ACC's schedules won't be same as league takes on different look

Some traditional contests will suffer in next 2 years

October 02, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Some of the most heated rivalries in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be kept intact with the league's expansion to 11 schools beginning next season. But a few of its oldest and most traditional matchups will be diluted or eliminated for at least two years as a result of scheduling models that were unveiled yesterday at the conclusion of the ACC's annual fall meeting.

"I will tell you that the tone of this meeting was superb, the sense of cooperation was outstanding, and I think an awful lot of progress was made of a very substantive nature in terms of scheduling with an 11-team league," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in his opening remarks during a news conference at the University of Virginia. "We're actually a little further along than I thought we'd be at this time."

Swofford, whose aggressive sales pitch last winter brought Miami and Virginia Tech into the fold and caused an acrimonious split from the Big East, said that adding another school is not up for discussion despite recent comments to the contrary from a couple of ACC athletic directors.

If Boston College or another school joins the ACC, the scheduling models finalized here would no longer be valid.

"Right now, we're dealing with what's real, and what's real is that we're an 11-team league," Swofford said. "We've been working on the decisions that need to be made from a policy standpoint, from a scheduling policy standpoint that will move us ahead as an 11-team league. That's what we are at this time. I just don't really have any comment further on [expansion] at this point."

While all the administrators leaving Bryant Hall seemed to put on the same happy face as Swofford, there were a few surprises regarding the schedule.

Wake Forest, for example, will not play Duke and North Carolina -- its two closest rivals -- on a home-and-home basis in men's basketball. Despite their improvement in football, the Demon Deacons avoid Virginia Tech and Miami over the first two seasons. Only North Carolina retained its two closest rivals for basketball -- Duke and N.C. State.

There were no surprises for Maryland.

"I thought what happened for Maryland was fair and equitable," said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow. "There were no surprises."

As expected, Duke and Virginia will be the "primary" partners for the Terps in men's basketball, meaning they will continue to meet on a home-and-home basis. Maryland will play the other eight ACC schools a total of three times over the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. The league schedule will remain at 16 games each season.

While there could be a one- or two-division format in football depending on whether the ACC stages its own championship game, the current eight-game schedule will stay intact. Maryland will not play new member Miami and old rival North Carolina during the first two seasons that have been scheduled, but will make its first trip to Blacksburg, Va., to play the league's other new member, Virginia Tech, next season.

"To me, it's pick your poison," Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen said before the schedule was announced. "It's not going to be an easy schedule no matter who you play. I think it's going to be pretty much the same for everybody. You can't really predict which programs are going to be up and which are going to be down."

In women's basketball, the current 16-game, round-robin schedule will be reduced to 14 games to allow more nonconference play and each ACC team will have four "primary" partners. Maryland will play Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia Tech twice each season, while playing the other six schools once each.

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams said that keeping Duke as one of his program's "natural" rivals made sense in another regard -- television ratings.

"The games with Duke have been the highest-rated games in the country the past couple of years," Williams said. "Nobody has really mentioned this, but between the Northern Virginia and Baltimore areas, there are more fans than any other area in the ACC. When I got here, we weren't good enough to have rivalries. We were able to turn a game against a perennial top-five team [Duke] into a rivalry."

The ACC also announced that its postseason men's basketball tournament will maintain a similar format to what it has already, just adding two play-in games on the Thursday of tournament week to accommodate the two extra teams.

The biggest problem could be the distribution of tickets to the 2005 ACC tournament, scheduled for MCI Center in Washington. More teams means fewer tickets per school.

The only cloudy issue remains a championship football game. One NCAA committee has already told the ACC it will need a 12th team to get the game sanctioned, but Swofford and other league officials and athletic directors will continue to push for a plan to have a championship similar to that of the Southeastern Conference and Big 12.

If the ACC gets approval for a championship game, the league will go to two divisions. In that case, Maryland will be in the same division with Clemson, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Florida State. If the league doesn't go ahead with a championship game that sends its winner to one of the four Bowl Championship Series games, the league will have a single 11-team division.

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