OK, now that the Atlantic Coast Conference has secured its future through 2027 and the conference will move forward with 15 members, what now?
1. Division realignment. It's not too late, you guys.
The Big Ten is set to fix a three year mistake. Know how I know it is, in fact, a three year mistake? The conference brass leaked the story last Friday during the Boston Marathon bombing suspect manhunt. R.I.P. "Legends" and "Leaders." So it appears that the Big Ten will leave the ACC holding the bag as the only conference with divisions that don't make sense and division names that make less sense than the division alignment.
In aligning along geographic east/west lines and thinking of the least common denominator fan who can't keep divisions with meaningless division names straight, the Big Ten signaled a couple of things. One is that geography matters. Two is that competitive balance does not. Three is that scheduling flexibility matters. Instead of opting for protected rivalries, the only protected cross-division rivalry is the Old Oaken Bucket -- the barnburner! -- giving every NOT Purdue NOT Indiana program as much flexibility as possible to cycle through the teams on the other side.
Some argue that the Big Ten West -- Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin -- is every bit as strong as the Big Ten East -- Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers -- yet that argument loses all credibility the second one starts discussing Northwestern as the third best program in the West, in my opinion.
Much like the Big Ten, the ACC gets a second chance to fix an eight year mistake. Take the lead from the Big Ten here. Scrap "Atlantic" and "Coastal" and move to a North/South alignment, competitive balance be damned. Give programs as much flexibility as possible in playing teams from the other side by using a select few cross-divisional permanent rivalries.
This can be achieved in one of three ways:
Option 1: Screw Wake
Most North / South alignments bantered about have Wake Forest in the North because ... Wake Forest. The cross-division rivalry that must be perserved here is North Carolina-Virginia. Both programs hate this alignment for this very reason, by the way.
Option 2: Buyers Remorse
This option sticks all the former Big East programs -- and Virginia -- together in one division that's almost geographically appropriate. The lone exception Miami is in the North but would have a protected cross-over with Florida State, ensuring the possibility of that Florida State-Miami ACC Championship Game we are still waiting on. Also ensures that every program gets at least one game in Florida every other year which I'm told is important for recruiting (though I'm not sure if there are still daily flights from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to Florida. I'm pretty sure there are.).
The league would also have to protect UNC-UVa here. The rest would rotate. The Carolina schools should be happy.
Option 3: 'Suposed To Be SEC
Why not just throw all the southern football schools together and have one big SOS fest? The two rivalries you'd have to protect are UNC-UVa and Virginia-Virginia Tech.
Personally I prefer the North/South alignment but don't hate the "Big East"/"ACC" one either.
2. ACC Network
The announcement of the league's grant of rights agreement and the exploration of whether an ACC Network similar to the Big Ten, Pac-12 and (soon) SEC are not unrelated activities. The conference first needed to stabilize before they could really go to ESPN pitching the idea of a 24-hour TV network. I doubt ESPN had any interest in starting up a television network with a league that was perceived to be on the verge of imploding as soon as Maryland and the ACC's lawyers settle.
I'm not wholly convinced this is the greatest idea given uncertainty around the cable television economic model. But if it makes sense financially and helps to plug the gap between the ACC and the other four power conferences, at least in the short term, it's probably worth pursuing.
3. Nine-Game Conference Schedule
I'd imagine the idea of playing a nine-game conference schedule will come back on the table, even with the deal to play Notre Dame five times a year. This is related to point #2. If the conference is serious about starting its own TV network, they're gonna need more inventory. The programs that were the biggest detractors of this idea are starting to schedule tougher anyway. Clemson has two BCS AQ opponents a year on the schedule for each of the next three seasons:
2013: Georgia, at South Carolina
2014: at Georgia, South Carolina
2015: at South Carolina, Notre Dame
Florida State trades in a 2013 non-conference schedule of Nevada and Idaho (but that would have included West Virginia, mind you) for Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas) and Notre Dame.
If the league can fit a nine-game conference schedule around the needs of Florida State and Clemson (at SEC rivals in odd numbered years) and Georgia Tech (at Georgia in even numbered years) by working the home/road splits to ensure at least seven home games a year, school officials should again take a hard look at the nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are already there and it only seems a matter of time before the SEC, with the launch of its own television network, follows suit. Just the way everyone else is headed. Might as well get in line.
4. Scrap FBS vs. FCS games
This goes back to optimizing the leagues own television revenue. Again, the ACC should follow the Big Ten's lead in saying no to the body bag games. It only helps improve the inventory of games for the conference's TV network and improves strength of schedule. No one is going to miss that Florida State-Savannah State game that went to running clock in the second half because the Noles put such a hurtin' on the Tigers.
5. Secure The Conference's Bowl Tie-Ins
The Big 12 wants a greater postseason presence in Florida and get into more bowls that its fans can reach by car. Don't we all? The ACC should be no different. The conference hasn't done the greatest job in making some of these bowl tie-ins accessible to fans and alumni with destinations as far-flung as El Paso, Boise and San Francisco. Making bowls more accessible to fans becomes even more important in light of declining bowl attendance and fan bases fatigued by going to 12 straight bowl games in far-off locales like Tempe, Honolulu, San Francisco, Boise, San Francisco and San Francisco.
We know that the conference champ will have a spot in the Orange Bowl, but conference brass should turn to the second-tier bowls to shore up desirable and accessible locations for fans. Make a run at the Pinstripe Bowl for BC, Syracuse and Pitt fans. Work to move bowl tie-ins with San Francisco and El Paso closer to the conference's geographic footprint.
6. Conference Championship Game to Campus?
Charlotte has been a fine host for the ACC Championship Game after the failed Florida experiment. My first preference would be to keep the game in Charlotte permanently to build up some brand equity similar to the SEC title game in Atlanta. The city of Charlotte is set to pump some $87 million worth of renovations into the not-that-old stadium.
If the conference starts to look elsewhere, it may want to take a look at holding the conference championship game on the campus of the team with the better record / higher ranking. I'd also look into alternate time slots to hold the conference championship game. This game simply can't go head-to-head against the Big Ten title game or a de facto Big 12 title game and expect to get decent ratings.
7. Equal Revenue Sharing
Non-negotiable. Florida State tho. I've seen some arguments that TV revenue should be evenly split but that bowl revenue should be given to teams that make the postseason more often but it's a slippery slope. Do you also then start to pay out NCAA Tournament credits based on postseason success and appearances? Short of a national television network through ESPN, what about rewarding those schools who will bring more to the table in terms of media markets and getting a fledgling cable TV network carriage on cable providers? Different programs bring different things to the table and unless you want to get all math'y and figure out the exact formula for which programs bring what table to the table, sharing everything equally is the only way to go.
Don't like it? Leave the conference. Oh wait ...