CLEMSON — When the ACC announced plans to move to a nine-game league football schedule, Clemson was, in Kyle Young’s words, “the squeaky wheel.”
The shift – brought about by Pitt and Syracuse’s impending addition – put Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech in a difficult spot. All three programs have permanent end-of-season series with SEC schools South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, respectively, and all are home-and-home series.
With one less non-conference game to play with – and the need for seven home games to fuel budgets – marquee national games began being junked in favor of teams who didn’t need a return game; Clemson’s future series against Ole Miss and Oklahoma State were cancelled.
Notre Dame’s addition as a partial ACC football member who will play five ACC teams per year – with every league team guaranteed one meeting in a three-year cycle – changed the paradigm. Last week, the ACC announced it would keep its current eight-game slate, making life harder in the short-term, but better in the long-term, for schedule-makers like Young, a Clemson associate athletic director.
“I think it’s a consistent feeling through the department that we’re all excited about it,” Young said. “From a business standpoint, it’s the best news we could have from a conference. It’s definitely a positive impact on the bottom line. From a competitive standpoint and a fan’s standpoint, it’s great news as well. It doesn’t guarantee you’re playing the opponents you want to play out of conference but you have the opportunity to play those games now. The door’s not shut on you, and we have a lot more flexibility going forward to scheduling those big out of conference games that I think fans want to see.”
Young said Clemson was the most ardent opponent of the nine-game schedule, which would’ve limited marquee non-league games in favor of more ACC games against the likes of Pitt and Syracuse.
Clemson already had to scramble to save a 2013-14 home-and-home series with Georgia, and future series of that caliber were unlikely.
“It was more of a torch we carried than any other school in the league, wanting to maintain the eight-game schedule,” Young said. “Even after it was voted in we were the squeaky wheel, a pain in the rear end for the conference. They did everything they could for us. Every step of the way we’d come back to them and present another piece of rationale, and alternatives to going to a nine-game schedule.
…. “When Notre Dame came in as a partial (football) member, it restarted the catalysts for us going to the eight-game schedule. We brought the issue back up that we were now facing a situation where we were going to be forced to have six home games whatever year we were playing at Notre Dame. That wasn’t going to be positive for us and other schools recognized it as well.”
Now comes the tough part: filling a newly open date in the 2013 and 2014 schedules. 2013’s schedules are essentially finished, which makes finding a dance partner which doesn’t come from the FCS ranks difficult.
“I’m not going to shut the door (on scheduling an FCS foe),” Young said. “There’s not many if any I-A opponents out there. It’s an extremely late date, and we’ve scheduled games later than this… we scheduled TCU (in 2009) much later. This year we’ve got about 12 of us (ACC schools) in the same boat. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple ACC schools play each other, although we haven’t talked about that in terms of feasibility.”
Young said he hoped to have the 2013 schedule set very soon, and if he scheduled an FCS foe, he’d like to make it an in-state team. From there, he’ll work on 2014 and beyond. Ole Miss is not a likely candidate for 2015-16 because, in Young’s words, “those years are already here” in scheduling terms.
He expected Oklahoma State to be “willing and open” for 2019-20, and said athletic director Terry Don Phillips has already made contact with Oklahoma State.
Nothing is certain except this: the Tigers’ future slates will be much more exciting with the ACC’s eight-game plan.