First, Strickland said the schedule organizers are guided by principles such as proximity history and rivalry. The vaccination of the Atlantic and coastal squads was another factor. A big driver of the change from a two-division format – which allowed opponents between divisions, not counting permanent partners, to face each other twice in a 12-year cycle – was the ability to play each team repeatedly.
Clemson was Tech’s permanent partner, and Louisville and Wake Forest were in the Atlantic Division versus Tech. There were other factors, such as trying to prevent teams from making trips to Florida State and Miami (or Syracuse and Boston College) in the same season or preventing teams from making trips to the same opponent in 2022 and 2023.
“This affects the cadence of opponents and who can and cannot be primary opponents,” Strickland said.
The interests of each school were considered as well as the entire conference. There are special competitions that the schools and conference have made a priority to retain, Strickland said, such as Florida State-Miami, Virginia Tech-Virginia, and North Carolina-Duke. Tech and Clemson were another.
“It was an excellent consistency that was really important for a lot of people to keep going,” he said. “Also, this makes a lot of sense for a number of other areas. The geographical proximity is huge.”
However, Strickland suggested it wasn’t a high priority for either school, even though the teams played each other 87 times, putting Clemson fourth among Frequently Played Tech opponents. Clemson’s win in the past seven games by 27.1 has dented the competition, and tech sports director Todd Stansbury doesn’t seem particularly keen on continuing to take on the juggernaut Clemson and Georgia annually.
“I don’t think this rivalry has necessarily risen to that level (Florida and Miami), but it’s a very meaningful match for the ACC,” Strickland said. “So you may have had higher scores under the ‘It Matters ACC’ column than what is important to your individual fan base or organization.”
Tech-Wake Forest was attractive because the two teams were in opposing divisions (they’ve faced each other once in the past 11 seasons) and fairly close geographically. (It is the ACC’s third closest competitor, after Clemson and the state of Florida.)
Strickland responded to the argument that Tech-Wake Forest lacks oomph about the lack of modern history, “That’s the point. You used to have (date), and it’s been 12 years or so now without a chance to play, and you’ll have history” .
On picking Louisville – a team with whom tech has little history and is farther away from Atlanta than seven ACC schools (although some are barely) – Strickland acknowledged that it probably didn’t make sense for tech fans, who are taking one for the good of the league in this partnership.
“But you have to look at it from the perspective of the other teams,” he said. “Louisville needs three too. And who are you going to put them together with?”
As the newest member of the ACC, Louisville has no obvious competitor and has been matched with Miami and Virginia alongside Tech. Atlanta is the third closest ACC city to Louisville.
“And I think Nashville is a nice stopping point in the middle,” Strickland said helpfully. “And this was going to be a fun ride for people in Atlanta to do, and it only took six hours on the road, but it made a lot of sense from a Louisville perspective.”
There were tech fans who were also upset that Duke wasn’t a core partner, with the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils having played each other annually since 1933, the longest active tech streak after Tech and Georgia not playing in 2020. Outstanding rivalry the way it was Clemson-Tech or Miami-Florida.
“Just in general, just because you’ve done something for a long time, it doesn’t mean it’s in the same stature as something else,” Strickland said.
In cases like Tech-Duke, the league has tried to assess what can be achieved by not making schools primary partners and what it has to lose. The lack of Duke may have helped Tech-Wake Forest become a pair.
Strickland said there are versions of the schedule pairing Tech and Florida State, teams in opposite divisions, that have proximity and history. They have much more solace in facing each other in the future than they have in recent years, even though they are playing this season.
“You just weigh the pros and cons of each different setup,” Strickland said.
Strickland said the two matches they were most concerned about not being able to include were Virginia Tech-Miami and Wake Forest-North Carolina.
According to a tweet from ESPN writer David Hale, Tech primary opponents have the highest payout against conference strength competition in both the College Football Playoff era (.602) and also in the past three seasons (.611) of any team in a conference. This has been considered, Strickland said, but schedule organizers have paid as much attention to balancing the entire eight-game league table as they have to the relative strengths of each team’s core partners.
“If you look at every team’s schedule in every season and look at how it flows and compares and contrasts with everyone else in the league, I think you’ll see there’s a great deal of balance,” he said.
For example, Strickland said, Miami and Virginia Tech ranked highly in the win-loss comparisons that the league used to determine schedule balance. As a result, the league has tried to limit instances in which teams play both in the same season.
Georgia Tech does not play both teams in the same season for any of the four years of the scheduling model.
“So I would encourage people to look at all eight games, rather than just three, and then make up your mind as to whether or not you think there is a historical balance in the strength of the schedule,” Strickland said.