Florida State Seminoles: Dan Radakovich
Alabama coach Nick Saban agreed, sparking renewed debate about the place of FCS games in major college football, especially when strength of schedule will mean more in the playoff era.
But during the ACC spring meetings last month, there was no such debate. The ACC remains firm in its desire to play FCS opponents. There are a few reasons why. First, scheduling nonconference games has become more challenging than ever. Sometimes, an FCS team is needed to fill out the schedule. Second, there are many FCS teams in the South that are in close geographic proximity to ACC teams, and they always benefit greatly when they are scheduled to play.
These are not the most appealing games. Sometimes, upsets happen, which is probably why Muschamp does not want to go the FCS route anymore. But from the ACC perspective, the FCS games are not going anywhere anytime soon.
All 14 ACC teams have FCS teams on the schedule for 2014. Seven are in the same state as their ACC opponent. Nearly all the rest are located in bordering states. Miami, for one, plays Florida A&M this season and also has played in-state Bethune-Cookman in the past.
"Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are great games for us," Miami athletic director Blake James said during the ACC meetings. "Those are schools within the state, there’s a real benefit for them to be able to come down and have games in Miami where they have alumni. It’s a benefit for us. As of right now I would see us still scheduling Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman and those types of schools. Those are the ones we have historically played and those are relationships we’d like to be able to continue."
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who also serves on the College Football Playoff committee, was asked how teams with FCS opponents on the schedule would be judged when it came time to make decisions. The Tigers, for example, have South Carolina State on the schedule this season and for 2016 and a game with Wofford set for 2015.
"You’re going to have to look at what FCS teams you play, if any, because there are some FCS teams that are more difficult to play than the lower-ranked Division I teams," Radakovich said. "It comes into the totality of the schedule."
Until further notice, the totality of the ACC schedule will include an FCS opponent.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, one of 13 members on the committee, said plainly, "It’s going to be the totality of the schedule. Being a conference champ is one of the top priorities as is winning the games, so there’s really not just one factor that is overwhelming the others. It’s the body of work associated with the program."
In the selection committee procedures, released earlier this month, there is a brief mention about how strength of schedule will be evaluated. The committee will be given data from SportSource Analytics, which will provide stats on every FBS team, along with opponent records and opponents' opponents' records. Unlike the basketball model, which relies heavily on RPI, the committee will not use just one data point.
That means much of this is left up to interpretation. The Pac-12, for example, finished second in the ESPN Stats & Information Conference Power rankings to end the 2014 season. The Pac-12 plays nine conference games. The ACC, on the other hand, finished fifth in the same set of power rankings. The league decided to stick with eight conference games. Does this automatically mean the Pac-12 gets a built-in advantage based on playing a conference schedule that is perceived to be more difficult?
Nobody really knows until we see the committee pick four teams based on on-field results.
What we do know is three conferences have opted for nine league games. That is a big reason why the ACC will require teams to play at least one power-five opponent in nonconference per year, beginning in 2017. Notre Dame is included in that group; BYU is not.
Will that be enough?
The Pac-12 already plays a tougher conference schedule, plus most of its teams play power-five opponents. Last season, only four teams did not have at least one power-five nonconference game. Four -- including Oregon and USC -- had two.
"It’s a wait and see," Miami athletic director Blake James said. "It will take some programs not making it to the final four and having the committee or someone come out and address that it was a scheduling issue that prevented them from being there. With that said, we all have to be cognizant of the fact that our schedules are going to be evaluated and you want to be one of the four teams. The challenge there is no one knows who is going to be the dominant program three, five, 10 years out, which is how we’re doing our schedules. You can schedule an elite program right now and by the time you play them, they might not be an elite program and vice versa. It’s a real challenge and it will be interesting to see how it plays out."
You saw examples of that throughout college football last year. Oregon had Virginia and Tennessee, power-five opponents, yes, but both teams finished with losing records. Ohio State scheduled Cal when the Bears were good, not knowing they would have a 1-11 season when the teams ended up playing. Perhaps more scheduling contracts will be broken in the playoff era, as teams jockey to get current elite teams on the slate.
"In Blacksburg, if we have Michigan and Notre Dame on the schedule, I think our fans would be fine with that," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said.
Elite games like that are hard to find, because both parties have to be willing to play one another. That could make more scheduling challenges for everyone, especially since the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten will have fewer nonconference spots open because they play more league games.
"The cost of guarantees continues to rise, too," James said. "You have three of the five conferences that are playing nine games so right away there are fewer games needed and geographically you want to try to stay within your area and schedule games that make sense for your fan base and alumni base. When you put all those things together it makes scheduling already challenging and I do think it will be more challenging in the future."
