a look, I think we’re best served to explore what’s most realistic/implementable. And to me, that means just one setup:


You can change the divisional names in the above graphic (courtesy of BC Interruption) to “North” and “South,” but regardless, the idea behind it remains the same. As I alluded to above, a North/South split with Miami in the North fulfills every requirement outlined above. And as far as rivalries, we’ve got that covered, too:

Partial Permanent Crossovers/Select Permanent Crossovers

Rather than force unnecessary “rivalry” games on teams (hi, Virginia Tech/Boston College), we follow the lead of the Pac-12 and only protect certain games that hold actual significance. So, to me, the “big three” rivalries (and you could even knock it down to two if you’d prefer include: Florida State vs. Miami, North Carolina vs. Virginia and (this is the take it or leave it option) Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech. Every other team gets two different cross-divisional opponents each season, equaling at least one matchup every four years (versus one every six now). Plus, look at some of the annual intra-divisional matchups we’ll get under this setup:

Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

Miami vs. Boston College

Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech

North Carolina vs. Clemson

Excited? You should be. These divisions also open the door for teams to get a better shot at the big-money bowls under the playoff system. Consider: under a setup that splits the best teams into two separate divisions, any conference championship game likely eliminates one of your best squads from BCS/money bowl contention. So hypothetically, if Clemson (11-1) and Florida State (12-0) were in separate divisions and Clemson loses the title game, the Tigers are out of the running for one of the four non-playoff money bowls. But if Clemson beats FSU in that scenario, now the ‘Noles get knocked out of the national championship chase. In the same division, however, an FSU win means a 13-0 playoff team, while an 11-1 Clemson squad still looks good heading into the postseason (Orange Bowl bid likely in tow). Take a look at the Big 12 South, the SEC West in recent years and the SEC East back in the 90s. More often than not, you’re better off having your two best teams from the same division if you want your conference to look better come playoff time.


Any other divisional realignment possibilities you’d prefer? Would love to discuss any and all options in the comments below, as I’m sure there are plenty of other considerations worth diving into.

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42 thoughts on “ACC Football Divisional Realignment: What are the Most Important Factors for a Better Divisional Setup?

  1. John, I’ve looked at just about every possible combination (and posted about a dozen of them on my blog, in fact). This just seems like the best scenario as far as travel miles for teams & fans, heated rivalries, and recruiting territories. I know VT and VA don’t like it, but this is really the best way to go, IMHO.

    • If we go with the partially-protected rivalries, I don’t see how VaTech and UVA are all that opposed, to be honest. Tech would get to keep its annual matchups with Georgia Tech, UVA and Miami, while also rekindling rivalries with Syracuse and Pitt. UVA, on the other hand, ends up in a much more manageable division, plus annual matchups with VaTech and UNC, plus similar universities like Syracuse and BC. There’s also the potential for a rivalry with Louisville, which the Hoos and everyone else should be excited about. Kentucky’s a growing state and recruiting ground, so teams should be glad to get exposure there.

      • Speaking from the VT perspective, the protected rivalries aren’t the sticking point. It’s recruiting. I’m not sure most VT fans care one way or another about Syracuse and Pitt (Sorry, John. Nothing against you or the school). They’re just games on the schedule. And while GT has developed into a nice rivalry since we got here in 2004, I’m sure the coaches would gladly give any of those games up as an annual game if it meant more recruiting trips to NC and FL. The northeast just isn’t a big recruiting area for Tech students or athletes.

  2. As a Virginia Tech fan and alumnus, I’m opposed to a North/South alignment (especially with an 8 game conference schedule) as it means less games in the south. I understand the drive to improve the divisional setup, but there isn’t a good way to do that at 14 teams without upsetting one of the major players in the conference. FSU and Clemson aren’t happy now. Virginia Tech and Miami wouldn’t be happy with the North/South (and I doubt UVA would be terribly happy either). None of the North Carolina schools will consent to having less frequent games against each other in some other system. The ACC is now facing the same problem the 14 team and 16 team versions of the Big East had. There are too many teams with different needs and goals to schedule them all satisfactorily. There are no good divisional setups for the ACC.

    • Tough to make the comparison between a 16-team Big East in basketball and a 14-team ACC in football though.

      While I get the concerns from the Virginia faction, I don’t really see how the Hokies especially get less games in the south. Right now, the Hokies play in Atlanta every other year, Miami every other year, NC every year and Massachusetts every other year. Under the setup above, they’d still get Atlanta and Miami every other year, plus nearly as many trips to NC and a trip to Kentucky every other year. They’d end up facing Clemson more in this rotation than they do now, and like it or not, VaTech would benefit from going to Pennsylvania every other year.

