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.