Given all the challenges and the uncertainty about strength of schedule during playoff evaluation time, ACC athletic directors left open the possibility that they could change their minds on scheduling. Like James said, it's wait-and-see.
"As we get through the first cycle of this new football playoff, I think it will be telling for us as to whether or not this decision is the right decision or whether we need to do something else," Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox said. "I think we felt comfortable knowing we're not the lone conference out there, that we're comfortable being at eight."
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Up until Monday, there was a running joke whenever ACC administrators and athletic directors got together during meetings that went a little something like this: Scheduling on the agenda again? Better get used to it.
The joke can be retired now that the ACC has decided to stay at eight conference games. What ended up being the biggest surprise was not the choice to remain status quo, but how quickly the decision was made. Not only had the scheduling subject been going on for years, up until last week there was uncertainty about whether a vote would be taken here at all.
All that was solved in a matter of hours Monday.
So what changed in such short period of time? They simply could not wait any longer to take a vote, not when the other power five conferences had already made their scheduling decisions. They had gone over the scenarios enough and discussed the topic enough.
“I know we will always do what’s in the best interest of the ACC. It probably would have been harder if the other four leagues had gone to nine, but that didn’t dictate our decision,” Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said Tuesday. “But I think everybody realized, ‘Hey, we’ve talked about this for a long time, let’s go ahead and figure this out.’”
- Some schools that leaned toward nine games ultimately accepted eight because of the rule that now requires all league teams to play at least one tough nonconference opponent. Miami coach Al Golden, a proponent of nine league games, said, “As long as we’re using the same metrics -- that’s a little bit different than everybody doing their own thing. That’s all we want, uniformity within our league -- not just comparing our league to anther league, but within our league itself.”
- Notre Dame did play a large role in staying with eight, as well. One athletic director said having the scheduling agreement with the Irish is like having 8½ conference games. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville already have an SEC rival on the schedule, making the Notre Dame agreement loom much larger in their scheduling decisions.
- Home games. Many athletic directors want seven home games per year for a number of reasons, and staying at eight league games helps in that regard. Home-field advantage is obviously huge, but so is the revenue that is generated when you get to play at home.
- Unbalanced conference schedule. That brings us to the next point. Many athletic directors who voted to stay at eight league games did not want to play five road conference games every other year. Babcock, who spent time at Missouri when the Tigers were in the Big 12, pointed out that the fifth conference road game ended up costing both Oklahoma State and Kansas State a chance to play for the national championship. In 2011, the unbeaten Cowboys lost at Iowa State 37-31 in double overtime, setting up the LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS national title game. In 2012, unbeaten Kansas State lost at Baylor 52-24.
The wild card, of course, is how the College Football Playoff committee will view strength of schedule for conferences that play eight league games vs. conferences that play nine league games. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who will serve on the playoff committee, said the totality of the schedule must be considered regardless of how many league games are played.
“The eight-game [schedule], plus the one out-of-conference game, works best for us right now,” he said. “Things could change down the road, four or five years from now after some experience with the College Football Playoff, but that’s where we need to be right now.”
The ACC opens its spring meetings today with critical decisions to be made about its future. And we are not just talking about scheduling.
Divisional structure, potential changes to the championship game and more discussion about a possible ACC Network are all on the table as league athletic directors, coaches and administrators gather in Amelia Island, Florida, for the next four days.
Each topic is carefully interlaced and fraught with its own complicated issues. No decision about one can be made without impacting another. Just as an example: Any new information on a possible ACC Network could end up determining whether the league stays with an eight-game or moves to a nine-game conference schedule. Then that decision could ultimately determine what the ACC does with its division and championship game format.
“It’s like dumping out a Lego set and trying to piece it all together and do it right,” Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said. “And it’s not as simple as red goes with red, yellow goes with yellow. It’s a little more complex. But all these things are such good, challenging things to look at. It’s exciting, the discussions are really exciting right now because there are so many creative things that can happen out of all this.”
While there does seem to be more movement toward a nine-game schedule among the athletic directors than there was last year, the league does not yet have a simple majority in favor of adding another conference game.
There also is very little traction for changing the division format or championship game setup -- even though the ACC petitioned the NCAA to be granted the flexibility to determine its title game participants.
In interviews ESPN.com conducted with all 14 athletic directors leading up to the meetings, none were in favor of rearranging divisions. Nine were opposed to getting rid of divisions entirely, four remain undecided and one had no preference. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, in the undecided camp, wants an answer on league scheduling before moving forward to the division and championship game discussion.
He agrees, however, with the decision to petition the NCAA to change title game legislation.
