State Of The Program - Part One

The idea of playing eight or nine conference games is one of the big topics heading into next week's ACC meetings.

Eight or nine conference games.

At the outset of the annual ACC meetings at Amelia Island in Florida, Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson took some time to give an overview of some of the topics that will be up for discussion.

The idea of playing eight or nine conference games may be the most pivotal of the meetings. In his experience of being involved with the ACC for one full year, Pederson said this will be a matter of simply having discussions, in hopes of doing what's best for the conference.

"I don't know where everybody is, but generally, the league has been in the mindset of playing eight games in two divisions," Pederson said. "That's where I am."

* A look ahead to Pitt's 2016 schedule gives a good example of why a nine-game schedule might create some headaches in terms of planning a schedule. Pitt is slated to play Penn State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. The crossover opponent that year is Clemson.

A challenging schedule, yes. An attractive schedule for fans traveling to home and away games, yes. But, a stacked schedule, indeed, with no leeway for another non-conference game. At the risk of saying no room for an FCS opponent, even if it means filling out a home slate.

"That's where you get into a problem with a ninth game," Pederson added.

Take for example Pitt's 2013 schedule. Initially, Pitt was in a rush to find another opponent for 2013. Central Florida was originally the extra non-conference game. Heading into its first season in the ACC, Pitt already had Notre Dame on the schedule. As a result of Notre Dame joining the ACC alliance, everyone in the conference went back to eight games. Luckily, Pitt was able to add New Mexico as a replacement. New Mexico originally had a game with Texas A&M schedule. The Aggies had to forego that commitment as a result of joining the SEC.

"We voted to go to nine conference games prior to Notre Dame's arrival," Pederson explained. "That's how we ended up with two (non-conference games). We quickly made a deal with New Mexico, thanks to (head coach) Bob Davie and (athletic director) Paul Krebs. I had to get rid of Central Florida, then all of a sudden, didn't have a game.

"It will be interesting to see where everyone falls. I think we have to end up doing what's best for everybody. We'll have to do some talking. I don't want to have something where we are backing out on people."

Pederson also cited other schools who have regular commitments with in-state rivals in other conferences--Clemson and South Carolina, Georgia and Georgia Tech, and Florida and Florida State, just to name a few.

One other thing, which may lead to the league voting on an eight-game conference schedule, with two divisions, will be the conference championship game. That, Pederson says, hinges on NCAA legislation. If the conference were to go to one division of 14 (15 with the addition of Louisville this season), by NCAA law, the ACC wouldn't be permitted to hold a conference championship game.

The ACC could still have a conference championship game. However, it would be less clear than pairing up each division winner.

That in itself is a whole other discussion amongst the NCAA, who is in talks to have that rule changed. The Big XII being an example, being that they don't have a conference championship game. If the NCAA were to revise its rule, the Big XII would be able to hold its conference championship game again. But again, it is up to the NCAA in that case.

"There is NCAA legislation being discussed," Pederson said. "But it hasn't passed, yet. It's another thing on the docket."

* One other topic that will be discussed within the eight-game format, will be the 6+1+1 format. In Pitt's case, the six Coastal opponents, plus the annual game with Syracuse (permanent crossover) and a rotating crossover (last year Florida State). There's an idea that both crossovers will be rotating, making the possibility of a team like Florida State making a sooner return trip to Heinz Field, in this case.

Pederson also discussed the ACC bowl agreement, which will have some changes with the new playoff format coming into play this season.

The ACC Champion will play in the Orange Bowl, unless the Champion is selected to play in the College Football Playoff. In that case, the ACC Champion will play in either the Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Arizona) or Peach Bowl (Atlanta, Georgia), or Cotton Bowl (Dallas, Texas)--known as Host Bowls, in this instance. Then, the second-place ACC team, or conference championship game runner-up, would represent the conference in the Orange Bowl--part of the ACC's agreement with the Orange Bowl which goes through 2025.

The ACC will enter an agreement with the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida, which in years past, has had an agreement between Big Ten teams and SEC teams. An ACC team would participate in this bowl game only in seasons where the Big Ten is the ACC's opponent in the Orange Bowl. For example, if this past year's matchup between Clemson and Ohio State were to happen, an ACC team would be one team in the Capital One Bowl. There are no predetermined years, and solely determined by a Big Ten team playing in the Orange Bowl.

The Russell Athletic Bowl would appear as the third or fourth spot on the bowl pecking order, again based on how many ACC teams are placed in the College Football Playoff, Orange Bowl and possibly the Capital One Bowl.

Following that pecking order, is a set of 'Tier One Bowls.' Those include the Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina), Pinstripe Bowl (New York), Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas) and either the TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida) or Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tennessee). These two bowls will host an ACC member three times in the six postseasons between 2014 and 2019. No appearances are pre-determined, and will be decided when bowl bids are handed out.

There's one more set of bowl games, known as the 'ACC Bowl Pool.' These games will include the Military Bowl (Washington, D.C.), Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana), Detroit Lions Bowl (separate from the former Little Caesars Bowl--now being overtaken by the Lions), the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Birmingham Bowl (seeking a new sponsor after the agreement with BBVA Compass has ended).

The idea with all these new tie-ins are to create some attractive bowl matchups on all sides, but also to eliminate possibilities of a team like Pitt going to the same bowl (Birmingham) three years in a row.

"Chances are, you have a team in that conference where you're going to end up with a great game regardless of where it comes from," Pederson added.

* Another topic that will be up for discussion, the unionization of student-athletes. Northwestern's initiative to become unionized has been a big topic in sports, in general, this offseason. It's certainly something that will be talked about next week.

"We've always supported doing more for our student-athletes," Pederson said. "And, in a reasonable fashion. Whatever is chosen to do is to work with the NCAA. I think we're nearing that day. I think we're nearing that time where something makes sense.

In addition to that, there's the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit with the NCAA. An issue that Pederson says has left a lot of athletic departments wondering what the future holds.

"We're paying very close attention to it, because there's no telling what the next five or six years could hold," Pederson said. "We don't feel unionization is in the best interest of student-athletes. We're better off working through corrections of things that need to be corrected. That's very doable, and how it relates to each institution.

"It's the same thing with all legal matters. We can't say what the future holds. At the end of the day, we want our student-athletes to get a great education at a great university. When I talk to our student-athletes, they like it here, and that's the most important thing."

* As for capital improvements. The men's and women's basketball program are going through some slight renovations, expanding their locker rooms. This extra money is the result of some of the additional revenue from Pitt's TV agreement with the ACC. The football team is also getting an expansion to its weight room.

Any additional monies, Pederson says is going directly into each coach's recruiting budget.

"That's something Coach Chryst has an interest in--expanding the weight room," Pederson said. "He likes more guys lifting together at the same time. That's one of his beliefs--the more guys together, the better all-around.

"What we did with additional revenues, we've let our coaches put that into their recruiting budgets, their travel and competition budgets. We tried to make sure our coaches had enough money if they want to recruit, to get them significant recruiting budgets. Those are the things most intangible in making their programs grow."

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