I'll have a football-related post up shortly, but for now here are some notes from Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson, who met with the media prior to the Syracuse game to discuss the ACC's decision to stick with eight conference games, rather than moving to nine. He also touched on a couple of other scheduling-related issues. Here's a link to my story from the P-G last week that detailed some of the changes.
- The real impetus for the change to an eight-game schedule was Notre Dame's announcement that it would play five football games against ACC teams every year. That meant that each team played nine conference games, had ND that year, and had a regular non-conference rival (i.e. Clemson with South Carolina), it would have just one open non-conference spot.
"Everybody was pretty much set on the nine games as we started out with this, but then the Notre Dame dynamic really changed it," Pederson said.
"We would have been happy either way, but the majority of people felt strongly about going back to eight. I think it all works."
- The eight-game ACC schedule will give Pitt four non-conference spots to fill each season. Pederson said he'd like two of these games to be BCS-conference opponents. Notre Dame and Penn State appear to be regular or semi-regulars for one of these spots, but Pederson said he was hopeful to work in some other opponents, such as some Big Ten teams to fill the void when Notre Dame and/or Penn State aren't on the schedule. Other than that, I'd imagine the third non-conference opponent will be a MAC-level team and the fourth a I-AA opponent. Pederson said, ideally, three of the four non-conference games would be at Heinz Field.
"There’s games that we’d like to play," Pederson said. "We’re excited about the Penn State games coming up, I’m hoping we can increase those."
- With regard to the West Virginia series, Pederson said this might be an opportunity to re-open those discussions, but didn't sound incredibly optimistic.
"I think that now this maybe gives us some room to have that discussion," Pederson said. "I mentioned that [West Virginia athletic director] Oliver [Luck] and I have kind of talked about it, but until we had some definitive planning on our part, it was kind of hard to do that."
Ever since Pitt moved to the ACC, I haven't gotten the sense that restarting the Backyard Brawl is very high on its priority list. It seems like they'd much rather make Penn State an annual series or get some home-and-homes going with Big Ten teams, like they did with Iowa. That said, Pitt will have some places to fill in the BCS spots on the non-conference schedule, so West Virginia remains a possibility.
- There's a stipulation in Notre Dame's deal that it has to play every ACC team at least once every three years, which means a pretty regular rotation (15 spots for 14 teams). Initially, there was some hope that Pitt would be able to continue its annual rivalry with the Irish, but Pederson essentially nixed that possibility.
"We’ll go into the cycle with everybody else," Pederson said. "I think that’s part of conference membership, but the conference has been really good about working with us."
He did say the ACC would be willing to work with Pitt and BC, both of whom have long-term deals with Notre Dame, to help the schools fill out there schedules. Ideally, that'll prevent Pitt from being in a situation like it was this year, where TCU and West Virginia's conference-hopping left the Panthers with an open spot and forced them to call up Gardner-Webb.
The fact that Notre Dame won't be an annual opponent also obviously opens up yet another marquee non-conference spot for Pitt on years the Irish aren't on the schedule. Notre Dame won't start its ACC rotation until 2014 at the earliest, so the Irish will be on the schedule until then, at least.
- Like many other college football officials across the country, Pederson said he thought the impending four-team playoff would help bolster non-conference schedules across the country. I know everyone here found Pitt/Gardner-Webb to be riveting television, but pretty much everyone agrees that strength of schedule will be a major factor in selecting the four playoff teams.
"Some of this is maybe going to be a work in progress as people look and say, 'Maybe we need to schedule this game,'" Pederson said. "Because you don’t want to get to the end of the year and have enough wins but you can’t get there because of strength of schedule, and I do think strength of schedule is going to be a big component of all this."
- One of the downsides of the eight-game ACC schedule is that it means Pitt will only play each team in the Atlantic Division once every six years, and these teams (like Florida State, Clemson and Boston College) will only come to Heinz Field once every 12 years. If you're in the same conference as someone, but you only play them once every six years, are you really in a conference with them?
The other option would be dropping the annual crossover opponent (Pitt's is Syracuse) and rotating two cross-division teams in every year, but Pederson said that wasn't a realistic option. In addition to some crossover games that have to be played every year (Miami/Florida State, for instance), Pederson said he liked keeping the traditional rivalry against Syracuse going into the ACC.
- Finally, Pederson said Pitt has three non-conference games scheduled for next year, home tilts against Notre Dame and Villanova and a trip to Annapolis to play Navy, which means there's one more still to come. Given it's so late in the process, I wouldn't expect a big name for that final non-conference game. The Panthers were supposed to have non-conference games against Virginia Tech and N.C. State next year, but those obviously fold into the ACC schedule.