Ambitious, unprecedented and compelling don’t begin to describe the revised football schedule ACC presidents approved and unveiled Wednesday.
Stressing the extra-large “ifs” created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the presidents endorsed a 10-plus-1 model crafted by athletic directors and the league office that makes Notre Dame a member of a football conference for the first time in its storied history and eligible for the league championship game.
More in a moment on the ACC-Fighting Irish dynamic that many fans revel in panning. First, a few basics.
Rather than a traditional regular season of eight conference games and four nonleague contests, each of the ACC’s 15 teams will play 10 conference opponents and one from elsewhere, with the nonleague game required to be in the home state of the ACC institution. The latter mandate cancels neutral-site clashes Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State had scheduled in Atlanta.
Wednesday’s schedule does not include each ACC school’s nonconference opponent. Virginia Tech’s likely will be Liberty, which was on the Hokies’ original schedule; similarly, UVA could host Connecticut as contracted.
With an odd number of teams, the Coastal and Atlantic divisions are scrapped for 2020. The two squads with the best conference winning percentages qualify for the ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C., originally set for Dec. 5 but now delayed until Dec. 12 or Dec. 19 to allow for regular-season disruptions caused by health conditions.
Football’s opening games are ticketed for Sept. 7-12, and each program will have two scheduled open weeks. Dates and television designations will be revealed later.
Fall Olympic sports may begin play Sept. 10, with nonconference contests optional for those programs.
“Today’s announcement outlines a specific path for ACC fall sports to return to intercollegiate athletic competition using comprehensive protocols put forward by our ACC medical advisory group,” Syracuse chancellor Kent Syverud, chairman of the conference’s newly formed Board of Directors, said in a statement. “As a league, we understand the need to stay flexible and be prepared to adjust as medical information evolves in conjunction with local and state health guidelines.”
The 15-member medical advisory group issued a seven-page report Wednesday that essentially mirrors guidelines suggested by the NCAA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include a weekly COVID-19 test for football athletes within three days of competition, a 10-day isolation for those who test positive and a 14-day quarantine for those who had close contact with anyone who tested positive.
Given the pandemic’s economic fallout, the ACC wisely allowed geography to dictate a portion of the football schedule, creating matchups among every pair of schools within 250 miles of one another.
For example, Virginia and Virginia Tech play each of the league’s four North Carolina schools. The Cavaliers haven’t faced Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest in the same season since 2003, when the ACC was nine teams. The Hokies haven’t seen all four in a season since 2004, when the conference was 11 teams.
The 250-mile guideline created 17 of the 75 league games and potential savings. While football charter flights cost $80,000-$100,000, bus trips run about $15,000-$25,000.
In adjusting the schedule from the original and long-established home-road rotations, the ACC has eight rivalries playing at the same venue in 2020 as in 2019.
They are Virginia at Miami; Duke at Virginia; Wake Forest at Syracuse; Syracuse at Louisville; Boston College at Syracuse; Boston College at Clemson; Georgia Tech at Miami; Pitt at Georgia Tech.
The only annual rival missing from Virginia Tech’s schedule is Georgia Tech. Clemson, Wake Forest and N.C. State were added to the Hokies’ dance card.
Meanwhile, Virginia will not play divisional opponents Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. Clemson, Florida State, Wake Forest and Boston College were added to the Cavs’ schedule.
UVA’s road tests — Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Wake Forest — are daunting, but the limited attendance expected this year could ease the burden.
Now for Notre Dame, an ACC member in sports other than football since 2013.
The Fighting Irish retained the six ACC opponents on their original schedule: Clemson, Louisville and Duke at home; Georgia Tech, Pitt and Wake Forest on the road. The Fighting Irish added road games at North Carolina and Boston College, plus home dates against Florida State and Syracuse.
Moreover, all ACC television revenue, including that generated by Notre Dame’s home games aired by NBC, will be shared equally by the 15 schools. In addition to being eligible for the ACC championship game, the Fighting Irish could represent the conference in the Orange Bowl, a game contracted to invite an ACC team in seasons such as this, when it does not host a College Football Playoff semifinal.
The unique arrangement brings Notre Dame to two more ACC venues this season, which adds to the conference’s television appeal and, likely, bankroll. After losing dates against Stanford, Southern California and Wisconsin because of decisions by the Pac-12 and Big Ten to play only conference games, the Fighting Irish gain a challenging schedule that could enhance their playoff credentials.
Notre Dame helps the ACC. The ACC helps Notre Dame. This is what valued and valuable partners do during extraordinary times.
“Today’s decision was made after months of thoughtful planning by numerous individuals throughout the conference,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “The Board’s decision presents a path, if public health guidance allows, to move forward with competition. Our institutions are committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate the return in a safe and responsible manner. We recognize that we may need to be nimble and make adjustments in the future. We will be as prepared as possible should that need arise.”
Swofford has long said that the ACC did not welcome Notre Dame in 2013 with the expectation that the Fighting Irish would relinquish football independence. Whether Wednesday’s agreement changes Notre Dame’s calculations will be fascinating to monitor.