The ACC announced on Thursday that they will be launching the ACC Digital Network in 2019, news that had been reported earlier this week and finally became official.
What was hidden in that announcement, however, was that the ACC would be moving to a 20 game league schedule beginning in 2019. It’s smart for the conference, as it will add 15 conference games worth of inventory for the network to broadcast. That’s two more times they’ll be able to broadcast Duke and two more times they’ll be able to broadcast North Carolina, and Louisville, and Syracuse, and N.C. State, and all of the huge fan bases that make up what has turned into the best conference in college basketball.
The other part of it? Given that there are 15 teams in the league, the ACC already plays an unbalanced schedule. There are times were we’ll see the marquee teams in the league play just once a season. More games means that we’ll get, say, Louisville visiting Duke or Virginia at North Carolina more often. Again, that’s a good thing.
The bad part of this, however, is that it means that non-conference college basketball is going to get just that much more uninteresting.
Here’s the deal with non-conference scheduling: The power conference schools are required to have a certain number of home games during non-conference play based on how many home games they’re going to get in league play. Athletic Directors are, essentially, running a business, and they need to be able to bring in the money from season ticket sales, merchandise sales, food sales and parking fees that come with playing in their own arena. That’s part of how they fund the athletic department. It’s why buy games are a thing. These big schools can afford to shell out $50-$100,000 to bring a team into their gym because they know they will more than make that money back.
Let’s use Duke as an example. In the 2016-17 schedule, they play seven of their 13 non-conference games at home. When the ACC schedule expands, the Blue Devils will get an extra home game and an extra road game, so assuming AD Kevin White wants the same total number of home games, Duke will have to play six of their 11 non-conference games in Cameron.
That means they’ll have five games to work with. One of those games will be the Champions Classic. Half the time, one of those games will be a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. And if their road game in the challenge comes in the same season where the Blue Devils play in an exempt tournament — like, say, the Maui Invitational — where the field is eight teams, all of their flexibility when it comes to play home-and-home series vanishes.
They’ll be forced to play the remaining six non-conference games at home.
Now factor in that some ACC schools may require their teams to play more than just six non-conference games at home and that this is a trend that is happening all over the country at the high-major level, what you get is a situation where non-conference play slowly but surely turns into exhibitions on neutral courts and blowout wins for big programs on their home floor.
So while we’ll get more matchups between conference foes during January and February, home-and-home series between powerhouse programs in different conferences is slowly-but-surely becoming a thing of the past.
And college basketball’s relevance before the turn of the calendar takes another hit.