We are about 13 months away from the launch of the ACC’s ESPN-backed linear television network, and you can be certain that the parties involved will do everything they can to give the new channel an early signal boost.
We know already that there will be early-season conference games in football to bolster the network’s inventory and profile. That scheduling strategy in football is not unprecedented, but the potential plan for basketball would be: in a conversation with the Daily Press’ David Teel, John Swofford floated the idea of beginning the 2019-20 men’s basketball season with a slate of seven league games.
This would be a unique multi-day event that would give the new network some marquee inventory out of the gate—the ACC Network could, in theory, run double-headers in prime time over three or four days, making a big to-do of the whole thing in the process.
Obviously, this is a significant departure from the traditional scheduling model, which has seen a conference game or two scheduled for December but the vast majority otherwise played in the usual January-March window.
Think of it as an ACC/ACC Challenge of sorts, with every league team involved except one. (Having an odd number of basketball schools forces somebody to sit out; Teel hypothesizes that it would be Duke, which is committed to a highly competitive early-season tournament in 2019.)
So, conference games in November—heresy or a good idea with long-term viability? I’m inclined to go with the latter. No question that this would bring some much-needed excitement to the early portion of everybody’s schedules and it doesn’t feel like a gimicky concept to me, even if it is designed specifically for our television overlords.
The league is already expanding league play from 18 games to 20 in order to create more inventory for the network—that’s a done deal and everybody’s going to have to adjust to that new reality.
Playing a wave of conference games early would alleviate scheduling stress: instead of squeezing in two more games into the normal January-March window, they will only be adding one game. I think coaches would feel better about that, since it would require fewer quick-turnaround games.
The practicality of November league games, from that perspective, has me on board with making this a long-term tradition. But there is no indication yet that this would become an annual tradition rather than simply a one-off event for the network’s launch year.
The first go-’round—if they do decide on doing this—will be an experiment, no doubt, but if the interest is good and the reception is positive, who knows, maybe this will become the new normal.