The ACC is officially getting rid of divisions in football.
The conference announced Tuesday that it will have a new scheduling model beginning with the 2023 season. The new model, which eliminates the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, has a 3-5-5 structure where each team will play three primary opponents on a yearly basis.
From there, each team will play the other 10 teams twice during a four-year cycle — once at home and again on the road. The new format ensures that each team will play the other 13 conference members at least twice during a four-year span.
With the change, the ACC title game will now feature the conference’s top two teams based on conference winning percentage. Previously, the winners from the Atlantic and Coastal would square off for the league crown.
“The future ACC football scheduling model provides significant enhancements for our schools and conference, with the most important being our student-athletes having the opportunity to play every school both home and away over a four-year period,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said.
“We appreciate the thoughtful discussions within our membership, including the head football coaches and athletic directors. In the end, it was clear this model is in the best interest of our student-athletes, programs and fans, at this time.”
ACC permanent opponents chosen
While this change has been expected and widely viewed positively, perhaps the biggest hurdle was settling upon the three primary opponents for each school.
Here’s what the conference came up with:
Boston College: Miami, Pitt, Syracuse
Clemson: Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State
Duke: North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest
Florida State: Clemson, Miami, Syracuse
Georgia Tech: Clemson, Louisville, Wake Forest
Louisville: Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia
Miami: Boston College, Florida State, Louisville
North Carolina: Duke, NC State, Virginia
NC State: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina
Pittsburgh: Boston College, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
Syracuse: Boston College, Florida State, Pitt
Virginia: Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech: Pitt, Virginia, Wake Forest
Wake Forest: Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
In 2023, the ACC will adopt a 3-5-5 football scheduling model and all 14 schools will compete in one division.
Teams will play 3 primary opponents annually + face the other 10 teams twice during the 4-year cycle, once at home and once on the road.
📰: https://t.co/7cvsuH48j3 pic.twitter.com/ne5TjwtfYd
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) June 28, 2022
The majority of the conference’s long-standing rivalries (like Clemson vs. FSU, FSU vs. Miami, NC State vs. UNC and Virginia vs. Virginia Tech) are covered, though one notable one has been impacted. NC State and Wake Forest have played on a yearly basis since 1910. That’s one of the longest consecutively played series in the sport, but that will come to an end in 2025. The Wolfpack and Demon Deacons also aren’t scheduled to face each other in 2026 either (the full ACC schedule through the 2026 season can be viewed here).
From a Wake Forest perspective, though, getting Duke and Georgia Tech as yearly opponents is a pretty good draw from a wins and losses perspective.
Another yearly rivalry — Duke vs. Georgia Tech — also fell victim to the new format. Those two schools have faced one another every season since 1933.
Regionally, these choices make a lot of sense — especially as it pertains to navigable road destinations for fans. But one other fit that would have made sense from a geographical standpoint is Florida State and Georgia Tech. Tallahassee is not exactly the easiest place to get to, and a four-hour drive to Atlanta to play the Yellow Jackets seemed like a logical option. Instead, Syracuse is one of FSU's three annual opponents.
Another matchup that unfortunately missed the cut is Miami vs. Virginia Tech. Those two got quite a rivalry going when they were in the Big East and that carried over into the ACC.
Other conferences could make similar changes
Back in May, the NCAA Division I Council voted to eliminate the requirement for conferences with 12 or more members to have divisions in order to hold a conference title game. It’s expected that most FBS conferences will make changes ahead of the 2023 season, with many getting rid of divisions and adjusting its scheduling format like the ACC has.
Several already have.
Though its schedule (based on the North and South divisions) is in place, the Pac-12 previously adjusted the format of its championship game for the upcoming season — the two teams with the top winning percentages will play. In 2023, the Pac-12 will get rid of its divisions. The Mountain West also voted to eliminate divisions in 2023. Elsewhere, the AAC removed divisions last year following the departure of UConn and the Big 12 has not had divisions since it was reduced down to 10 members back in 2011.
The ACC is now the fifth FBS league to scrap divisions. The Big 12 has operated without divisions since 2011 following the departures of Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M in realignment. The American did away with the divisional format last year, when UConn departed for independent status. The Pac-12 and Mountain West have also voted to eliminate divisions for 2023. The SEC expects to follow suit, but remains in discussions over the best format.
In addition to the 3-5-5 format the ACC is moving forward with, other formats — like having four-team pods — have also been discussed among conferences. In getting rid of divisions, conferences like the SEC would avoid the long periods of time where two teams do not play each other.
And for conferences like the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, putting the two best teams against one another in a championship game can help with College Football Playoff positioning.
There’s also the issue of imbalance within conferences. In the Big Ten, for example, the East division champion has won the conference title in all eight seasons with the league's current format.
But even without divisions, it will still be a challenge for conferences with as many as 16 teams (like the expanded SEC with Texas and Oklahoma) to create a balanced schedule.