Why an end to realignment means a decade of chaos in college football

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ACC Commissioner John Swofford killed any further conference realignment (at least in the near term) with the recent “grant of rights” move for his conference. The ACC is safe and stable.

The move has been praised left and right by fans and the media. Many even view this event as one that has saved college football. Possibly an overstatement, but it’s definitely not a stretch to say that many fans were turned off by schools spurning tradition in the pursuit of increased television revenue. I’ll take the opposite point of view on the subject, however. I’ll argue that by preventing further conference realignment, Swofford just unleashed a decade of chaos in college football.

Let’s quickly address the core of the controversy within college football. It’s perceived that championships are determined via subjective methods rather than teams duking it out on the field. Human polls and BCS formulas have taken the place of having to beat an opponent to earn a title shot. As I’ve explained for years, I think this is ludicrous, but that’s not the focus of this article. The perception is that college football is unfair and a flawed system. This led to a decade long crusade by the media against the BCS. The result of this crusade was the move toward the playoff which will begin in 2014.

However, the playoff will only increase the controversy. The playoff will only increase the debate.

Why? Because the system is now even more subjective. Rather than having a single target (the BCS formula), now the college football world will have 14-20 targets (the members of the selection committee). More on the selection committee later.

The one thing that would have calmed the masses was the destination that conference realignment was driving toward. They just didn’t realize it because the road of realignment was a bumpy one.

Conference realignment was bringing us toward a more uniform “championship” league. A breaking away of the top football programs in the country. Specifically, four super-conferences. Ideally, four super-conferences with 16 teams each.

Understand where I’m going with this? Fine. I’ll continue. Four super-conferences creates a system where no subjectivity is required. Four conference champions. A four team playoff made up of the four conference champions. Clean. No debate. No controversy. It’s a mini-NFL postseason which is exactly what a majority of the media wants for college football.

I’ve had many arguments on Twitter with bloggers and writers about this very subject. The NFL playoff model is impossible for college football because of the asymmetric nature of college football. The NFL has a structured draft and a salary cap leading to top-down mandated parity. College football is the exact opposite. Teams play totally different schedules. Teams recruit athletes independently of a draft. There’s no way to create a postseason without subjective polls or selection committees… except in the scenario of four super-conferences.

These vocal critics failed to recognize that conference realignment was the only path toward the goal of an objective playoff in this sport.

The people clamoring for a college football playoff have been the same group most vocal against conference realignment. The core of this attitude is one of disgust toward a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. The smaller football programs were victims of both the BCS and conference realignment. Our culture has become one where we want equality of outcome and fairness legislated at every level and in every sphere of life. College football included. However, these vocal critics failed to recognize that conference realignment was the only path toward the goal of an objective playoff in this sport.

To have an objectively seeded playoff, the field needed to be shrunk, not expanded. The majority of the Big East had to go. There was too much disparity between Alabama and Temple, and conference realignment was attempting to fix this issue. Sure there were hurt feelings and some ugly moments where tradition was compromised. Furthermore, many viewed this process as one that was merely increasing the wealth concentration of the major football powers, but folks, this is inevitable. It’s not the University of Alabama’s fault that 90,000 people go to every spring football game in Tuscaloosa. People down here just care more.

By killing conference realignment, we killed the opportunity for an objective playoff. Now, let’s discuss the alternative. Let’s discuss the selection committee.

The selection committee will be the most controversial group of people in sports.

God bless the individuals who sign up to be on this committee because the scrutiny will be unbelievable. At least with the BCS formula, there’s only so much criticism you can throw at a machine or an algorithm. Replace the formula with a group of flawed men and there’s an unlimited amount of material for criticism. This group of people will be more vetted than our President’s cabinet nominees.

The basketball selection committee is made up of 10 members – athletic directors and conference commissioners. Their job is a million times easier than seeding the four team football playoff. Nobody cares if you miss on the 68th team. Miss on the 4th team in football? You’re pissing off an entire conference and potentially changing the direction of conferences and athletic programs.

We will scrutinize every burp and fart that comes from the selection committee. Did he rolls his eyes when he mentioned Oregon? That’s not good!

The only thing I can find comparable in life is the Federal Reserve. The Fed sets US interest rates which is arguably the most important economic policy on the planet. Everything they do moves markets. As such, every word and phrase that originates from the Fed is scrutinized. For an entire year, financial analysts obsessed over the inclusion of the word “exceptionally” in Fed statements. Endless debate ensued as to what the true meaning of that word was and how it impacted the stock market and the economy.

