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Power Conference Autonomy Could Lead To Conference Championship Game Reform

What does that look like in the ACC?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

One of the byproducts of the NCAA's decision to grant the power 5 conferences greater autonomy could be relaxed restrictions on how conferences determine its football champion. Way back in February, the ACC pushed legislation that would give the conference "the autonomy" to determine how teams qualify for their conference championship game in football. Now that the conferences have the ability to play by their own set of rules, you may eventually see changes to the way in which the power 5 conferences determine a champion in football.

Right now, the NCAA imposes restrictions on conferences that want to hold a conference championship game. Under the current structure, conferences must have at least 12 programs, an equal number of teams in each division and every team must play each opponent in its own division. Should the ACC's proposal go through, conferences would be free to choose a football conference winner as they see fit.

While the power 5 conferences will likely have greater autonomy to qualify teams for their conference championship game, change, if there even is any, will be more gradual. My guess is conferences will feel out how the first few years of the College Football Playoff go before deciding to make tweaks to their conference championship game setup. For example, the current division alignment could protect the league's second best team from incurring additional losses, making them more appealing to the CFP selection committee. Same deal for the Big 12, which could use the lack of a conference championship game to its advantage.

If the ACC is going to make wholesale changes to the current Atlantic/Coastal Division setup -- say, in favor of eliminating divisions altogether and moving to a scheduling model with both permanent and rotating scheduling partners -- the conference brass is going to want to protect long-established rivalries. The question becomes which series are most worth protecting in an alternate model.

While total games played isn't a full proof proxy for which intra-conference series to hold onto, it does give a good sense of the series most worth protecting. Lucky for Greensboro, I've put together this handy table:

BC -- 23 6 12 8 6 29 7 11 29 47 5 22 21
CLEM 23 -- 53 27 79 0 9 55 82 1 2 47 33 79
DUKE 6 53 -- 19 81 1 11 100 82 18 2 65 21 94
FSU 12 27 19 -- 23 14 58 18 33 9 7 16 36 32
GTECH 8 79 81 23 -- 0 19 49 28 8 3 36 11 30
LOU 6 0 1 14 0 -- 12 7 4 16 12 2 7 1
MIA 29 9 11 58 19 12 -- 17 14 33 22 11 31 11
UNC 7 55 100 18 49 7 17 -- 103 8 4 118 35 105
NCST 11 82 82 33 28 4 14 103 -- 9 7 57 48 107
PITT 29 1 18 9 8 16 33 8 9 -- 69 6 13 0
SYR 47 2 2 7 3 12 22 4 7 69 -- 4 17 3
UVA 5 47 65 16 36 2 11 118 57 6 4 -- 95 48
VTECH 22 33 21 36 11 7 31 35 48 13 17 95 -- 36
WAKE 21 79 94 32 30 1 11 105 107 0 3 48 36 --

Let's take these one at a time. Here are the top three longest series for each program (bold italics for series still played annually):

Boston College Eagles

47 - Syracuse
29 - Pittsburgh
29 - Miami

Unfortunately for the Eagles, two of the three longest series against now ACC programs in program history are now cross-division affairs -- meaning that under the current setup, BC will only face Pittsburgh or Miami once every six seasons. If the division and scheduling model aren't altered over the next decade, Clemson (33), Virginia Tech (32) and Wake Forest (31) will have all surpassed or drawn even with BC's two former Big East foes, which, weird.

Clemson Tigers

82 - N.C. State
79 - Wake Forest
79 - Georgia Tech

Each of Clemson's three longest ACC series are still played annually. N.C. State and Wake Forest are Atlantic Division contests, while Clemson-Georgia Tech is a protected cross-division series.

Duke Blue Devils

100 - North Carolina
94 - Wake Forest

82 - N.C. State

Two of Duke's three series against Carolina teams are preserved. Duke-UNC is a Coastal Division game, while Wake Forest is Duke's protected cross-over. Duke-N.C. State is the lone casualty of the divisional format, with an 82-game series played just once every six seasons.

