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How Pods Could Solve the ACC's Divisional Crisis

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A look at one of the more interesting solutions to the ACC's need for divisional realignment, the pod method, and how it would impact Georgia Tech and the conference as a whole.

ACC commissioner John Swofford
ACC commissioner John Swofford
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

As conferences continue to grow larger and larger due to the extensive amount of realignment that we've seen over the past few years, the traditional two-division format has stopped being as effective as it once was. For the ACC, which currently features 14 schools plus Notre Dame (to an extent), the two-division format has made it so that schools from opposite divisions rarely meet up, minus a crossover game. For example, Louisville joined the ACC's Atlantic Division for the 2014 season but won't play a game at Bobby Dodd Stadium until the 2021 season. This problem, along with a number of others, could be solved by a pod system in the ACC. It's a simple concept that could really work for the benefit of the conference if it were to be implemented, but what exactly is it?

What is the pod system?

Simply put, the pod system is a way to ensure that every single ACC school gets to play every other ACC school twice every four years -- once at home and once on the road. This would allow every four-year athlete (and student) to see every single ACC school play at home. It would include four divisions, or "pods", two of which are comprised of three schools and two of which are comprised of four schools. Every season, a member school would play against the other two or three members of its own pod as well as another full pod and part of a third pod (don't worry if this doesn't make sense yet). This would allow the ACC to continue its 8-game schedule with the occasional inclusion of Notre Dame, unless the conference decided to expand to 16 members -- in this case, there would be a 9-game conference schedule but the pod system would still work. Take a look at my sample ACC pods below:

Pod 1 (Big) Pod 2 (Big) Pod 3 (Small) Pod 4 (Small)
Georgia Tech North Carolina Boston College Miami
Clemson NC State Syracuse Florida State
Virginia Tech Duke Pittsburgh Louisville
Virginia Wake Forest

That sample was (obviously) made with a strong bias towards Georgia Tech, but I also made sure to respect other rivalries like the Tobacco Road schools, Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, and Miami vs. Florida State. The pod system gives us a way to preserve these rivalries while also improving upon how frequently they are played; under this model, Duke and NC State would get to have a home-and-home every two years, whereas under the current model they only have a home-and-home every 8 years.

Now, on to the technical part of the system. Every season, a big pod would play against its own pod (3 games), two games against the other big pod which rotate every season (2 games), and one of the two little pods (3 games) for a total of 8 games. For an example of the large pods in action, let's look at a possible Georgia Tech schedule:

Year 1: vs. Clemson @ Virginia vs. Virginia Tech @ NC State vs. UNC @ Boston College vs. Syracuse @ Pittsburgh
Year 2: @ Clemson vs. Virginia @ Virginia Tech vs. Duke @ Wake Forest vs. Miami @ Florida State vs. Louisville

In this scenario, Tech would be playing Clemson, Virginia, and Virginia Tech every year, Duke/Wake Forest or NC State/UNC every other year, and Boston College/Syracuse/Pitt or Miami/FSU/Louisville every other year. This allows for us to rotate through the whole conference, home and away, over a four-year stretch.

The small pod teams would play against their own pod (2 games), a permanent opponent from the other small pod (1 game), another rotating opponent from the other small pod (1 game), and an entire big pod (4 games). Let's see an example of that by looking at a potential schedule for Louisville:

Year 1: @ Miami vs. Florida State @ Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse @ UNC vs. Duke @ NC State vs. Wake Forest
Year 2: vs. Miami @ Florida State vs. Pittsburgh @ Boston College vs. Georgia Tech @Virginia Tech vs. Clemson @Virginia

In this scenario, the Cardinals would play against Miami, Florida State, and Pitt every season -- Miami and FSU are in their pod and Pitt would be their permanent crossover from the other small pod. They would also play one game against either Syracuse or Boston College on alternating years and against one of the big pods (Clem/GT/VT/UVA or Wake/UNC/NCSU/Duke) every season. Again, they would get to play a home-and-home with every team every four seasons and get to see every team every other year.

How would a champion be decided?

As it stands right now, the NCAA mandates that a conference can only hold a conference championship if it meets the following specifications:

- The conference must have at least 12 teams.

-The conference must be divided up into 2 divisions.

-Each member of a division must play every other member of its own division.

These rules are the reason behind the Big 12's inability to have a title game -- it only had 10 members schools and one, large division. Under the pods method, however, there would technically be divisions much like the current Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, albeit temporary. In the pods method, the divisions would completely realign every two seasons after the members had already completed a home-and-home with each other. A big pod and a small pod would combine for two seasons, creating two 7-team divisions which would fill the current NCAA specifications. Let's take a more detailed look at what exactly that means with some beautiful pictures:

Wow, what an artistic interpretation! That hopefully explains what I mean when I say that the divisions would only exist for two years each before switching -- Pod 1 and Pod 3 would be the Coastal for two years, then Pod 4 would replace Pod 3 in a new Coastal Division. The same is true for the Atlantic. This meets the current NCAA division requirements and also represents the simplest way to choose participants in the ACC Championship.

This isn't however, the only way to choose participants. The ACC and Big 12 recently teamed up to propose a plan to the NCAA which would allow for individual conferences to choose a champion however they want, thereby negating the NCAA's current rules. The two-division system is still the simplest to use in relation with the pod system, however, and probably the most fair as well.

In conclusion...

The pod system provides a much-needed alternative to the current two-division system in the ACC. Through a simple, well-defined rotation of teams, each school in the conference would be able to play every other team at least once every other season while simultaneously preserving natural rivalries and making games make more sense geographically. From a Georgia Tech perspective, it would (according to my example, at least) allow the Jackets to play every season versus rivals Clemson and Virginia Tech, as well as allowing Bobby Dodd Stadium to host every single ACC team every four years as compared to eight years in the current model while still allowing for an open spot for Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. What's not to love? Pods are the future!

Do you agree with my assessment of the pod system? Is it the best way to fix the conference alignment problem in the ACC?