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What makes a "Good" Conference Schedule?
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The ACC released the complete 2012 football schedule today, and here are FSU’s matchups.

 

Sept. 1: Murray State

Sept. 8: Savannah State

Sept. 15: Wake Forest

Sept. 22: Clemson

Sept. 29: @ South Florida

Oct. 6: @ NC State

October 13: Boston College (Parents’ Weekend)

October 20: @ Miami

October 27: Duke (Homecoming)

November 8: @ Virginia Tech

November 22: @ Maryland

November 29: Florida

Jimbo

FSU fans had been waiting (read as: bracing themselves) for the long-delayed release of the ACC Football Schedule, and today’s schedule was met with bewilderment as Seminole faithful had nothing major to gripe about. Kudos to the ACC brass for that, but in reality all this means is that they’re finally doing their jobs (or did with FSU, at least.)

 

What makes a “good” ACC schedule? Each of the twelve conference teams is an asset, as is each matchup of two of those teams. Schedules are all about maximizing those assets by making sure that the conference gets as much out of their TV contracts as possible and by making sure that those teams are not put at a disadvantage when it comes to facing teams outside the conference.

 

Keep in mind that not only can the conference not predict the future, but that ACC teams have their out-of-conference games already scheduled. Since the conference matchups are predetermined, it’s a matter of making them fit the calendar, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy. But, the rough spots should be spread around to the greatest degree possible, and the conference’s primary goal needs to be to schedule each team as optimally as possible, regardless of who they are or how big a brand they are. What this means is that Duke has just as much right to gripe about travelling to Tallahassee and then hosting Clemson on consecutive weeks as Virginia Tech would.

 

That being said, the secondary goal is to maximize exposure by trying to garner the best bowl bids possible. The conference lucked out last year with Virginia Tech getting the Sugar Bowl bid, and the while the Hokies fell just short against Michigan the financial bump the conference got with that extra BCA payout was not insignificant. Had the Hokies not received the BCS bid, chances are they’d have slid to the Chick-Fil-A, bumping Virginia to the Sun and everyone below them down a notch.  Gripe about the BCS all you want, but in 2011 few entities benefitted as much as the ACC did. The best way to position themselves to reap BCS at-large dollars again is to schedule as effectively as possible, and then let their main assets do what they do.

 

Here is a to-do list for creating a “good” conference schedule.

1.  Anticipate big games and give them optimal scheduling, which ideally means that both teams come in on equal footing: neither had an emotionally-draining rivalry or major OOC game the week prior, neither team has a rivalry or premiere OOC game the next week, and both teams come off equal rest. An example of how badly a conference can fail at this would be last year’s FSU-Clemson game, in which the two favorites in the Atlantic Division faced off with FSU coming off the Oklahoma game and Auburn coming off the Auburn game. This year, most of the major ACC games – VT/FSU, VT/Miami, FSU/Miami, VT/GT, FSU/Clemson, etc. – are scheduled fairly well, unless you’re a Virginia Tech Hokie (more on that later.)

2.    Maintain home/away balance so that a team doesn’t have to hit the road three times in a row or stay home for a full month. Granted, since schools set their OOC games and the conference works around it, you can’t blame the conference for every perceived inequity, i.e., FSU having four home games during the month of September; it’d be nice to have a road trip in place of the Wake Forest game to ensure another home game later in the fall, but then again that road trip could’ve been to Miami or VT, so beggars can’t be choosers.

to maximize TV exposure and utilize those assets (there’s that word again) most fully. Rivalry weekend aside, it’s inexcusable for the ACC to cannibalize itself by scheduling multiple potentially big games on the same day, thereby ensuring that a game that might be worthy of a coveted night slot gets the short end of the stick and kicks off at noon. Each weekend should have a clearly-evident conference game of the week, and while it’s impossible to accurately predict the future (before last season started, who saw UVa @ FSU having the ramifications it would?) some games still jump out at you when glancing at the schedule, and there should not be more than one of those games a week.

Realize, though, that making sure these games “stand alone” by scheduling them on Thursday night serves no one. Thursday night games are not only hard for fans to get to, but they’re disruptive to the teams, unpredictable, and subject to much more competition from work/school functions and other television offerings.  The ACC needs to get out of the Thursday Night business immediately, and if they must schedule these ridiculous games at least don’t waste a marquee matchup on them. I look forward to watching FSU play in Blacksburg on Thursday night, November 8th, but other than the mildly-interesting UNC/GT matchup, the following Saturday’s ACC slate is about as compelling as an insurance seminar. Poor asset management by the conference in having their two biggest brands on the shelf on a Saturday that late in the season.

4.   Don’t put any team at an unnatural advantage or disadvantage through scheduling. A great example of this is what happened to Virginia Tech this year, as they face FSU, Miami and Clemson – their three biggest conference opponents – with all three coming off a bye week. Last year the SEC did this to Alabama as well, with one of those games being the LSU loss.

Another component of this is climate. One of the major reasons that FSU has had problems getting marquis teams to come to Tallahassee is that many big non-Southern schools would cite heat and humidity as reasons to not want to come play at Doak. How many times did FSU go to Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame without getting a return trip? Notre Dame did come once in 2002, but it took two trips to South Bend and a late-season neutral site game in Orlando to make that happen.  An example of how to fail at this would be backloading Boston College’s schedule with conference home games late in the season, forcing a disproportionate number of  typically-southern ACC teams to go play in the wet and cold. Watch for this when Pitt comes online next year as well, because late-season Pittsburgh weather will quickly  become one of the biggest potential variables in the conference. It’s inevitable that teams will have to play in climates to which they are unaccustomed, and frankly they should do so from time to time. But there’s potential for the conference to put teams at an advantage or disadvantage through scheduling such games, and that should not happen.

5.   Pay at least some attention to large OOC games, particularly intraconference rivalries that take place on the same weekend every year. This year, Clemson draws NC State a week before their annual hate match with South Carolina. Georgia Tech gets Duke a week before the Georgia game, and FSU has to travel to College Park a week before coming home to host Florida. Tech and FSU can’t complain too badly, but Clemson facing a team that beat them by four touchdowns last year is troublesome. Contrast this with how the SEC teams in those games schedule 1AA cupcakes those weeks, and how the SEC allows for that is another example of how they do a far better job of managing their assets (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina respectively face Jacksonville State, Georgia Southern and Wofford before their intrastate rivalry games.) Part of this is the fault of the individual teams; I’ve said repeatedly that FSU should take matters into their own hands and schedule a directional school the week before Florida and make the ACC schedule around it, but at the same time the conference has a vested interest in how their teams perform on the national stage, and the ACC's scheduling philosophy has been of little help in that regard.

So, by these criteria, how did the ACC do? Better than last year, and under more difficult circumstances, but there’s still room for improvement. Virginia Tech is the big loser, facing their three biggest conference rivals off bye weeks. FSU’s biggest gripes are having four straight home games to open the season  -- meaning they hit the road for five of their last eight – and being on the road before the Florida game, but neither of those issues even approach how poorly the conference has scheduled in years past.

 

As far as FSU is concerned this schedule is a major step in the right direction when it comes to how ‘Noles fans view the ACC as a conference, but given how poorly the Hokies were scheduled it remains to be seen as to whether the conference has finally turned the corner in terms of asset management, or whether this decent slate for FSU is just an anomaly. I’ve said all along that the perceived and real scheduling and officiating slights FSU has taken from the ACC have been more a matter of incompetence than bias. The fact that the conference only did a good job in managing one of its two biggest assets via the schedule doesn’t change my mind on that count.