Beyond the ACCtion: The Making of the ACC Football Schedule
Jan. 21, 2009
“Beyond the ACCtion” is a special feature of theACC.com which offers insight in to the Atlantic Coast Conference, away from the field of competition.
It’s mid-January here in the ACC office. You would think that with the completion of the bowl season, football might be moving to the back burner and its staff taking a break. In reality, this is still one of the busiest times of the year for Michael Kelly, ACC Associate Commissioner for Football. He is busy working out the details for the 2009 ACC Football schedule.
As the ACC Feedback e-mail account can attest to, this ACC schedule is among the most wanted items of the new year. You have to set your wedding date, your company requires you to submit your vacation days, you have to plan your road trips… we understand the many reasons that your team’s schedule is important to you.
While the schedule will not be available until early February, we thought it might help you if we explain to you the process. We think you will see why we wait until the schedule is complete, rather than giving you something early that is subject to change.
So, we hope you find Michael’s blog informative and know that as soon as the schedule is final, we will release it. And, if you want to be notified when the schedule is available, then sign up for ACC News at theACC.com/news. Fans on this mailing list will be the first to receive the 2009 ACC Football Schedule.
This time of year, from the end of the bowl time until now, is definitely the peak season for scheduling. While the conference schedule, in terms of home and away opponents, is known years in advance (click here for future matchups), we do rely on a number of factors to define the actual schedule each year.
The first thing to realize is that each one of our schools schedules its own non-conference games. They have the flexibility to pretty much set those dates and opponents at their own discretion. While this is sort of unusual among FBS conferences, it does offer a lot of flexibility for our schools. It can make it harder for us to fit in the other games sometimes, but we like to do that to let them have that control over their games out of conference.
The next thing that we really wait on is working with our television partners, primarily ESPN in this case. The networks request the games that they would like to have for Labor Day, which is one of our biggest opportunities, and for our six Thursday nights. Once we get those requests, which really starts in early January, we work with our schools to see if that can host those games on certain dates and try to make those matchups work.
At this time, we also allow our schools to make one additional “special request” as it relates to something that is important to them. This could be an opponent that they want to play at the end of the season, or a fall break date that they want to make sure is not a home game week (either away or a bye). Some will request a bye week within a certain range of weeks (say during the 5th, 6th, or 7th week of the season). Sometimes the facility is not available… for example the week of the North Carolina State Fair it is inconvenient for NC State to play so we avoid that at their request… that is why last year they had a game the Thursday night before the fair technically started.
We try to take all of those conditions into account. So, once you put the non-conference dates, television requests and the schools’ special requests together, that is when we really go to work with the computer scheduling program. We put in the different parameters that we acknowledge in the conference… making sure a team does not play more than two conference road games in a row, trying to make sure that there is at least a minimum amount of equal rest on Thursday night games, trying not to have any team be off of the last week of the season (we want everyone to play to be fair so the teams in the championship game have the same amount of preparation time). Once we put it in the computer, it will often come back that few, if any, models will work. That is when we go back to the schools and work with them to find something that is reasonable and fair for everybody.
Right now, we are finalizing the television side and waiting on a couple of schools to get their non-conference schedules finalized. Once we get that, we can go to work with the computer and see what it comes back with and then put more of a human touch on it, make sure it makes sense in terms of what is important to our schools and what is fair to our teams. We will keep going back and forth between the computer models and working with the schools to make adjustments until we can settle on the best possible schedule for ACC Football.
We really have to balance it; we can’t just look at it from one institutional perspective at one point in time. No one school is going to be totally happy with the final schedule. There is going to be a certain part of the schedule that is ‘less than ideal.’ At the end of the process, we have to look at it over all 12 schools... if one was inconvenienced here, was everyone kind of ‘sharing the pain’ somewhere by the end of the schedule?
This year is particularly challenging as the schedule goes back to 12 games in 13 weeks. Last year we had the luxury of that extra week in the 14-week season. Everyone had two byes so it was a little bit easier to adjust some things. This year with only one off week, it will be a little more challenging to work through; we’ll have a little less flexibility. It may require our schools to have a little “less ideal” overall schedule.
So, we really don’t have the option of announcing some dates or home dates for our teams in advance. Until the complete schedule is set, there is too great of a chance that those dates will move. As you can see from what I have illustrated here, one change could shift a lot of teams and completely change the schedule. That is why we wait until everything is solid before releasing our schedules. While we appreciate everyone wanting to know the schedules to make plans, we don’t want to release a schedule and then have to move dates or change it drastically. That would be a greater inconvenience to our schools and our fans.
Traditionally, we have been among the first conferences to announce our “complete” schedule. Some conferences do have the fortune of locking in certain dates. We, because of the flexibility we give to our schools and our television contracts, have chosen to take a different route. That means that it will likely be early February before our schedule is released. Hopefully now, you have a better understanding as to why.