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How NCAA Football Realignment Should (but won’t) Shake Out

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The good news for college football fans is that the closer we get to the reality of super-conferences, the closer a national championship playoff system is to finally happening. Right now, there are 11 conferences plus 4 independents, including the tradition-rich, but overinflated sense of worth squad in South Bend. Re-alignment to super-conferences would all but force them to finally join the Big 10 or get left behind.

The main argument that I’ve heard against a playoff system is that it would relegate the regular season meaningless. I disagree for a few reasons. First, there would be more marquee matchups. Teams wouldn’t be afraid to schedule 2 or 3 more difficult non-conference games in order to gauge their current status and how and where they need to improve. Second, I agree that the non-conference schedule as they stand right now would have less meaning than they currently do… but that’s a good thing. Right now, teams are penalized for playing quality games out of conference. There’s not much worse than watching your team lose in week 1 or 2 and realize that there national title hopes are more or less ruined. Yes, a 1-loss team makes it into the title game in most years, but with 7-8 one loss teams, the polls decide who deserves it instead of play on the field. Third, it would dramatically improve conference title games and conference games in general. The final week of the conference schedule and the conference championship games act as playoff games with a win potentially meaning a playoff appearance and a loss meaning the Outback or Citrus Bowl.

Since I really don’t need to convince 95% of the population that a playoff system is a better idea than the current setup, I’ll get to the point of the article, to project how I think the conference landscape will eventually look. I’ve said this before, but it will be bizarre 40 years from now to sit with my grandchildren and talk about life before a college football playoff and how they will look at me like I look at people that talk about NFL Championship wins as opposed to the Super Bowl… like…”Yeah, your city won 10 of those eh?… cool… what was life like before television?”

Without further ado, here is how I project conference realignment to shake out. I project a Big 4 conference structure with 16 teams, and 2 other conferences with 22 teams.

Big 10 (16 Teams): Big 10 makes a pretty big deal about academics, preferring schools that have AAU accreditation. That limits the pool a bit, but still allows for nice adds. Rutgers and Notre Dame seem like gimmes. That leaves Missouri and Kansas as logical geographical AAU adds.

Leaders:

Ohio State

Wisconsin

Penn State

Purdue

Indiana

Illinois

Notre Dame – Not an AAU school, but very strong academically

Rutgers – AAU School and would bring Big 10 network to NY/NJ market

Legends:

Michigan

Nebraska – Incidentally lost their AAU status this year

Michigan State

Iowa

Northwestern

Minnesota

Missouri – AAU school with geographic proximity

Kansas – AAU school without much tradition, but makes a lot of sense.

SEC (16 Teams): SEC cares less about academics than it does about football championships… and as of late, that policy is paying major dividends.

East:

Florida

Georgia

South Carolina

Tennessee

Kentucky

Vanderbilt

Louisville – A solid two sport school in the region with a strong fanbase.

Miami (FL) – Miami has always felt like a misplaced SEC school. I think they would jump at the chance to move into the best football conference in America.

West:

LSU

Auburn

Alabama

Arkansas

Mississippi

Mississippi State

Texas A&M

Kansas State – Geographical and athletic fit.

ACC (16 Teams):

Atlantic:

Maryland

Virginia Tech

Virginia

Boston College

Pittsburgh – Approved to join

Syracuse – Approved to join

UConn – Rumored to want in, looks like a fit

Cincinnati – Another school that looks like a fit

Coastal:

North Carolina

Duke

Georgia Tech

Florida State

Wake Forest

North Carolina State

Clemson

West Virginia – West Virginia had delusions of grandeur trying to get into the SEC, they were rejected and look more like an ACC team anyway.

Pac 16 (16 Teams): Looking like the favorites to land 2 big fish in Texas and Oklahoma. If that happens, the Big 12 is officially toast. They would have their pick of Big 12 schools and are reportedly close to offering Texas Tech.

North:

Stanford

California

Oregon

Washington

Washington State

Oregon State

USC

UCLA

South:

Arizona State

Arizona

Colorado

Utah

Texas – Rumored to be close

Oklahoma – Rumored to be close

Texas Tech – Reportedly close to being offered, although I’d rather have BYU.

Oklahoma State – If Oklahoma moves, I’d think they would reach out to the Cowboys.

