June 25, 2014
Football scheduling is always one of the hot topics across the college football landscape, and Georgia Tech fans contact us throughout the year with plenty of feedback (and yes, some of it is not so nice).
Scheduling falls under the purview of senior associate athletic director Ryan Bamford. He took some time to explain Georgia Tech’s scheduling philosophy and address some of the most asked questions.
What is general strategy for building the football schedule each year?
The NCAA allows FBS schools 12 competitive opportunities each season. Of those 12 games, the ACC provides its members with an eight-game conference schedule. For Georgia Tech, the eight-game league schedule includes six games against Coastal Division teams (Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Pitt, Virginia), one game against a fixed Atlantic Division team (Clemson) and one game versus a rotating Atlantic Division school (NC State in 2014).
Additionally, we have four non-conference games to schedule each year. At this time, our non-conference scheduling philosophy is to have two of the four opponents come from the five equity conferences (EC) — SEC, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. Of course, our annual rivalry game with Georgia is built-in every year so we are really just looking for one additional EC opponent. For now, the other two non-conference games will include an FCS (I-AA) opponent and one non-equity conference opponent. In 2014, Tulane and Georgia Southern are both in non-equity conferences.
A major consideration in scheduling non-conference opponents is the availability of opponents. As the College Football Playoff materialized two years ago, FBS non-conference scheduling changed. Recently, we lost two future series with Alabama and South Carolina, respectively, because of their desire to remove EC opponents from their schedule.
Our scheduling philosophy (two EC games, one non-equity conference game and one FCS game) is typical among the ECs, especially now with the advent of the College Football Playoff. As a result, we are not alone in looking for a mix of equity, non-equity and FCS opponents. As you would expect, EC schools schedule games based on what the market will yield.
How easy or difficult is it to schedule games versus the five equity conference opponents?
Given the unknown nature of the new postseason playoff structure and selection process, scheduling EC opponents is more difficult than it has been in the past. There are few EC members looking to schedule other EC games until there is clarity in the playoff landscape. Plus, with our offensive success employing the spread option under Coach Johnson, we are not a favorable target for schools that might have only one week to prepare for us early in the season.
Additionally, we have to balance our home-and-away schedules each year. Ideally that means seven home games or no less than six home games (50% of our schedule). The ACC schedule provides four home games so in years when we play at Georgia, we need to ensure at least two of the other three non-conference games are scheduled at home. Every EC school aims to have at least two or three home non-conference games for revenue purposes.
Therefore, arranging a home-and-home series with another EC school means that every other year we are giving up a home game and the revenue that comes with it. The home/away balance is a major factor in the construction of a quality home schedule.
At this time, we have schools from the five ECs on our schedule in future years. We travel to Notre Dame in 2015, Vanderbilt comes to Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2016 and a home-and-home series with Ole Miss is scheduled for 2017 (away) and 2018 (home).
How does the ACC’s scheduling relationship with Notre Dame impact Georgia Tech?
The ACC and Notre Dame have an agreement that stipulates five games between the Irish and ACC members each year. For Georgia Tech, it means we play Notre Dame twice (a home/away rotation) every six years. In 2015, we start the series with a September game in South Bend. Sometime in 2017, 2018 or 2019 Notre Dame comes to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
From 2020-2026 we will continue the home/away rotation again. In years when we play both Georgia and Notre Dame, we automatically meet our goal of playing two non-conference games against members of the five ECs.
We are really excited about starting our series with the Irish in 2015. The ACC/Notre Dame scheduling relationship is extremely positive for Georgia Tech and our league as a whole. There’s certainly historical significance for us.
The ACC recently voted to stay at eight conference games instead of nine. What did Georgia Tech prefer?
That was a hot topic this spring but the ACC athletic directors voted to stay at eight games. Our fans will probably remember that the league briefly adopted a nine-game schedule before the Notre Dame relationship was established.
From our standpoint, we were in favor of a ninth ACC game. First, it would have alleviated some of the scheduling issues I outlined above. Globally, we thought it would have strengthened the ACC football brand and provided our football student-athletes and fans the opportunity to see ACC conference members more regularly.
For instance, with an eight-game ACC schedule, 2013 national champion Florida State (Atlantic Division) will visit the Flats in 2015 but not again until sometime after 2025. If we adopted a nine-game league schedule, we would play every Atlantic Division opponent at home at least once every six years, similar to the Notre Dame arrangement. We thought this alone made it a good concept for the ACC and Georgia Tech.
Is the current division alignment and schedule rotation going to change?
It does not appear that any changes to the ACC scheduling model will be made in the next 2-3 years. I do think that after a few cycles of the new college football playoff system the ACC office and athletic directors will revisit league scheduling to ensure that we are positioning the league for the greatest level of access to the playoff system.
Would you ever consider moving the Georgia game to the beginning of the season?
We have discussed this with UGA in the past and have weighed the pros and cons of placing the game in week one. I don’t think either school is bullish on that concept. Last year the ACC created a handful of league-wide scheduling parameters and concepts that serve to protect our brand and place ultimate emphasis on scheduling league games appropriately.
