The Atlantic Coast Conference football schedule will remain at eight games, commissioner John Swofford announced Monday at the conference’s spring meetings.
The question of whether to expand conference play from eight to nine games arose due to the conference expanding to fourteen teams. Each team has six divisional foes and a cross-division rival they play every season, leaving room for only one new conference opponent per season. Regardless, the ACC elected to keep the eight-game schedule by an 8-6 vote.
In addition to the eight games, ACC teams will be required to schedule at least one nonconference game against a team from one of the other so-called power conferences starting in 2017. This will not be a dramatic upgrade for most teams as Duke and NC State were the only two ACC teams that did not have one such opponent on the schedule last season.
Strength of schedule is expected to be a major factor with the new College Football Playoff and an added conference game would certainly have increased the strength of schedule for the league as a whole. Yet, the conference chose instead to follow the SEC scheduling model.
Of the power conferences, the SEC is the only conference besides the ACC that has elected to keep an eight-game schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 already have nine-game schedules and the Big Ten has chosen to expand to nine games as well.
The deciding factor for the ACC was likely the conference’s five-game scheduling agreement with Notre Dame. The Irish will play five ACC teams per seasont. These games are in addition to the conference schedule and will count towards the teams' non-conference scheduling commitment.
Several ACC teams also have annual SEC rivalry games. For those teams, an expanded conference schedule would have meant that in some seasons they would face nine conference games, Notre Dame, and an SEC rival; eleven tough games in a 12 game season.
By keeping eight games, however, the conference is limiting matchups between its own members. With the current two-division model, some non-divisional teams will go several years between meetings. Virginia Tech, for example, will not play new conference member Louisville until 2020. It sure doesn't feel like a conference matchup with six years before their first meeting.
With the Notre Dame commitment, however, the conference appears to have had little choice.
The eight-game schedule will be officially approved by the conference’s faculty athletic representatives on Thursday.