      … Just tough to see how they or UVA are really any worse off in this system than they are in the Coastal setup.

        • I guess what’s the alternative, then? If we’re all in agreement that the current setup is bad for everyone, and the setup I proposed is better but not great, then what’s the “great” setup? We can’t say “nothing.” There has to be a way to put together a beneficial alignment for all involved. If the Hokies don’t join a hypothetical “North” division, that likely means trading them and UVA for two of the Carolina schools. And if you’re going to do that, you end up with virtually the same setup as now, but with a much heavier emphasis on the “South” division.

        • Unfortunately the great setup doesn’t exist. At this point I’m resigned to the fact that the ACC will eventually cave to pressure to follow the crowd and go with a geographic setup and we’ll end up in Big East 2.0 division. It’s a shame the Big-12 proposed elimination of the divisional requirement hasn’t gotten any traction. That’s the great setup.

        • See, if anything, I think the no-division setup is terrible. As I mentioned above, why purposely take one of your teams out of the running for either a big bowl or the national championship? Seems counterproductive. You’d think the Big 12 would know better too, due to how many times it’s lost a title contender due to a championship game loss.

        • The no division requirement (at least from my perspective) is more about the 12 regular season games and their value to the conference members and television partners than a conference title game or bowl games. The revenue from bowl games and conference title games is nice, but the bulk of a team’s revenue (particularly ticket revenue) still comes from the regular season. Any time a team can trade a game with a far flung opponent for a more regional team, it’s a win at the gate. Plus, I fail to see how an extra game against a quality opponent is going to hurt the conference’s national perception. To use last season as an example, FSU/Clemson would have certainly been a better title game the laughable FSU/GT we got or even FSU/8-4 UNC had they been eligible.

      • Plus, in a no division setup with less fixed games, everyone gets a quicker rotation through the entire conference. That means more frequent games in both the recruiting hotbeds of the south and the major media markets of the north.

        • The no-division setup works for an overall variance of opponents, yes, but it’s tough to work that out without forcing some protected matchups on teams for the sake of scheduling. Agreed on the recruiting point, though — there’s certainly something to be said for that.

          In terms of the FSU-GaTech title game, it was actually pretty close (surprisingly). And again, why risk losing out on a team playing in a big money bowl game or playoff? Yes, gate receipts are important, but the league’s waging a PR battle as well. So it’s most important to position its teams for a championship.

        • If positioning for the playoffs is the objective, then I say eliminate the divisions and the conference title game. There are too many losing scenarios for the ACC to justify the slight bump in revenue the championship game yields. You can end up losing National Championship contenders or top prospective bowl teams to upsets (2005: 7-4 FSU over 10-1 VT and 2011: 9-3 Clemson over 11-1 VT), or poor attendance and negative media perception due to non-attractive matchups or repeat matchups (2006: GT/WF, 2007 and 2008: BC/VT).

        • “it’s tough to work that out without forcing some protected matchups on teams for the sake of scheduling”

          That’s no different than divisions.

  3. could put Wake in the North and UL in the South… that way, if VT had no permanent cross-over, we’d play UVA, Miami, Wake, and any 2 of FSU/GT/CU/UNC/Duke/NCSU = 5 games per year in the South and only 3 in the North. I don’t see how a reasonable person can complain about that. (note: you’d probably have to add another protected cross-over for Wake vs.NCSU in this scenario)

    • That switch (plus the protected crossover with NCSU and Wake) works just fine, though I doubt Winston-Salem is really the marquee location folks worried about NC recruiting are citing. Louisville’s got history with Pitt and SU already, plus I think switching the two greatly diminishes the strength of the North. That’s no knock on Wake, but a commentary on how well-positioned Louisville appears for the future.

      • Ideally we’d put UNC in the North w/ UVA, but then Duke gets all jealous… what about a UNC/UL swap, with no UVA cross-over now but with UNC/NCSU protected?

        • Better, but there’s no way Duke/UNC get broken up if UNC/NC State are also broken up. Competitively, it makes sense, but overall, there’s still some kinks to be worked out that are not present in the Louisville/North setup.

    • I like swapping out Wake, but the team that gets rotated to the “Southern” division would have to be UVa. I know its a terrible idea from a competitive standpoint, but the core of the ACC is actually UVa, UNC, Duke, NCST. The GoR is great for now fellow ACC alums, but with each passing year, it protective powers diminishes. Unless of course the ACC were smart and resigns everyone to a new GoR every 10 years like the B1G. But that is a debate for another blog post. I say we keep the core of the ACC happy and put Wake Forest in the proposed “Northern” division and put UVa in the “Southern” division.

