Have to start somewhere…
Most of the offseason around the ACC has been about the speculation that the ACC Network was never going to happen. That the losses in the last year at ESPN over cord-cutters and a shrinking subscriber base meant that the Mouse Monopoly was not going to add another channel devoted solely to a conference. ACC schools would have to just accept the extra $3 million/year each on the present deal.
ESPN and the Atlantic Coast Conference will launch the ACC Network – a comprehensive linear and digital network, it was announced today by ACC Commissioner John Swofford and ESPN President John Skipper at the conference’s annual Football Kickoff media event in Charlotte, N.C. The 20-year partnership will provide ACC fans unprecedented access to live events via a comprehensive, multi-platform network. It also provides for the extension of the conference’s existing rights agreement with ESPN to 2036. ESPN is the ACC’s exclusive worldwide rights holder.
Beginning in August 2016, fans can access more than 600 exclusive live events from across the conference via a digital live-events channel ‘ACC Network Extra’, immediately available to users who have access to ESPN3 via WatchESPN and the ESPN app, with that number growing each year. More than 1,300 ACC events will be distributed across the platforms in 2019 when the linear network launches.
Sure the cable channel won’t roll out in 2017… or 2018. But, it is coming.
The ESPN3 stuff was not a shock. There has been a lot of speculation that the ACC Network if it was going to happen would involve a mix of streaming along with a cable channel.
This being the ACC, there is always a swing of good and bad stuff swirling with it. Though, this time it is mainly good.
The grant-of-rights for all the ACC members now goes until 2035-36. So, fears of another Big 10 poaching attempt are gone. And it makes the inevitable complaining that will come over something from FSU fans and their Board members especially meaningless when they talk of leaving. Notre Dame is tied to the ACC, so if in the next 20 years they decide to end football independence (HA!), they have to join the ACC.
Then there is the issue of scheduling for the money programs. A new channel needs content. Good content.
Basketball wasn’t a problem. The conference schedule will expand from 18 to 20 games. Some coaches will bitch, but this went through without a glitch. It means the non-con will shrink significantly. For the average ACC team that means they only have to schedule a handful of non-con. They have a locked in game from the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Just about every major conference team does some sort of tournament that entails 2-4 games. Now two less non-con games to schedule.
With Pitt committed to the City game, there will be some years where Pitt will only have 5 non-con game slots open. The downside will be less chance of games with major conference programs outside of tournaments and ACC/B1G — regardless of who the coach is. It may hurt in padding the wins and losses, but few will miss it from the fan side.
Football, however, is a different beast.
The easiest thing would be to simply go from 8 to 9 conference games. It would increase content. Schools in the same conference but different divisions would see each other more than once every six years. It reduces patsy games. It’s less of a scheduling headache for most programs.
But then you have the same block of schools that have prevented the implementation of this before. Clemson, GT and FSU have long objected to going to 9 games — citing their annual non-con intrastate rivalry games with SEC schools. They have been supported in this by Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke(?). There is also the financial component of getting at least 7 home games, but this has been a weakening argument in light of the TV money.
Since joining, Pitt and Louisville have been part of the block seeking to keep the conference schedule at 8 games. Louisville is another school with an annual game against an in-state SEC team.
Pitt is in that block, presumably because they had hoped to put Penn State on the non-con permanently (sure). Plus, until the ND partial joining, a regular series with the Domers. Changes in the scheduling, continued rising costs of buying games and (probably most importantly) leadership has Pitt looking a little more flexible on the issue.
The ND issue has also been part of the rationalization for GT, Clemson and FSU to push the conference to stay at 8 games. Arguing that the once every 3 years facing ND would lead to those seasons of playing two of their three non-con games against power conference teams — the horror.
This has led to an awkward alternative. 8 + 2. Stay at 8 non-con games but require every team to play at least 2 non-con games against a power conference opponent each year.
Why 2? Well, for starters, the ACC already has a rule in place requiring one of the non-con games be against a power conference program — hence why Wake and UNC are doing a “non-con” home-and-home in 2019 and 2021. Logically a series against a power opponent will be either a neutral site or a home-and-home. ESPN/ACC Network may not have the rights to that neutral or away game — like, say that road game against ND. This way the volume of quality content available remains about the same as with a 9 game conference schedule.
But scheduling 2 power conference non-cons every year for the 14 ACC teams? Increasingly difficult. Among power conferences, only the SEC will be sticking to 8 for the time being. That’s just begging for big headaches, the inevitable necessity of programs asking for waivers for certain years and having to schedule “non-con” games with other ACC teams. Especially since no one wants to give up those cheaper to buy, and safer (mostly) FCS non-con games.
Regardless of which option they choose, the athletic directors appear determined to retain the option of playing Football Championship Subdivision opponents. Though often one-sided, those games provide a financial windfall and competitive highlight for programs such as William and Mary, Richmond, Liberty and James Madison.
Virginia Tech is scheduled to play an FCS team in each of the next six seasons, Virginia each of the next three — games Babcock and Littlepage want to retain.
“We have a number of FCS games scheduled in the future,” Wellman said, “and those are very valuable to us. And we’re in a territory of the country where FCS is a valuable commodity, and we see that as an important relationship. … I was at an FCS school (Illinois State) for five years, and boy, you look forward to those games. It’s a great opportunity for your student-athletes and institution.”
And for the fans to hate.
This being the ACC, neither format has carried the day as of yet. But they are going to have to decide. Probably by October so they can adjust schedules accordingly for 2019.
Here’s how it looks voting wise:
Hard 8+2 — FSU, GT, Clemson, Louisville
Hard 9+1 — UVa, NC State, UNC, WF
Probably Leaning 8+2 — VT, Duke, Pitt, Miami
Probably Leaning 9+1 — Syracuse, BC
My guess is that Syracuse is closer to a hard 9+1 now that they have a new AD in place. Plus their AD actually came from ESPN. BC has probably waffled in the past, but with ND now a rotation rather than their envisioned annual game I would think they are closer to being a hard 9+1.
On the 8+2 side, VT’s AD has stated he voted that way in July, but has not been adamant against change.
I have no idea why Duke doesn’t lean the other way. It’s non-con has been hideous and they can’t even do rental games. In the last 5 years it has had to do home-and-homes or 2-for-1s with Tulane, FIU, Memphis and Troy. You would think they’d be all in for 9+1.
Miami still envisions itself in its glory days so it sees a national schedule for itself. To be fair, it usually schedules 2 decent non-cons annually. With its fertile recruiting area, there is never any shortage of major conference programs willing to do a home-and-home.
Pitt, Duke and Miami are probably the three schools being lobbied hardest by both sides. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Duke going to the 9+1 side. I mean if they rolled over without a fight on the basketball schedule expansion, this seems like an easy thing by comparison.
My own feelings (if you can’t tell) has been in favor of 9 conference games. I’m pretty sure I’ve been on the record for that in the past. The fact that Pitt only faces programs from the other division within their own conference only once every six years is ridiculous. To only get a team like FSU or Clemson to come to Pittsburgh once every 12 years is absurd. That all programs will face ND more often than teams in their own conference over a ten year period makes no sense on its face.
I don’t care if it means the schedule could be potentially brutal in certain years when ND is on the schedule and Pitt is playing Penn State or WVU the same year. I like the idea of schedules that aren’t loaded with a slew of gimmees to start the season.