“Depending upon where the conversation goes with the eight versus nine games, I think that the lineup, whether it is 1-14, whether it’s two seven-team divisions, whether the divisions are the same as they currently are, I think will be a totally separate discussion,” Radakovich said. “But first, we have to make that other decision on the eight or nine games.”
Getting rid of divisions altogether would relieve some of the headaches that go along with the current eight-game scheduling model, which features only one rotating crossover opponent. That has drawn criticism from both coaches and athletic directors who do not want to go as long as eight years between games against conference opponents.
Without divisions, teams could rotate through a cycle that would allow student-athletes to play every conference team at least once in their careers. But it could also mean getting rid of permanent crossover rivalries like Miami-Florida State, North Carolina-NC State and Duke-Wake Forest. And it could also mean chaos when it comes to determining who will play in the championship game.
Only two athletic directors are in favor of the top two teams in the league playing in the title game, while five remain undecided on the format. If the goal of the pending NCAA legislation is ultimately for the ACC to try to get its two top teams in the championship game to improve its stature and bump up strength of schedule, there are perils that go along with that, too.
“What’s the best way to make sure we have a team in that four-team playoff?” Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “Obviously, multiple teams would be awesome, but if you really want them playing each other in that last week of the season, I’m not sure that’s the best setup for having teams advance into that playoff. It’s served us reasonably well.
“I would tell you that I’m OK with the flexibility and the possibility to rethink it in different ways, but I’m not sold sitting here today that we need to do it differently.”
Over the past several months, the ACC has sent so many scheduling and championship game models to athletic directors to study, there are literally too many to count. Newer athletic directors like Brad Bates at Boston College and Whit Babcock at Virginia Tech remain undecided about what is best not only for their programs but the ACC in general.
Therein lies some more of the complexities. How do all these athletic directors put aside self interests to vote for what is in the best interest of the league?
“You can make compelling arguments for a lot of different models,” Bates said. “Different institutions are going to look at the different models in ways that best impact each of us selfishly, but at the same time, we have to look at everything holistically and see how it best impacts the league. And I think that’s probably where the discussion rests right now.”
More discussion will follow over the next few days. But will it be enough to change minds?
“It’s not a real simple solution,” Babcock said. “That’s why there wasn’t anywhere near a unanimous thought process during our winter meetings, so it got pushed off. I’m not sure it will be any easier to solve in May than it was in January.”
Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is ready for a vote -- again.
After years of flip-flopping between an eight- and nine-game league schedule, the topic is once again up for debate as the ACC athletic directors, coaches and administrators prepare for their annual spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., in two weeks. Given the SEC’s recent decision to stick with eight league games, all eyes have now focused on the ACC to see whether the league will come to any decision about its future schedules.
There’s no guarantee they will vote on anything, but many would like a resolution to a discussion that has dragged on for years.
“I think voting on the future conference football schedule is extremely important,” Wellman said. “I don’t know how much longer we can delay it.”
ESPN.com recently interviewed every athletic director in the ACC about scheduling preference, and there was no overwhelming majority. Half of the athletic directors -- including a surprising vote from Georgia Tech -- were in favor of a nine-game conference schedule. Three schools -- Boston College, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- didn’t give a specific preference, and three schools -- Duke, Clemson and Florida State -- would prefer to stay at eight games. Louisville AD Tom Jurich, who is just happy to be a member of the ACC, might be the swing vote.
“I really don’t care either way,” Jurich said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Eight, nine, seven, 10 -- I don’t care. If they want us to play nine plus the game with Kentucky, I’ll do that too.”
Unlike the league’s winter meetings, the ACC coaches attend and will weigh in. They remain in favor of playing eight conference games, but the athletic directors have the final say. In May 2012, they approved a nine-game schedule despite opposition from the coaches only to revert to eight games after announcing a partnership with Notre Dame.
Unlike the last time a nine-game schedule was approved, the athletic directors are now tasked with putting together schedules that best position their programs for access to the new College Football Playoff. They also have to weigh in the five-game rotation with Notre Dame, and four schools -- Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida State -- already have built-in SEC rivalries. A few athletic directors, including North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham, have indicated they would vote in favor of whatever schedule format is most likely to lend itself to an ACC channel. A nine-game format would increase the ACC’s league schedule from 56 to 63 games.
“I am in favor of getting a separate channel, and however we have to do that, I’m willing to consider,” Cunningham said. “I’m flexible because I think a channel is very important to us.”
Miami athletic director Blake James was less willing to bend.
“I’m a believer that the nine-game schedule would be a win for the conference, and I believe it would be a win for the University of Miami,” he said. “That’s where I’m at with it.”
FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox said the Seminoles’ built-in rivalry with Florida isn’t going to change. The bigger concern is keeping Clemson and Miami on the schedule every year -- a puzzle that could get tougher in a nine-game format.
“Also in the room, Miami and Clemson want the same,” Wilcox said. “It’ll be difficult. This is why you see that we haven’t; it’s a stalemate.”
“Because of the built-in regular-season finale against rival South Carolina, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich remains convinced sticking with eight games is the right thing for his program. He also pointed out that, under a nine-game format, there would be years when the Tigers can’t play seven home games, an economic loss for both the university and the region. Instead of adding another league game, Radakovich suggested other schools beef up their nonconference schedules.
I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we're going to schedule up, we don't have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It's just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.” -- FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox
“If they don’t have that rival at the end of the year, then they need to schedule a College Football Playoff equity conference game on a home-and-home basis,” he said. “If they don’t have that rival, they need to schedule two, but they can do that based on when Notre Dame rolls on and off their schedule.”
“I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we’re going to schedule up, we don’t have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.”
Good luck -- especially when Georgia Tech is one of the schools in favor of nine games.
Yellow Jackets athletic director Mike Bobinski said the years in which they have to play both Notre Dame and Georgia will be “a handful for sure,” but if a nine-game schedule is best for the conference, that’s what he’s in favor of.
“We’ve got a big conference now, and our collective destiny is important,” Bobinski said. “All of us will rise as the fortunes of our league rise from a football performance perspective, and while nine games will be problematic for us in some ways … I just think that, for the good of the brand of ACC football, to me a nine-game schedule feels better.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the current format is the crossover opponent scheduling. ACC teams will play all of their rotating crossover opponents twice during a 12-year rotation, but not consecutively. FSU played Pitt in the season opener last year but won’t be back until 2025 or later. As thrilled as Louisville is to be joining the ACC, the Cardinals don’t get to see Virginia Tech before 2025. Virginia and Clemson won’t see each other again until 2020.
“My position is the nine conference games would be preferable mainly because of the opportunity to clearly play more of our peers in the conference and expose our institutions to each other,” Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said. “It’s one game a year, but that initial game does help our conference in terms of the overall branding and building of relationships and rivalries among all of the institutions.”
Both sides have valid points. Now it’s time to put it to a vote -- again.
David M. Hale and Andrea Adelson contributed to this story.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that athletic directors have seen their salaries grow as well.
USA Today, which annually compiles head coaching salaries, recently found FBS athletic directors make an average of $515,000. That is an increase of more than 14 percent since USA Today last reported on AD salaries in 2011.
The ACC beats that average. Of the available salaries compiled by USA Today, ACC athletic directors were set to make an average of $602,829 in 2013. All but two made more than $500,000 -- Kevin Anderson at Maryland ($499,490), and Randy Spetman at Florida State ($350,00).
That doesn't count incoming Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who makes a cool $1.4 million -- the highest paid athletic director at a public school. Only nine athletic directors make $1 million or more. The next highest paid public school AD is Dan Radakovich at Clemson, checking in at $725,000.
Boston College and Miami, two private schools, did not disclose figures.
While Spetman's salary has remained the same for the past several years, it still surprises me that the athletic director at one of the most high-profile football programs in the nation is the lowest paid in his league. And one of the lowest paid in the entire state of Florida. Florida AD Jeremy Foley makes more than $1 million; USF AD Doug Woolard makes nearly $500,000; Todd Stansbury at UCF makes just a smidge more ($375,000); and FIU AD Pete Garcia makes $441,832.
I know Spetman has faced his share of criticism, and the Noles have fought through some financial problems. They do pay Jimbo Fisher $2.75 million -- the highest paid coach in the ACC. But something seems off when the ADs at FIU, UCF and USF make more than the guy at Florida State.
Here are is the complete list of AD salaries in the ACC, thanks to USA Today.
- Tom Jurich, Louisville: $1.4 million*
- Kevin White, Duke, $906,536
- Dan Radakovich, Clemson: $725,000
- Ron Wellman, Wake Forest: $688,000
- Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech: $625,000
- Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech: $621,529
- Steve Pederson, Pitt: $596,595
- Craig Littlepage, Virginia: $586,750
- Daryl Gross, Syracuse: $570,057
- Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina: $565,000
- Debbie Yow, NC State: $500,000
- Kevin Anderson, Maryland: $499,490**
- Randy Spetman, Florida State: $350,000
- Brad Bates, Boston College: NA
- Blake James, Miami: NA
*Louisville expected to join ACC in 2014
** Maryland will depart ACC in 2014
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