This thing has the potential to become so ridiculous that fans will long for the simple days of the BCS.

Interestingly, it seems that the leaders are pushing off announcing the members of the selection committee. Many thought we’d know the make up of the committee by now. In my opinion, this is smart. They should announce the members of the committee the night before the 2014 season kicks off. Why give the media and fans a year to comb through the records of these members and stir up controversy? It’s coming regardless, but you may as well announce the committee while there are actual games occurring to reduce the focus.

This is the reality of college football moving forward. This is what the fans asked for.

The thing is…I won’t be complaining about it. I love this stuff. I think it’s a unique part of college football that makes it fun. I love telling a Big Ten fan that a two-loss SEC team could throttle their undefeated Big Ten champion. I don’t want a mini-NFL and neither should you. The NFL is great, but it’s different. It’s a corporate-driven, homogenized league.

The de-centralized, asymmetric nature of college football makes it fun. Different regions have different styles of play and each conference has its own character. We all love the unique traditions around the country. But, you can’t love the unique traditions and the differences across the college football landscape and think we can still have a clean NFL-like postseason structure.

Conference realignment was moving us toward a more uniform, NFL-like system. It appears this move is now over. With the major five conferences finding stable footing, similarly, the subjective and controversial nature of the college football postseason also found firm ground. The controversy of the BCS era will remain. In my opinion, it’ll be intensified with the introduction of a selection committee. But… that’s ok.

College football will still be great.



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  • Yep, you nailed it. I have been saying since all this realignment started happening is that we can narrow this down to four super-conferences and put some of the complaining to bed for people who feel like they have been “robbed.” As a UGA fan I know about being cheated out of opportunities but my point has always been, don’t lose and you will play in the big game. Sure, there are some teams that have gone undefeated and not made the big game (Auburn), but, the teams above them started out ahead of them in the poles and the SEC wasn’t what it is today.

  • It is so nice to read a column of someone who gets it. Realignment has been a huge part of the shift to a playoff. However there needs to be more change since nobody will be happy with a 4 team playoff with a “selection committee”.
    There will always be haves and have nots. There are only a few athletic departments that can cover their expenses. it would be a good thing to have less Div 1 (FBS) schools around because then those schools can stop spending money in an arms race they will never catch up in. While ideally a four conference playoff would be the best I don’t know that this will ever happen (due to geographic issues/arguments,the ND problem, and now the ACC suicide pact). A 4 conference playoff involving top 2 teams from each conference automatically in the “playoffs”…no selection committee bullcrap.

  • Agree with the 4 mega conferences – win the conf champ game and be apart of the 4 team playoff. However, that would take the politics out of the equation- and God knows people love politics- and ESPN would not have that aspect to talk about. AND what about Notre Dame, we have to remember the golden boys. Sarcasm out of the way now…..I am nervous about this selection committee. The SECCG winner is a lock for one of the 4 spots. That is a given. But, to one of ur points, a 1/2 loss SEC team (loser of the SECCG) is better than the 3 other teams that will make up the spots. I have a hard time believing the selection committee will place 2 sec teams in the final 4. Think I am crazy…ESPN started the what if last year. UGA was left out. This committee will push for parity. The bcs was good because it put a 1 vs 2. Before then the number one team could play a number 8 or 6 or 12 rated team for the natl champ game. The one positive, No matter what happens the SEC will always have a “dawg” in the hunt every year which will lead to more national championships for the greatest conference ever in the land. As Herbie said…always been the best and now it is elite. Spoken like a true big 10 closet SEC fan.

    • Actually this is junk there are 122 teams and that means at least 8 conference or independent champions. So 50% are never to have a chance to play for the title? Hogwash! What this does is protect the old conferences and slight the new ones with the
      newer schools. Unacceptable.

  • I don’t want no stinkin’ playoff! We had the best playoff, a two team playoff. Or you could look at the whole season as a playoff. Now, with the 4 team playoff, you can lose your rivalry game and still be in the NCG. Adding more teams to the playoffs means you can have a champion with 2 or more losses during the regular season. That means that we can loose to both Alabama and Florida and still go to the NCG! That makes those games mean less and less fun to watch. We HAD the best regular season in all of sports… LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE

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