The Atlantic Coast Conference reworked its football schedule Wednesday to allow each team to play 11 games and to incorporate Notre Dame, which is giving up its storied independence in a year rocked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The ACC’s university presidents approved plans for an 11-game schedule, including one nonconference game, and for pushing back both the first week (to Sept. 7) and the league championship game (from Dec. 5 to either Dec. 12 or 19).
The ACC will eliminate its traditional divisional format this season and the two teams with the best winning percentages in conference play will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league championship game. The league will release specific dates and broadcast plans later.
Notre Dame, which competes in the ACC in all sports except football and hockey, will play in a football conference for the first time in the 133-year history of the proudly independent program – if the season is played. The pandemic is threatening to wipe out the fall season, but the biggest conferences are taking steps to try to mitigate potential disruptions and somehow play football, a critical revenue producer through its broadcast rights deals.
”We recognize that we may need to be nimble and make adjustments in the future,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. ”We will be as prepared as possible should that need arise.”
Notre Dame already had a scheduling agreement with the ACC that puts five or six game with the league on the Fighting Irish schedule every year. They had six this season, including Clemson, Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Pitt. Added to that will be home games against Florida State and Syracuse and road games against North Carolina and Boston College.
Notre Dame lost three games on its original schedule against Big Ten and Pac-12 opponents when those conference decided to play only conference games. The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference have not announced any changes to their football schedules.
The ACC and Notre Dame also agreed to equally share TV revenue – including the Fighting Irish’s deal with NBC as a football independent – among the 15 schools.
The ACC said the nonconference game must be played in the ACC school’s home state – a move intended to save traditional instate rivalries such as Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida State-Florida and Clemson-South Carolina. The decision appears to rule out three early-season games in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: North Carolina against Auburn; Virginia against Georgia; and Florida State against West Virginia.
Additionally, any nonconference opponent must meet medical protocol requirements set forth by the ACC.
Those recommendations include regular testing for most athletes, from weekly tests in football within three days of a game to every-other-week tests in sports representing a ”medium” risk such as baseball, softball and cross country.
The ACC also announced that fall team sports for non-revenue programs would begin Sept. 10 with a conference schedule that meets the NCAA’s minimum requirement for games: 10 for volleyball and six for field hockey, men’s soccer and women’s soccer. Additional games against conference or nonconference opponents would be left up to the schools, though they wouldn’t count in the ACC standings.
The plan says that teams in winter and spring sports may continue workouts, but the league is canceling any out-of-season fall competitions for golf, tennis, rowing, lacrosse, softball and baseball.