Formatting league still up for discussion

Updated: September 24, 2003, 11:22 AM ET
Scripps Howard News Service

CLEMSON, S.C. -- The NCAA has informally rejected the Atlantic Coast Conference's bid to stage a football championship game with 11 teams, essentially ruling out a lucrative title game in 2004, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said Tuesday.

The ACC filed a waiver in July asking that leagues with 10 teams be allowed to play conference title games. A final vote by the NCAA's management council, a 49-member group with representatives from all the Division I-A conferences, has been expected to come in April.

Without a championship game, multiple ACC teams next season could tie for the league title without having played because the round-robin scheduling format will be gone. In such cases, the BCS rankings would probably determine the ACC's automatic representative for one of the four lucrative bowl games.

"We got back word that the championship committee was overwhelmingly against waiving the current rule," Phillips said. "Now I haven't seen anything in writing on that. I think (adding a 12th team) would be where we need to go, if in fact we want the championship game."

The ACC's original expansion plan called for 12 teams, in part to meet the 12-team requirement to stage a championship game. But only Miami and Virginia Tech were approved by the ACC presidents, creating the odd number of 11 teams next season.

Three conferences -- the SEC, Big 12 and Mid-American -- are authorized to hold league championship games. ACC commissioner John Swofford has estimated such a game would generate between $7 million and $10 million to the conference.

"It's disappointing. I'd like to have it," Phillips said. "I think the divisional play enhances the league."

Without a championship game, multiple ACC teams next season could tie for the league title without having played because the round-robin scheduling format will be gone. In such cases, the Bowl Championship Series rankings would probably determine the ACC's automatic representative for one of the four lucrative bowl games.

"That may be what we have to live with," Phillips said. "If you have a good, solid non-conference schedule that helps you in the computer ratings, that's how you're going to" win a tiebreaker in the ACC standings.

Football and men's basketball schedules could be finalized when the ACC's nine current athletics directors join the Miami and Virginia Tech ADs for meetings Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Charlottesville, Va.

By not having a football championship game, Phillips said, the ACC's best option is to follow the Big Ten model and not separate into divisions. The ACC has discussed models based on a two-year schedule that could be used interchangeably in a Big Ten model or a divisional format, if a 12th team is added.

In the Big Ten model, each school would still have eight conference games per season. There would be an eight-year cycle before every team would play the entire conference, Phillips said.

Each school would have two permanent rivals it would play each season. Phillips said Clemson's rivals, for instance, would probably be Georgia Tech and either Miami or Florida State -- both national powerhouses currently ranked No. 2 and 6, respectively, in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' and AP media polls.

"We're going to ask our [Clemson fans] to step up and do some big things, and I think it should be expected that we step up and do some big things," Phillips said. "We need to compete, and if that's the way it shakes out, then we need to do what's necessary to compete at that level."

The ACC has not ruled out having unbalanced football divisions consisting of six and five teams, although that format was more preferable with a title game, Phillips said.

Another issue is how the traditional basketball schedules will be affected. The ACC men's basketball coaches want to eliminate the double-round robin and stay with a 16-game conference schedule, ACC associate commissioner Fred Barakat told reporters two weeks ago. All 11 teams will play in the ACC tournament, with the top five teams earning first-round byes.

Maintaining the double-round robin would mean schools would play 20 of their 27 games inside the conference. A 16-game ACC schedule would give schools more flexibility to schedule non-conference games against marquee opponents or weaker teams to gain victories.

"The 16-game schedule for schools that are working to build their program would be more preferable because you don't have to play everybody in the double round-robin each year," Phillips said. "But from a television perspective, certainly the 20-game schedule is tremendous inventory for the networks. There's a whole lot of discussion that has to go on with that issue."

As for adding a 12th member, which would help solve many of these issues, Phillips said he knows of no ongoing discussions.

Boston College and Syracuse were rejected by the ACC near the end of the expansion process last summer.

"I think people continue to have affinity [for Boston College]," Phillips said. "I don't know how they feel about us after what's happened. To me, that would be the larger question. If I'm Boston College, I'm not sure how warm and fuzzy I'd feel about things."

This story appeared in the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail.