Senior Associate Commissioner of Football Michael Strickland discusses the construction of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2016 slate of games and what fans can expect as they look ahead to next fall.
Q. Last year, you discussed some of the challenges of working with a 13-week scheduling window, as opposed to 14 weeks as in some years past. Obviously, those challenges didn’t go away, but how much did the experience of having put together a 13-week schedule for the 2015 season help this time around?
A. The reality of the calendar is that 13-weeks-to-play-12 seasons are far more common than two-bye seasons. With only one bye per team, "short-rest" games in our Thursday and Friday game dates are the norm, not the exception. Our experience with the 2015 schedule certainly reinforced that reality. We have studied the historical performance of Top 4, Top 12 and Top 25 teams in short-rest Thursday and Friday games, and those results do not suggest in any way there is a statistically-significant impact on won-loss records in short-rest games versus full or extra-rest games. In fact, from 1998 through 2013, teams that finished the season in the Top 25 had a better winning percentage in Thursday or Friday short-rest games than they did when playing Thursday or Friday with extra rest. In addition to that, we have certain scheduling parameters around Thursday games to ensure that if one team is on short rest, both teams are on equally short rest to guarantee competitive equity.
Q. The weekend of October 22 in noteworthy with six teams having open dates. Was that something you had in mind as you began building the schedule for this season?
A. This season, we worked particularly hard to position as many byes in the middle of the schedule as possible. With 14 institutions, certainly that is a tall order. However, our average bye week is 7.0 – perfectly situated in the middle of the schedule. That 7.0 average is the best average placement of all Power 5 Conferences. Also, the notion of having a bye before a certain opponent as being a significant advantage is not the case. Over the past three seasons, in conference games, teams coming off of a bye week are 29-25.
Q. How many schedule models did you run before settling on a final one, and was it a typical number?
A. Mathematicians would tell you there are millions of potential schedule combinations, but based upon our schedule parameters, goals and objectives, this season we reviewed 329 total viable schedules and we selected schedule model No. 321 as the optimal schedule.
Q. Many “marquee” prime time games are already built into the schedule, particularly opening (Labor Day) weekend. But in looking on the games scheduled for Saturdays, do you see potential for a number of others?
A. Thanks to our partnership with ESPN, our access to Saturday Night Football on ABC, and the overall strength of our football programs, the ACC and its member institutions are extremely well-positioned for Saturday night game opportunities. Certainly, as the season unfolds those slots are awarded to the most accomplished teams, and those opportunities have to be earned, but our schedule has been constructed in such a way that we believe it will maximize the exposure opportunities for our most-deserving teams.
Q. Do you feel like you have achieved a good balance of offering “specialty games” – ESPN Thursday Nights, etc., while keeping enough Saturdays equally attractive for the potential prime time selections?
A. With the quality depth of ACC football teams, there will be no shortage of high-profile Saturday ball games this season. We are also very excited about the quality of our Thursday and Friday games. That is all a credit to the student-athletes, head coaches, and the staffs of the ACC institutions for having built such strong programs. Once again, we have great distribution in teams participating in our specialty games, as the 2016 schedule will feature 12 of our 14 institutions at least once before an exclusive national audience on Monday, Thursday or Friday night.
Q. Boston College and Georgia Tech open the season in Dublin, Ireland. Is it possible yet to gauge the full significance of that game and what it might mean for ACC schedules going forward?
A. ACC Worldwide remains a relatively new initiative for the ACC and its member institutions, and we are eager to learn just how valuable this and other opportunities like this will be. We certainly are expecting the Boston College and Georgia Tech contingents to have a fantastic time in Dublin playing in the Aer Lingus Classic. Game organizers hope this can become a semi-annual affair, and ACC member institutions are interested in exploring more opportunities for such life-changing experiences.
Q. The ACC again wraps up its regular season with a number of traditional rivalry games, but there are some changes to the final regular-season weekend from the past two years. What brought on those changes?
A. Establishing a consistent set of match-ups to end our season became a focus for us a few seasons ago; this coming year, however, we had to make some changes to those match-ups due to non-conference scheduling dynamics. Both Wake Forest and Duke were open in week 2, so it was either have them play against one another or have both take their only bye of the season and close the season with games in 11 consecutive weeks. With the latter being untenable, we made some minor adjustments to the final week's match-ups, which we expect will be a one-time modification.
Q. We saw Pitt and Miami in the Thanksgiving Friday game last year, and Virginia Tech versus Virginia in 2014. The upcoming year finds NC State at North Carolina. Is there a set rotation for that slot, or is it just a matter of consulting and working with the schools year-to-year?
A. Thanksgiving Friday is a highly sought-after game date. In the case of North Carolina-North Carolina State, Virginia-Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh-Miami over the past three seasons, the home team specifically requested to play in that spot. Our general philosophy is to rotate the Thanksgiving Friday game, but there is no formal rotation in place at this time.
Q. Do you typically receive a lot of feedback and requests from the schools during the process?
A. We received 31 school requests as part of the scheduling process for 2016 and accommodated 25 – or 81 percent.
Q. Obviously, matchups and potential postseason impact played into it, but discuss the successful culmination of the 2015 regular season with the Dr Pepper ACC Championship. How can the league build off that momentum for continued success?
A. In looking back on the 2015 season, it was another special season for ACC Football, and its culmination in Charlotte on the first Saturday in December was as electric an atmosphere as one will find for a neutral-site college football game. We are confident in our football programs that in more years than not for the foreseeable future, our Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game will feature one – if not two – teams highly ranked by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee and have a direct and significant impact on the Semifinal pairings.