ACC gives its football teams new guidance on scheduling non-Power 5 road games: Don’t

Coming off a year in which the ACC played 10 road games at non-Power 5 opponents — and lost three of them — schools received new guidance from the league office: Don’t.

While the nonconference portions of the schedules to be released Monday are often set years if not decades in advance, the ACC has asked schools to schedule most, if not all, of their future nonconference road games at either Power 5 teams or Army.

That sounds simple enough, except it can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to buy a home game against even a low-level FBS team, and playing home-and-homes or two-for-ones are often the best balance between finances and, to be blunt, wins.

Throw in geographic considerations where going on the road makes sense for recruiting reasons or otherwise — Appalachian State and Charlotte and East Carolina for the North Carolina schools, Liberty and Old Dominion for the Virginia schools — and it’s a tough nut to crack.

“It’s potentially more expensive,” North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said, “but theoretically you can build more competitive, better schedules.”

That’s why ACC commissioner Jim Phillips made that ask, although creating better inventory for the ACC Network and the league’s partners at ESPN was certainly a consideration, as well.

“Those end up being individual campus decisions, but we have pushed hard about making sure when we have opportunities to play really good programs and teams in the nonconference, we need to do that,” Phillips said. “We just do. When you look at some of our better teams over the last three or four years, in particular a school like Clemson, that’s what they’ve done. And you have to do that.

“It doesn’t mean all 12 of your games have to be at that level, but when you have the opportunity to play home games or home-and-homes, they need to be against the very best competition you can.”

That can make things a little tricky. While the mandate didn’t extend to getting out of existing contacts — and both Duke and N.C. State travel to Connecticut this year — some schools have looked for escape routes.

While it hasn’t been announced yet, the Wolfpack has pushed a 2025 road game against South Florida to 2029, buying time to negotiate a buyout or for the Bulls to meet the criteria. In future years, N.C. State still has trips to Appalachian State, East Carolina, Troy, Charlotte and Louisiana Tech on its schedule.

In September, Wake Forest canceled a home-and-home with FBS independent Liberty in part because of the ACC’s guidance, Wake athletic director John Currie confirmed. The Deacons were supposed to go to Lynchburg in 2025 and host the Flames in 2026.

“The 2025 date is a possibility to make up the Appalachian State home game postponed during the COVID-2020 season,” Currie said in a press release last fall. “In 2026 we travel to both Purdue and Army, so our focus for our remaining dates that year will be on home games.”

But North Carolina — which played two road games at Group of 5 opponents last season — doesn’t plan to get out of games at Charlotte in 2025 and UConn in 2027. And Duke not only intends to play several future road games against non-P5 teams as scheduled but intends to stay true to its overall scheduling philosophy, which is built around home-and-homes with teams that give Duke a good chance at a nonconference win without undue financial burden.

In addition to UConn his fall, Duke goes to Middle Tennessee State, Temple and Tulane in future years.

That last game — in 2025 — looks awfully good now, with the Green Wave coming off a Cotton Bowl win over Southern Cal, even if Tulane doesn’t fit the ACC’s criteria, technically speaking.

But that is, Phillips said, the goal.

“We’re working together to create better matchups and matchups that people around the country, their fans and others, would like to see,” Phillips said. “And certainly television would like to see.”

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