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ACC Divisions: Louisville To The Coastal Division?


Andy Lyons

Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, who conveniently doubles as the chairman of the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors, told ESPN on Wednesday that he thinks the ACC has a good shot at being granted autonomy over determining its football champion. Should the legislation pass, the conference would be free to explore other options -- including eliminating division play altogether or scheduling in a way where teams don't face every other team in the division annually.

Today, ESPN's Heather Dinich argues that, regardless of whether or not the NCAA grants the ACC the autonomy it has formally requested, the ACC should swap Louisville for a Coastal Division team in the name of competitive balance.

At the very least -- with or without the help of the NCAA -- the ACC should capitalize on this opportunity to change and separate Louisville from Atlantic Division heavyweights Florida State and Clemson. The exchange of Maryland for Louisville was not an even trade: It was an upgrade. If the ACC truly wants to see competitive balance, it's not going to get it from watching three top-15 teams cannibalize each other in the same division. Swap Louisville for a Coastal Division team, or eliminate the divisions entirely so that there is not such a drought between meetings, and rivalries can still be preserved.

The problem with basing divisions on competitive balance is that it's a moving target. Louisville may be headed to the ACC as one of the top teams in the conference now, but there's no guarantee that the Bobby Petrino Reunion Tour will be able to sustain the level of success the Cardinals enjoyed under Charlie Strong in the Big East / American Athletic Conference. Even if it does, Louisville is one motorcycle accident away from settling back down to the middle of the pack in the ACC.

If the ACC has learned nothing else, it's that basing divisions on the presumed success of a single program can come back to bite you in a big way. Looking at you, Miami Hurricanes football. Still searching for that elusive first ACC Championship Game appearance, are we?

The Big Ten's competitive balance divisions with ridiculous names experiment lasted just three seasons before Delany swallowed his pride, blew up the current structure and started over. Next year, the conference will use the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to move to the infinitely more sensible East / West divisions. The fact that the ACC has clung to nonsensical divisions for a decade now -- despite the additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and now a Louisville-for-Maryland swap -- tells you all you need to know about the conference's willingness to make even slight tweaks to the current division alignment.

Everyone thinks they have a solution here but none of these solutions are universally accepted (and good luck trying to convince North Carolina or Virginia that this thing is broken in the first place). If there was a solution that conformed to the NCAA's current conference championship game restrictions -- two divisions with every team within the division playing each other -- you would think the conference would have already moved to that model.

The fact that the ACC is pushing legislation to relax the NCAA's restrictions on determining its football champion tells you that there's no one solution that satisfies everyone. That includes a Louisville-for-[random Coastal Division team] division swap.