Eastern USA Conference (24 Teams): According to reports, the mountain west and conference USA are looking at a possible merger to form their own super-conference of sorts. I’d think that would make sense, but in a perfect world, Conference USA would merge with the MAC and look like this:

North: (Broken up into 2 – 6 team pods)

Temple

Ohio

Bowling Green

Miami (OH)

Kent State

Akron

Buffalo

Western Michigan

Eastern Michigan

Northern Illinois

Toledo

Central Michigan

South: (Broken up into 2 – 6 team pods)

East Carolina

Southern Miss

UAB

SMU

Tulsa

Tulane

Houston

Rice

UTEP

Marshall

South Florida

Ball State

Western USA Conference (24 Teams): would be the Mountain West merged with the WAC plus the remaining teams from the Big 12, 2 from Conference USA as well as Independents Navy and Army.

Middle: (Broken up into 2 – 6 team pods)

Memphis

Colorado State

Boise State

Air Force

Iowa State

Baylor

BYU

South Florida

Navy

Army

Louisiana Tech

UCF

West: (Broken up into 2 – 6 team pods)

San Diego State

Wyoming

UNLV

Nevada

Utah State

Fresno State

Hawaii

Idaho

New Mexico

New Mexico State

San Jose State

TCU

As for the Sun Belt… sorry, they are relegated to Division I (FCS). Aside from the alumni and current players, this conference is Division I (FBS) in name only.

Speaking of relegation, here’s another novel idea brought up by my buddy Bob and borrowed from international soccer leagues… the bottom team in the Western USA and Eastern USA conferences are relegated to Division I (FCS), while the top 4 teams in from Division I (FCS) are bumped up to Division I (FBS) and have a chance to remain there as long as they don’t finish last in their division.

As for the playoffs, it would be an 8 team system with the Conference winners earning a spot as well as 2 wild card teams (based on polls if they want to keep them around). This is a terrific setup as it allows every team a fair chance at winning the national title, but rightfully makes it a little harder for the lesser conferences to win their division.

For the contenders, the conference games become incredibly important in order to qualify for the conference championship game. I’d also propose that non-conference games be reduced to 2. In reality, no team plays more than 2 meaningful non-conference games anyway, so what’s the point of keeping them around to allow cash grabs and beatdowns of smaller schools?

How would it look this year? Taking the liberty to project how this year may turn out:

Big 10 Championship Game: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska

SEC Championship Game: South Carolina vs. Alabama

ACC Championship Game: Virginia Tech vs. Florida State

Pac 16 Championship Game: Stanford vs. Oklahoma

Eastern USA Championship Game: Toledo vs. South Florida

Western USA Championship Game: Boise State vs. TCU

 

The playoff seeding would look like this:

Cotton Bowl: #1 Oklahoma vs. #8 TCU

Gator Bowl: #4 Boise State vs. #5 Wisconsin

Sugar Bowl: #3 Stanford vs. #6 LSU

Orange Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #7 Oklahoma State

 

Rose Bowl: #1 Oklahoma vs. #5 Wisconsin

Fiesta Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Stanford

 

National Championship Game: #1 Oklahoma vs. #2 Alabama

This is obviously a pretty chalky look at how things could turn out, but imagine the upset possibilities and imagine the College Football Bowl bracket pools. Let’s face it, college football bowl pick ‘em contests are the WNBA of the sports gambling world. The more talented team rarely defeats the team that wants to be there more. This system would add another layer to building an even more fervent college football fanbase while still making it a pretty exclusive system.

Keep the other bowls to give schools that had a good year a reward for a solid season, but make it a clear delineation and tournament to determine that year’s college football national champion.

Discussion

4 Responses to “How NCAA Football Realignment Should (but won’t) Shake Out”

  1. “Nebraska – Incidentally lost their AAU status this year”

    “CO-INCIDENTALLY”?

    Posted by Bobby Digital | September 23, 2011, 12:05 pm
  2. “what’s the point of keeping them around to allow cash grabs and beatdowns of smaller schools?”

    That’s EXACTLY the point. Those smaller schools bank on that money.

    And, in a way, so do the larger schools. Your point about bigger schools having more incentive to schedule more out of conference games against better competition assumes all universities will split 50/50, or agree to a home 60/40 split. All schools factor that money in somehow. If you argue if increases they’re chance at National Glory, and hence, a bigger Pot-O-Gold at the end, then it’s a Gamble they can take.

    But the smaller schools probably get paid more to play road games at Ohio State, Florida State, Oklahoma, USC than they would playing closer competition at their own fields.

    “You’re killing your father Larry.”

    Posted by Bobby Digital | September 23, 2011, 12:19 pm

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  2. […] think that this is the perfect system (If I were college football czar with unlimited power, here is what I would do), but it is a good start. I would prefer a slightly expanded system, but this is […]

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