One of the concepts that we think is important to our league is reserving the final weekend of the season for rivalry games. As our fans know, the ACC-SEC crossover rivalry games are a big part of the final college football weekend. I do not see that changing anytime soon. Plus, it is an advantage for us to be flexible in scheduling non-conference games in weeks 1-3 of the regular season. If we move a fixed game like UGA to week one, we lose that flexibility and, potentially, the ability to attract other quality EC opponents to play us.
Is Georgia Tech interested in playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in the future?
In a word: Yes.
We explore and consider a wide range of scheduling opportunities as it relates to non-conference games and the opening weekend Chick-fil-A games have been very successful in the last five years. Gary Stokan and his Peach Bowl staff located here in Atlanta do a fabulous job coordinating quality matchups that generate positive exposure and enhance the student-athlete experience.
Philosophically, we are interested in participating in neutral site games like this when they make sense for our program and our fans. We think the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game is a good fit because of its location in our backyard and the access that provides to our fan base outside of our home schedule. As we’ve done for a number of years, we will continue to discuss these types of opportunities for Georgia Tech with Gary and his staff.
There’s not a Thursday night game on the schedule this year. What is the preference for that in the future?
As part of our scheduling process with the ACC we are allowed to make requests as long as they adhere to the overall scheduling parameters (included below) and do not influence the equity or competitive balance of our league. Georgia Tech has been a part of a Thursday night ESPN package for a number of years (with both home and away games) and we felt it was time to take a break from those, especially as it related to the home portion of our schedule.
There are Georgia Tech-centric reasons for not wanting a Thursday night home game each year, including working around academic schedules, space planning, and traffic and parking issues (parking lots generally cannot open earlier than 5pm).
In addition, a good portion of our fan base asked us to take a break from Thursday games. We listened and asked the ACC to take a one-year hiatus. We do not want to end our participation in Thursday night games altogether because there are some real positives to playing in that slot, including the tremendous coverage and exposure ESPN provides.
The current ACC deal with ESPN includes a Labor Day game, five Thursday night games and three Friday night games. We will certainly look to be part of these unique (non-Saturday) game days in the future.
How do you determine the week-to-week order of the schedule?
It’s largely determined by the ACC as they work through their process of laying out the eight-game schedule. The best thing we can do is build a non-conference schedule in weeks 1-3 that ramps up appropriately and prepares us for the ACC portion of our schedule. I think we have done that this season by scheduling Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern prior to our first ACC game.
In terms of the league schedule layout, we have preferences each year, primarily when we would like our bye week(s) or when we want a home or away game to accommodate fall break or homecoming on campus. That said, almost everyone in the league has similar preferences so it’s hard to get everything you request. I’ve referenced the ACC scheduling parameters so frequently in my answers I thought it would be best to include them here.
ACC Football Scheduling Parameters (Must be followed during the scheduling process)
1. Non-conference games (not including the Notre Dame game) may only be scheduled in weeks 1, 2, 3, 4 or the final two weeks of the season. NOTE: If an ACC game is scheduled for Labor Day, schools playing in such game can be granted an exception to place a non-conference game within the core ACC block of the season.
2. No more than two conference road games may be scheduled consecutively (a school may have a non-conference away game for a third, though ACC will try to avoid).
3. No more than three home Conference games may be scheduled consecutively (a school might have a non-conference home game for a fourth, though ACC will try to avoid).
4. Best efforts to accommodate one special scheduling request for one weekend per year (e.g. away or open on Fall Break, religious holiday); no more than three requests per school; requests must be rank-ordered in terms of priority; no requests can impact conference game on-field football equity issues other than home week/away week/bye week requests.
5. With the exception of Labor Day and three Fridays (including Thanksgiving Weekend), ACC can only schedule Thursday and Saturday games.
6. For Thursday night games, best efforts for both schools to have at least seven days between games prior to a Thursday night. If both schools do not, then both schools must have the same amount of rest (short week game). For short week games, make best efforts for both teams to be at home the previous week. If this is not possible, the team that is the visitor in the Thursday night game will be at home the week before, while the team which will be home on the Thursday night will travel the previous week.
7. All schools must play on Thanksgiving Weekend (the week before the ACC Championship Game).
How is the kickoff time determined each week?
Our television partners, in concert with the league office, select the game times for games that are carried on TV. As you can imagine, they are working with a variety of time slots each week. The first three weeks of the season are set by mid-May, and then there is a 12-day window for each game thereafter, starting with the fourth week of the season.
In four instances each season, the networks can exercise a six-day window for placing game times. In some cases, the time slots are at least narrowed prior to the official announcement so we have some idea when we might play.
If our games are not selected by our television partners, then we are placed on ESPN3. If we have a home game on ESPN3, we have greater input on the start time. In most cases, our preference is to start early season games (August and September) later in the day, if possible, due to the hot weather conditions that time of year in Atlanta.
We do realize that for planning purposes, it can create a challenge for fans. We certainly sympathize. We do our best to get the word out as soon as we know.