ACC discusses 3-5-5 football model, no divisions

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — The ACC is moving closer to adopting a new football schedule format that would do away with splits and give teams the ability to play each other more frequently, starting in 2023.

Although no vote was taken to officially change the format, commissioner Jim Phillips and several athletic directors discussed a 3-5-5 scheduling model in which league teams would face three permanent opponents, then would alternate with the rest over a two-year period (five one year, five the next).

Earlier this week, the NCAA Football Oversight Committee recommended that conferences no longer be required to have divisions to stage a conference championship game. The Division I Board is expected to vote on it later this month, when it is expected to pass.

Phillips has repeatedly said that conferences should have the right to determine their conference champion, and he had been in favor of passing the legislation required to make that happen. Phillips discussed the new scheduling format with DAs and coaches in league-wide meetings to get their feedback.

“The two, I think, drivers of this: First is the opportunity for our student-athletes to play at all ACC schools over a four-year period,” Phillips said. “That’s just not the case right now. The other element is that I’ve always thought it was a local decision on how you run your conference. You see that across multiple conferences, they would like to dictate what their championship structure looks like, and that will eventually lead to an expanded football playoff.

“You want your top two teams to have a chance to play at the end of the year for a lot of reasons. That’s why it took us…you might think it’s a bit longer, but that really isn’t. We’re really on the right track. But again, I want to make sure we’ve talked to everyone to see, are we missing something here?”

When Phillips became commissioner, he said he wanted to reevaluate everything inside the ACC, including the programming format.

Miami athletic director Dan Radakovich said he thinks the league is “closer to the end than the beginning on this.

“We need to talk to our TV partners a bit and see what they think and wash it down one more time,” Radakovich said. “It’s not urgent to do it now because even if we decide to move forward for 2023, it’s time to do it. We want to be deliberate about it and make sure we do it the right way.”

It’s also recognized that there will be trade-offs that programs will have to make when it comes to the permanent opponents assigned to each team – and that’s an area that remains under discussion.

Coaches are not unanimous in favor of abolishing divisions. Many, including Pitt’s coach Pat Narduzzi, relish the opportunity to play for a division championship. The coaches have had a chance to give their opinion, but ultimately it’s the DAs who will vote on what happens.

“You’re never going to come up with a model that satisfies all 14 schools,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson. “We’ve played NC State 105 years in a row, and if you go to that pattern and it’s not in your [annual rivals]that could change.”

Maximizing more engaging games across the league is another area where the ACC sees room for growth without divisions, so there have been lengthy discussions with ESPN about what this could mean for television and, in particular, the prime time matches.

Along with changing his own programming model, Phillips said now is the time to “take a look” at alternative models for governing all of college football. The sport which is the biggest source of income on every campus has been hugely affected by all the recent changes to college athletics – from name, image and likeness rights to the transfer portal.

Just last week, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith proposed that all 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame operate under the College Football Playoff, while all other sports remain under the NCAA model.

Phillips was open to learning more about this idea, in addition to exploring others.

“If we ever have to do something, now is the time to do it,” Phillips said. “When you reorganize a structure like the NCAA, what do you do with football? Does it need to be run separately? Do you need a governance structure? Those are questions we should ask ourselves.

“Either you continue to follow the path you have taken or you try to do something different. What is more sustainable? What has the possibility of helping football move forward There has already been a slow slide with soccer – has its own league, has everything it takes to host the second most-watched sporting event in the United States.

“So is there an opportunity to potentially look at what it might be, if you’re going to redo the NCAA and everything the NCAA cares about. Maybe there’s something parallel that may have some interaction, but has a self-contained ability.”

Phillips also seemed to indicate an openness to discussing the possibility of paying football players directly as school employees.

In 2014, Phillips was Northwestern’s athletic director when a group of football players, led by quarterback Kain Colter, attempted to unionize. At the time, Phillips opposed the effort, which was ultimately defeated when the National Labor Relations Board determined the athletes were not employees.

On Wednesday, Phillips seemed much less sure of that designation.

“We all have a responsibility to move in the direction that college football is going,” Phillips said, noting that there was some feeling that current pay is already crossing a line in playing pay.

“Experience is tied to education, getting a degree and academics. What are the benefits, that’s what we struggle with – finding common ground on what we think is appropriate and that would put us in a different category than collegiate sports.”

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