      • But then moving UVa creates a need for another protected crossover (UVa-VaTech) and takes Tech out of Atlanta. I guess in my eyes, if Hoos-Heels is protected in this setup, is it really all that bad? — Especially since we’re going for an actual geographic split (save Miami, but that exception’s been discussed).

        • I understand John, but lets be honest, how much of a rivalry is VT – UVa. Its been a decade of dominance from VT’s perspective. If it brings stability to the ACC, I say VT gets to keep its budding rivalry with Georgia Tech and drops the smug jerks from Charlottesville. We bring in Wake Forest and tell them they are making a sacrifice for conference stability.

        • Most of my consideration for that “rivalry” is based on the Va. legislature, really. They pushed to have the teams in the same conference, and pushed to have this game on an annual basis, so that may stand in the way of the move. As far as the Wake-for-UVa swap, though, just don’t see how exchanging those two teams’ divisions is any more or less stable. Seems like a wash, really. As Mark mentioned, Louisville is the important flex here, and the only one that poses a real question (IMO).

        • Agreed with your last reply John and most of it makes sense, but I guess I was looking at the division alignment through the lens of keeping UVa happy so that they don’t get a wandering eye like UMD. As for Wake Forest, yes, they do lose traditional rivalries in my scheme, but Wake Forest has really limited appeal when it comes to conference realignment. i,e, B1G wants UVa but not Wake Forest. Hence, my idea for the swapping UVA and Wake Forest between the two divisions.

          I do believe a geographical divisional alignment would make better sense, but I know VT would not be happy in any northern division.

          Good job on the blog post guys! Really great read!

        • Thanks!

          And yeah, the ACC’s lineup doesn’t exactly lend to a quick fix in terms of geographic realignment, so there’s no perfect way to go about this. Under any setup, someone’s getting “screwed over,” the league just needs to figure out who that may be.

          Agree with you though, if it’s thought that UVa would be serious about leaving, I think making them happy becomes a priority. Switching the Hoos for Wake might also cure FSU of some of those Demon Deacons nightmares they’ve been having for the past eight years… Haha.

  4. The ACC should be pursuing Army to come into the conference along with Navy, leaving Miami in the North until then.

    Then, move Miami back to the South and add Army & Navy into the North for two 8-team divisions.

    • But with the league’s competitive issues, why would they add two schools that would only serve to hurt quality even further? Plus, while I do have the utmost respect for our service academies, what do they add to the league’s bottom line? The ACC can’t just add teams for the sake of it.

      Plus, even if the ACC did add those teams, moving Miami to the South defeats the purpose of this entire alignment. The conference wants to keep FSU and Miami in separate divisions so every school gets exposure in Florida. So any divisional realignment starts with splitting those two up.

  5. Everybody has this thing backwards, IMO… it isn’t about figuring out how to move UVA into the South, it’s about how to move UNC and Duke into the North. If the quartet of VT / UVa / UNC / Duke stay together, it really won’t matter to them who the other 3 are (well, as long as they all get a guaranteed game in Florida every year). Now, if we added 2 more teams, THEN we could have those 4 PLUS Miami PLUS the 3 far Northern teams (BC / SU / Pitt). Until then, it’s a problem because there are 11 Southern schools (including UL), currently split 5 Atlantic and 6 Coastal.

    • But if we’re prioritizing VaTech/UVa/UNC/Duke to stay together, and putting a Florida school with them (Miami) then it’s pretty much the Coastal division. I just don’t see the benefit in keeping them all in one division. The only real rivalry there is UVa/UNC, and that can easily be protected.

      • I was trying to put 1 FL team and 2 NC teams in each division – maybe that’s not feasible. Splitting NC 3-S and 1-N isn’t so bad, as long as the 1-N is UNC.

        • Assuming that’s the Louisville swap, then? Yeah, I could see that working out, though I doubt anyone would go for it. UNC’s top priorities for football opponents are: UVa, NC State & Duke. Under that setup, they’d only be able to face two of those per year.

  6. I have a great idea!

    But I like the proposal of having each team having 3 teams they play every year, NO MATTER WHAT! Their choice.

    Do away with divisions, allow each team to have 3 permanent neighbors/rivals, and then cycle through the other 5 teams each year. The best 2 teams at the end of the year play in the championship game. You can’t predict competitive balance, so why even try?

    This fixes current problems and problems with proposed north/south divisions, such as: (A) not playing certain “neighbors” every year (like FSU/GaTech now), (B) having the 2 best conference teams be in the same division (like FSU/Clemson this past year), and © some teams rarely getting the opportunity to travel everywhere in the conference (such as the proposed “north divison” teams being locked out of the State of Florida).

