Scott Barnes isn’t showing his cards.
Pitt’s athletic director will get a say in the upcoming decision by the Atlantic Coast Conference on whether to change from the current eight-game league football schedule or go to a nine-game schedule with an additional crossover game between division.
As it stands currently, each ACC team plays each of the six other teams in their division ever year, along one with one permanent opponent and one rotation opponent from the other division. This season, Pitt will visit Clemson as their rotation crossover foe, but, if the current arrangement holds, won’t make another visit to Death Valley until 2030.
It’s not that big of an issue for Pitt, who entered the conference in 2013 and has few traditional opponents in the Atlantic Division. But the divisional split has left long-time rivals such as Wake Forest and North Carolina without one another on the schedule, prompting the schools to agree to non-conference games in 2019 and 2021.
The ACC athletic directors narrowly voted against making a change in 2014, but with the conference’s new ACC Network coming to fruition in 2019 with partner ESPN, commission John Swofford and the athletic director must make a choice.
A nine-game conference schedule would provide more opportunities for schools in opposite divisions play one another, and guarantee that every team would be able to schedule at least 10 games against Power Five opponents.
An eight-game schedule would give teams with traditional Power Five non-conference rivals such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville more scheduling flexibility, but may make it hard for some teams to fill out a schedule. With the schools taking sides, Pitt could end up having a critical vote, but Barnes isn’t in a rush, calling the discussions “ongoing.”
The hold up, it seems, is that Barnes and the Panthers want as much information as possible about how difficult it will be to schedule two Power Five non-conference opponents. Pitt will play Penn State and Oklahoma State this season, and already have two such games scheduled in 2017, 2018, 2022, 2023 and 2025.
“What we’re looking at is in between, during and beyond that, do we have the ability to fill the schedule with another Power Five and an FBS program? That will help us formulate our decision. It’s out there. The information is out there. We’re studying it and it’ll help us make a decision. … My take is that as long as we feel like we can continue to support a healthy non-conference schedule, we’ll do that.”
As other conference go to nine-game schedules — the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 have already done so — the available inventory of non-conference games has fallen.
“What we need to understand is the landscape moving forward,” Barnes said. “We’re going to make an informed decision based on what that landscape looks like and our ability to schedule the games we need. … What we’re doing now, frankly, is we’re studying what the landscape of Power Five availability looks like over the next six to eight years and that will help drive our decision.”
One thing that’s not on the table, from Barnes’ perspective, is giving up on regional non-conference rivalries. Pitt will start a four-year series with Penn State this year and has a four-year series scheduled with West Virginia from 2022 to 2025. Barnes has repeatedly stated a desire to play Penn State, in particular, every year.
“We do want and it’s very important to us, whether we’re at nine or eight, to continue to have a rivalry game,” he said. “For us, that’s always going to be in the mix as much as we can. We’ll continue to do that and pound on that and work on that.”