Stanford, Cal grapple with the ACC scheduling puzzle: “We’re working on it daily”

The Bay Area teams are working with each other and the ACC to create a new schedule model

Four weeks after Stanford and Cal landed in the ACC, the most perplexing aspect of their move — the competition schedule for a bicoastal conference — is still months, if not weeks, away.

“This stuff isn’t covered in any AD 101 class,” joked Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir. “But we’re learning on the fly.”

The athletes will be doing a lot of that as well, juggling schoolwork at 35,000 feet while traveling to games on the East Coast.

After the Pac-12 was decimated by realignment, the Cardinal and Bears will face a unique challenge when they join their new conference next summer.

UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon will be in the expanded Big Ten, reducing the need for cross-country travel, while the Four Corners schools (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and ASU) will be in the Texas-based Big 12.

However, Stanford and Cal are the only ACC members in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. Their road games will take them either across the Bay Bridge or to the other side of the country.

“Scheduling is the big piece,” Muir recently stated in his first extensive public comments on the subject. “We’re working on it on a daily basis.” We hope to have most of the details worked out by the fall.”

Stanford and Cal have staff members dedicated to the process, and they communicate regularly about ways to reduce travel time and costs. (For instance, sharing chartered flights.)

Officials from the athletic department are collaborating with faculty members to determine the appropriate levels of academic support for athletes who will be spending more time on the road.

Members of Stanford’s sports performance department are collaborating with colleagues at USC and UCLA on best practices for mitigating the effects of air miles and time differences.

Since the first half of August, when the conference became serious about adding Stanford and Cal, ACC executives in Charlotte have been immersed in the issue.

After all, the schedule affects current ACC members as well.

“There were countless hours of discussions about how we can schedule in the future,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said on the day his conference added Stanford, Cal, and SMU to its roster. “It was a fantastic exercise.” We want to relieve as much of the burden as possible from the student-athletes. We must be inventive.”

One possibility is to hold neutral-site competitions on SMU’s campus or in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, reducing travel for participants on both coasts.

This much is certain: the travel burden will not be distributed evenly.

Football is the primary driver of realignment, but it will have little impact. Stanford and Cal will travel to the East Coast three or four times per season, each for a few days on chartered aircraft.

However, many sports, particularly men’s and women’s basketball, softball, baseball, and a few others, have limited mitigation options.

How many commercial flights will there be? How many people will compete on East Coast campuses on consecutive weekends? And, more importantly, to what extent can Stanford and Cal limit non-conference travel given that they will be logging so many miles once league play begins?

It all appears daunting and contradictory to both schools’ academic missions. According to Muir, the travel component “wasn’t a non-starter” when Stanford first sought salvation in the ACC.

“First and foremost, we wanted the Pac-12 to stay intact,” he stated. “It had done us well. When we realized it was falling apart, we asked ourselves, ‘OK, what is the appropriate home?’

“We discussed it with our student-athlete leadership group. They stated three things. The first was that they desired to compete at the highest level. No. 2 was how the journey would look. And number three was ‘Don’t forget about number one.’

“Once the ACC said yes, that was it.”

However, the life raft came at a cost. Actually, there are two costs:

— Stanford and Cal agreed to a 12-year contract with the ACC, which seems like an eternity in the fast-paced world of college sports.

“We had to talk about it,” Muir admitted. “But it does provide stability.”

— According to reports, the Bay Area schools will receive reduced shares of the ACC’s media rights revenue for nine years before transitioning to full-share membership for the final three years of the contract.

And neither is in particularly good financial shape.

Cal’s athletic department relies on more than $20 million in central campus support to balance its books, whereas Stanford recently planned to cut 11 sports before changing its mind.

How does Muir intend to compensate for the revenue disparity? With assistance.

“Campus support is going to increase,” he stated. “We know we can’t compete at the highest level and travel more if we don’t get more help.” Stanford’s campus and board of trustees recognize that it is too important to ignore.”

He also intends to pitch Stanford’s donor base.

“(The contributions) will be value-adds,” he stated. “We are not looking for assistance with the deficit.” We must invest.”

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