The additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference has raised the number of conference teams to 14. If the ACC decides not to expand further, or if expansion to 16 teams is postponed until later, they will need to figure out how to make a basketball schedule for 14 teams.
Currently, the ACC does not use divisional play in its schedule, but instead has "partners" and "groups" that exist for each team. As described in Wikipedia:
"Each team is assigned two permanent partners and nine rotating partners over a three-year period. Teams play their permanent partners in a home-and-away series each year. The rotating partners are split into three groups: three teams who are played in a home-and-away series, three teams who are played at home, and three teams who are played on the road."
This plan creates a schedule each year with each team playing two games each against five teams (home and away) and one game against each of the other six teams (either home or away). It is a 16-game conference schedule. It also means that over time, each team plays its partners twice a year and plays all other teams four times in three years.
A 14-team ACC (or any other conference) has at least a few options to create a basketball schedule:
Plan A: Expand the Partner & Group Method, Round-Robin, 18 Conference Games
This is simply adapting the existing plan so that it works for 14 teams.
Presumed setup: Each team has three permanent partners and the remaining 10 schools are divided into five two-team groups. Within a year, a team plays its partners twice (home & away), one of the two-team groups twice (home & away), four of the remaining teams at home, and the other four remaining teams away.
Over time, a team would play its three partners twice every year, and every other team six times over five years.
This would have the advantage of allowing each team to have several partners (chosen specifically for that team) so it can maintain those strong rivalries, and still keep round-robin play (games against all conference teams) each year.
The number of conference games would increase from 16 to 18. In a 14-team ACC tournament, the two teams with the best records would presumably get a first-round bye.
Plan B: Two Divisions, Round-Robin, 19 or 20 Conference Games
The conference could decide that a two-division setup is preferred, but the round-robin play must stay.
Presumed setup: Each team plays two games against all division opponents and one game against all non-division opponents. If desired, a team could play one of the non-division opponents twice, either a "designated rival" each year or all of the teams on a rotating basis.
A team would play its six division opponents twice every year. It would play its seven non-division opponents once each year (unless it played a non-division rival or a rotating non-division opponent twice).
Over time, a team would play its six division opponents twice every year (and non-division rivals twice each year if they exist). It would play non-division opponents once every year unless the rotating non-division opponent plan is used, in which case it would play non-division opponents eight times in seven years.
The number of conference games would increase from 16 to either 19 or 20. In a 14-team ACC tournament, the two division winners would presumably get a first-round bye.
Plan C: Two Divisions, Not Round-Robin, 16 or 17 Conference Games
This is probably the most controversial idea because it would result in some conference teams not meeting each other during a season. Presumed setup (two possible scenarios):
(1) Each team plays its six division opponents twice and four non-division opponents (and not play three of the non-division teams), or
(2) Each team plays its six division opponents twice, a non-division rival twice, and two or three non-division opponents (and not play three or four of the non-division teams).
Over time, a team would play its six division opponents twice each year (and non-division rivals twice each year if they exist). It would play non-division opponents less than once per year. At best, non-division opponents would play every other year; at worst, non-division opponents would play twice every seven years.
The number of conference games would either remain at 16 or increase to 17. In a 14-team ACC tournament, the two division winners would presumably get a first-round bye.
Pondering the Possibilities
I think given the choices, "Plan A" is the preferred method. It gives the most flexibility to craft the schedule so that each team can play its own rivals as much as possible, and does not force a structured division onto all of the teams. It also preserves the round-robin play, which I think is important.
How would you schedule the basketball games for a 14-team league?