Florida State Seminoles

58 - Miami
36 - Virginia Tech
33 - N.C. State

Florida State-Miami is the 'Noles permanent cross-division rival, so we're good there. Interestingly, Virginia Tech is the second most played opponent in the conference; despite the two programs just playing once every six seasons moving forward. FSU also has a strong rivalry with its closest geographic conference mate, Georgia Tech, despite playing just 23 games against the Jackets. That series is another casualty of the current alignment/scheduling model.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

81 - Duke
79 - Clemson
49 - North Carolina

All three of Georgia Tech's longest all-time series are preserved in the current format. Duke and North Carolina are Coastal Division foes while Clemson is the Jackets' protected cross-over.

Louisville Cardinals

16 - Pittsburgh
14 - Florida State
12 - Miami
12 - Syracuse

As the newest members of the conference, expect Louisville to struggle a bit to establish some solid intra-conference rivalries. The Cardinals have only faced four ACC opponents more than 10 times total, while never facing Clemson or Georgia Tech (and facing Duke and Wake Forest just once).

Miami Hurricanes

58 - Florida State
33 - Pittsburgh
31 - Virginia Tech

Miami is also set up nicely, with all three series on the annual schedule. FSU is the Hurricanes cross-division rival, while Pitt and Virginia Tech are fellow members of the Coastal Division. As one would expect given the program's Big East roots, series against BC (29 games) and Syracuse (22) are next after these first three.

North Carolina Tar Heels

118 - Virginia
105 - Wake Forest
103 - N.C. State

The South's Oldest Rivalry between North Carolina and Virginia is easily the most important rivalry to preserve in the conference. Interestingly, UNC and Wake Forest are in second on this list, despite the Heels only facing the Demon Deacons once every six seasons going forward. UNC-Duke is at 100 games and doesn't even crack the Tar Heels top three.

N.C. State Wolfpack

107 - Wake Forest
103 - North Carolina

82 - Clemson
82 - Duke

N.C. State's top two longest series are protected with Wake in the Atlantic Division and North Carolina the Pack's protected cross-over. Clemson and Duke are tied for third with 82 games, though only the Clemson series is now played annually. N.C. State and Duke have flirted with the idea of playing a non-conference conference game and you can see why both programs would want to play more frequently than once every six years.

Pittsburgh Panthers

69 - Syracuse
33 - Miami

29 - Boston College

Pitt has faced Syracuse more times than any other ACC program and not by an insignificant margin. Miami comes in second with 33 games played. Both of those series will continue to be played annually. BC comes in third with 29 games played, yet the BC-Pitt series is another casualty of division alignment.

Syracuse Orange

69 - Pittsburgh
47 - Boston College

22 - Miami

Like Pitt, Syracuse's two longest series will continue to be played annually -- one in the division (Boston College) and one cross-division (Pittsburgh). Like BC, the Syracuse-Miami series has been relegated to once-every-six-seasons status.

Virginia Cavaliers

118 - North Carolina
95 - Virginia Tech
65 - Duke

All of Virginia's long-standing series are accounted for as well. Interestingly, Virginia is the only team in the conference with all three long-standing series occurring within the division. That's convenient. Almost too convenient ...

Virginia Tech Hokies

95 - Virginia
48 - N.C. State
36 - Florida State
36 - Wake Forest

Virginia Tech's intra-state rivalry game with Virginia tops this list, followed by N.C. State, Florida State and Wake Forest. Oddly enough, only Tech's game against Virginia is still played annually. N.C. State, Florida State and Wake Forest are all members of the Atlantic Division, while BC is Tech's protected cross-over.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

107 - N.C. State
105 - North Carolina
94 - Duke

Just like the other three North Carolina schools, Wake had to give up an annual rivalry game against one of the other Carolina schools. North Carolina is the odd school out for the Deacs, while N.C. State (107 games) and Duke (94) remain on the yearly ached.

Now if only someone can optimize the above table by coming up with a 3+5 scheduling model -- three permanent rivals and five rotating opponents -- that preserves most or all of these series, we'll really be in business.