9 days until the ACC: 8 vs. 9 conference games
*This is a 2 part look at the great debate: 8 vs. 9 conference games. Today will look at the pros and cons of 9 games.
After Pitt signed on for the ACC all the way back in September of 2011, the conference soon went to a 9 game conference schedule for football. It was the best move for the conference at the time - one additional divisional opponent meant that had the conference decided to remain at 8 games, teams from opposite divisions would go years without playing one another. Sure, teams with non-conference rivals (Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech) may have to occasionally play only 6 home games instead of 7, but it had to be done.
And then Notre Dame joined, signed on for 5 ACC games a year, and suddenly the 9 game conference slate seemed in jeopardy. Clemson/Florida State/Georgia Tech could at one point play a 9 game conference slate, their SEC rival, and Notre Dame in one season. As much as I believe teams should challenge themselves, that's pushing it. So the ACC scaled things back, moved back down to 8 conference games, and now we're left with seeing Florida State on Labor Day and not returning the trip until 2020.
A 9 game conference works for some leagues. The Pac-12 has done it for years. The Big 12 has done so in the past few seasons. The Big Ten is moving that direction for the 2016 season. Even the almighty SEC is considering a 9 game schedule. In a league where most rivalries come from within the conference, more conference games is a good thing. Or if the league is bigger (like the ACC), a 9 game conference slate allows teams to play other teams on a semi-regular basis. We'll get to see teams like Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville line up against Pitt more than twice over a 12 year period.
There's also a strength of schedule bonus to it. Just because a team has 4 non-conference games to schedule doesn't necessarily mean that extra non-conference game is going to be against a power conference school. More often than not it's against an FCS school or at best a MAC team. That extra conference game, even if it's against Duke, usually bumps up the old SOS a little more than a mediocre non-conference team. And with college football moving towards a playoff, having a good SOS can only help.
The problem for the ACC lies in the South. Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson all have annual games against their in-state SEC rivals. Then throw in the occasional Notre Dame game and you have a strong schedule, but not one that allows for much variety and pretty much makes scheduling tougher non-conference games impossible. Pitt, unless Penn State becomes an annual thing, doesn't have this problem.
Another potential problem comes with the weaker teams in the ACC. To reach bowl eligibility, most of the weaker teams will schedule lightly in the non-conference schedule so that's one fewer game in conference play to win. Taking away one of those cupcakes, while it weeds out the non-deserving bowl teams, also prevents those same teams from the extra benefits of being in a bowl game - things like exposure, extra practice time, and of course more money.
There are pros and cons to both 8 and 9 game schedules. Tomorrow we'll look at an 8 game schedule.