With scheduling, format decisions, ACC trying to make the best of its mess

With on-field performance lagging, the league's best news of the week comes from a business meeting

Clemson Football

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson Football

It was a pretty good week for the ACC.

Too bad it didn't last until Saturday.

The league's hottest football teams, Florida State and Miami, tumbled; Virginia Tech took a step deeper into mediocrity; and the league, as the midway point of the season approaches, is living down to every national pundit's expectation - now ranked sixth among conferences by a composite of computer rankings, even behind what's left of the Big East.

It's hard to drum up too much excitement when a conference's best news comes out of a business meeting. But such was the case with the ACC.

The most positive development regarding ACC football is that the league has reversed its decision adopting a nine-game conference schedule, and has returned to an eight-game model.

That's especially important for Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech, who have end-of-the-season rivalry games against SEC opponents built into their schedules.

But it's a good move for the rest of the conference's teams, as well. If the ACC is ever going to shake its image as the least of the 'big five,' it will do so by winning games against top-tier non-conference opponents. The new schedule model allows ACC teams the opportunity to schedule games against the nation's best.

What they do with those opportunities may be another matter entirely.

For Clemson, it means that series like the one just completed against Auburn, and the one upcoming against Georgia, may not be a thing of the past, after all. The Tigers may have a chance to revisit their down-the-road plans to play a home-and-home with Oklahoma State, as they complement their periodic games against Notre Dame with opponents of similar caliber.

Clemson's short-term scheduling challenge is to fill out its 2013 and 2014 schedule. Scheduled home games against mid-major opponents Kent State (2013) and Central Michigan (2014) were scrapped after the ACC announced its decision play nine conference games.

Now associate AD Kyle Young is scrambling to fill those slots; and as Florida State learned last year, finding suitable mid-majors on short notice isn't easy, no matter how large the check.

The rest of Clemson's roster of non-conference opponents is set for both seasons: The Citadel, Georgia and South Carolina in 2013, and Coastal Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina in 2014.

The ACC also did some serious tweaking to its baseball and basketball tournament schedules.

With the league evolving into a 15-team conference for those sports, the baseball tournament is getting a major overhaul.

The league has scrapped its numbingly unexciting two-bracket, round-robin format (in which a team losing its first game could, under certain circumstances, be eliminated before it played its second game) in favor of a 10-team, semi-double elimination format.

The new bracket is still too complicated, but at least the format introduces a bit of drama back into the affair.

On the other hand, the new format is likely not to be as NCAA tournament-friendly as the old one, forcing the best teams to use up more pitching, especially if they have to battle their way out of the loser's bracket.

I'm left wondering whether a post-season conference tournament is such a good idea at all. How about a week-long, four-team playoff event at a single site? Two-out-of-three semifinals and finals between the top two teams in each division?

The planned 15-team basketball tournaments may be even more unruly than baseball. But the league seems committed to giving every team a place at the table.

Expansion has strengthened ACC basketball overall, but it hasn't improved the men's tournament, the ACC's traditional marquee event.

Things just aren't what they used to be, and that's not going to change. But all things considered, the league appears to be making the best of its mess.

Off the field, anyway.

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