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Why Hasn’t the ACC Cancelled Non-Conference Games Like the Big Ten?

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Was the Big Ten eager to cancel non-conference games? Is the ACC eager to do so? Are there motives outside of COVID-19 at work here?

Pittsburgh v Penn State
The ACC and Big Ten don’t always see eye to eye
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

No doubt you know by now that the Big Ten has cancelled all non-conference football games for the 2020-21 football season (if, indeed, football is played at all). The reason given was the novel Coronavirus pandemic - but could other factors have contributed to the perceived “quick trigger” the conference used in cancelling these games in the first full week of July? To answer that, we need to look at which games in particular were cancelled.

Notable Big Ten Non-Conference Games, 2020 and 2021

Big Ten team 2020 2021
Big Ten team 2020 2021
Illinois (none) at Virginia
Iowa Iowa State at Iowa State
Minnesota Brigham Young at Colorado
Nebraska (none) at Oklahoma
Northwestern (none) at Duke
Purdue at Boston College Oregon State; at Connecticut; at Notre Dame
Wisconsin at Notre Dame (Green Bay) Notre Dame (Chicago)
Indiana at Connecticut at Western Kentucky
Maryland at West Virginia West Virginia
Michigan at Washington Washington
Michigan State at Brigham Young; Miami at Miami
Ohio State at Oregon Oregon
Penn State at Virginia Tech Auburn
Rutgers Syracuse; at Temple Temple; at Syracuse
Notable Big Ten Non-Conference Games built from data posted on FBSchedules.com

The first thing you may notice from the above table is that three teams in the Big Ten West - Illinois, Nebraska and Northwestern - didn’t even have a power five opponent on their non-conference schedule this season, so they aren’t really losing any marquee games. Neither did Minnesota, although they are losing a home game against Brigham Young. The only Big Ten West team which lost a bonafide non-conference game of real value was Iowa, which sacrificed their home game against in-state rival Iowa State.

On the East side of the conference, the cynic might say that there were reasons outside of the pandemic why the Big Ten might have wanted to cancel all non-conference games this year. Five teams - Purdue, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State - had challenging road games scheduled against power five opponents, while three more teams - Indiana, Michigan State, and Rutgers - had road games against group of five opponents. Wisconsin might appear to be losing a home game against Notre Dame - until you realize that the Fighting Irish were actually slated to be the designated “home” team in Green Bay.

To top it all off, first year Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker had both a road game at BYU and a home game with the Miami Hurricanes. No wonder the Big Ten didn’t wait to see if the pandemic could be brought under control before cancelling these games! Had it been next year (see table above), I have to wonder if the Big Ten would have been as eager to cancel home games against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Wisconsin), West Virginia Mountaineers (Maryland), Oregon Ducks (Ohio State) and Auburn Tigers (Penn State)?

But Pitt isn’t in the Big Ten - it’s in the ACC. What about that conference? Shouldn’t the ACC be just as eager to cancel non-conference games this year as the Big Ten was? Not so fast!

Notable 2020 ACC Non-Conference Games

date non-conference game match-up
date non-conference game match-up
9/04 Wake Forest at Old Dominion
North Carolina at Central Florida
9/05 Florida State vs West Virginia (in Atlanta)
9/07 Virginia vs Georgia (in Atlanta)
9/12 Mississippi State at North Carolina State
Syracuse at Rutgers
North Carolina vs Auburn (in Atlanta)
Pitt at Marshall
Penn State at Virginia Tech (cancelled)
9/19 Boston College at Kansas
Florida State at Boise State
North Carolina State at Troy
Virginia Tech at Middle Tennessee State
9/26 Purdue at Boston College (cancelled)
Syracuse at Western Michigan
Notre Dame at Wake Forest (in Charlotte)
Miami at Michigan State (cancelled)
10/17 Notre Dame at Pitt
10/24 Virginia at Old Dominion
10/31 Duke at Notre Dame
11/07 Clemson at Notre Dame
11/14 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech (in Atlanta)
11/21 Louisville at Notre Dame
11/28 South Carolina at Clemson
Florida at Florida State
Kentucky at Louisville
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Scheduled ACC 2020 non-conference games against power five teams, plus road games at group of five opponents. based on data posted on FBSchedules.com

Looking over the ACC’s non-conference schedule for a moment, I see 15 away games. Two games were to be played at the home of Big Ten teams, but those games are already cancelled. Three road games are in South Bend, Indiana. One game has the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets riding a bus to play the Georgia Bulldogs. The Boston College Eagles are still scheduled to visit the Kansas Jayhawks. That leaves eight games where an ACC team was scheduled to play at the home of a Group of Five team. For reasons other than the pandemic, the conference might prefer that those games disappear.

However, if you keep looking, you’ll see that the ACC schedule also includes a large number of marquee home games against non-conference opponents. Three games feature an ACC team hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish - including the Pittsburgh Panthers! - and four more feature SEC teams visiting their ACC in-state rivals. The Clemson Tigers host the South Carolina Gamecocks this year. The Florida State Seminoles host the Florida Gators, too. Just down the river, the Louisville Cardinals are expecting a visit from the Kentucky Wildcats. Those game are all big deals for the home teams.

True, home games against the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Purdue Boilermakers are already cancelled, but there are still three big neutral site games earmarked for Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Two are against SEC opponents - the Virginia Cavaliers versus the Georgia Bulldogs and the North Carolina Tar Heels versus the Auburn Tigers - and the other one features the Florida State Seminoles against the West Virginia Mountaineers. None of those games have been cancelled yet.

Do I think all of those big time non-conference games will be played? I don’t. In fact, it’s still unclear if any college football will be played at all. However, when I compare the three power five home games cancelled by the Big Ten with the 10 home and neutral site games on the books for the ACC, the cynic in me says there’s something other than COVID-19 at work here...