    Everyone would get at least 3 big games a year (big to them, at least, because it would be their neighbors/rivals), so everyone would be able to sell a LOT of season tickets. This option solves our unique geography problem.

    • It’s creative, that’s for sure. But what do we do about the championship game? No, the league isn’t obligated to hold one, but without divisions, it can’t based on current rules, should it want to do so.

      Under the proposal above, the Northern schools do get to go to Florida every other year (Miami), but I get your point. No matter the setup, you’ll see teams in the opposite division less frequently unless you do away with divisions entirely.

      If the Big 12’s appeal goes through, it probably removes the ACC’s divisions sooner rather than later. But at the same time, why stage a title game between your two best teams, when said game is sure to remove one of your best squads from the playoff conversation? Seems like a less-than-stellar idea for a league with a severe PR problem.

  7. (1) You MUST have divisions – and play EVERY team in your own division – in order to hold a championship game (per NCAA rules)
    (2) There is no rule against juggling those divisions every year or two; so if you could find a bunch of smart guys, you could come up with a plan where the really important rivalries are kept intact, but then little clusters of teams are swapped between divisions every 2 years – that way you play everyone once every 4 years, but the important rivalries every year.

    • See, I’d think swapping would end up causing teams to play LESS frequently. Under the setup I listed above, teams already play each other once every four years. If we just align the divisions with rivals, it pretty much does the same thing, I’d think.

  8. In a two division, 14 team set up this is by far the best set-up. I see people always want to shut down this approach if they are able to point out one flaw. Guess what?? Every set up has more than one flaw. There is no set-up that will please everyone. However, what is proposed is far better compared to what we have now. I get the stigma of the Big East but these teams are not UConn, USF, Rutgers, Memphis… Louisville has a lot of potential, VT and Miami may be from the Big east but they are Nationally relevant programs and Pitt has potential. Add in UVA and you have a good division. Then adding in ONLY relevant cross div opponents and you have several great annual match-ups. Plus schools without a cross div “rival” will have 2 rotating games in the south.
    Its not perfect for UVA/VT but it is the best for the ACC and for its national perception, and that matters.

    • Agree completely. The design here specifically emphasizes relevant matchups and TV-worthy rivalries. The current setup does none of that and actually ends up cutting out compelling games. As you point out, no setup is perfect, but I’m unsure why the league is set on sticking with something that overwhelmingly doesn’t work in its best interests.

  9. where I dissagree with the author is that I think no divisions is the way to go. You can hand select 4 (or 5) rivals for each team… making them all relevant and interesting to a TV market.. With that you would have better TV, more regional focus, avoid annual duds, sell more tickets, and have better rotation with 4 (or 3) rotating games.. You would play every team more often and only your rivals every year. Its a win win for the regular season.

    • That relies on an appeal to the NCAA, though. If the Power Five conferences remove themselves from the NCAA structure, this gets easier and they can determine respective champions however they’d like. But until then, the rules clearly state they must have divisional play to have a conference championship game, with an emphasis on inter-divisional play over cross-divisional play. The Big 12’s appeal to hold a title game with 10 teams still hasn’t been resolved, so that may go a ways to figuring things out too.

      • I agree with the above statements, w/ a caveat. I believe UNC, NC State, UVa & VT to suck it up and get grouped up in the North with Pittsburgh, Syracuse & Boston College.

        The only crossover would be between UNC-Duke & NCSU-Wake. Everybody else would be on a 6-2 schedule (or 6-3 if on a 9-game sched) and the Tobacco 4 would be on a 6-1-1 (6-2-1 on a 9-game sched).

        That means VT & FSU would play 3-4 times every 12 years and every year, considering you are a team from the North, you’d cycle out 2 big games against a team from the South, EVERY YEAR!

        Of course the South would be composed of Miami, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest and Louisville.

        Key Takeaways: the cross are unnecessary when you balance teams between North & South. The only ones that matter and preserve all the meaningful rivalries would be between the Tobacco 4. Everyone else would be freed up to take one everybody else.

        • This is the way to do it. What I would add to sweeten the deal for the North Carolina schools is to allow all of them to play each other EVERY YEAR, and let the rest of the 5 “Northern Schools” rotate their two out-of-division games from among Clemson, GA Tech, FSU, Miami, and Louisville. Thus, each of the non-North Carolina Northern schools get two great out-of-division games every single year while the North Carolina schools get their round-robin. North Carolina and NC State would play Duke and Wake Forest every single year.

          Stadiums would be packed! Rivalries maintained! What is not to love?

        • Smart stuff above. The California schools do this in the Pac-12, though they have a nine-game schedule in place, and just 12 teams. The key to any realignment really needs to be the undoing of permanent crossovers, plus creating as many lucrative television matchups as possible.

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