It would be a bit hyperbolic to say that the ACC has bent to Paul Johnson’s will.
But the league did approve a scheduling policy change that the Georgia Tech coach drove after his allegation in January that “the conference tries to screw us every way they can.” Presented evidence of a scheduling imbalance that has often provided Yellow Jackets opponents with extra rest and practice time before playing Tech, ACC athletic directors voted unanimously to address the situation at the league’s spring meetings in May. Commissioner John Swofford revealed the modification Thursday at the ACC Kickoff.
“It was a needed change,” Johnson said by text message Thursday. “I’m glad they did it.”
The athletic directors added a provision into the league’s scheduling model that will limit each team to playing one conference game per season in which it plays the previous week but its opponent has an open date. The parameter will go into effect for the 2018 season.
“Now, Paul was not accurate in some of his comments, I can assure you of that, but it did at least lead to some (information) that we brought up with the schools, that they want to have some things in there that sort of guaranteed, if you will, that one school wasn’t absorbing more situations where they had an open date before their game than others,” Swofford said.
From 2008, Johnson’s first season, through this coming season, his 10th, Tech has had 12 league games in which its opponent has enjoyed an open date the previous weekend when the Jackets did not, the most of any team in the ACC. By comparison, North Carolina has had six such games.
Johnson contended that ACC opponents were requesting to have open dates before playing the Jackets (teams are allowed to make scheduling requests of the ACC, such as placement of the bye week or a home date on a particular weekend) and that the league was granting those requests. The league has denied that such an allowance exists.
It has been particularly irksome to Tech fans that North Carolina had five instances in Johnson’s first nine seasons when the Tar Heels were coming off an open date and the Jackets were not. Meanwhile, the reverse situation has not occurred in that span. (Tech is 3-2 in those games, which to some lessened the contention that the Jackets were at a significant disadvantage.)
Johnson’s fury peaked after the release of the 2017 schedule in January. The Jackets will play three ACC opponents that will be off the previous week (Miami, Wake Forest and Clemson, although Tech will also be off before the Hurricanes).
“It happens every year,” Johnson said in January. “It has to be intentional. There’s no other explanation for it.”
After the schedule was released, ACC senior associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland met with Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, deputy AD Mark Rountree and Johnson. Strickland helped Stansbury craft a recommendation to address the imbalance, which Stansbury presented to his fellow ADs at the spring meetings at Amelia Island, Fla. Coaches recommended the change to the ADs, whose vote (along with approval from the league’s faculty athletics representatives) made the policy official.
Strickland told the AJC that the measure quickly gained support among athletic directors. He also made the observation that “I think Paul was the most passionate (coach) on the subject.”
“I think it’s a good rule,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said Thursday. “I think equity is what every college coach wants. We want a fair playing ground, we want a level playing ground.”
The parameter will not include games in which both teams are coming off a bye week. Strickland noted that the policy may cause other complications. For example, he said, the league tries to minimize back-to-back road games for the league’s teams.
“The number of times that that happens may go up to satisfy this bye-week balance parameter,” Strickland said. “So we tried to talk through the unintended consequences, if you will, and I think people are prepared that some of those things might happen more frequently, but in the end, it was worth it.”