SEC 360: A completely sensible suggestion for Power 5 conference realignment
OK, college football, real funny.
We’re over 5 years removed from the biggest conference cataclysm in college football history, and frankly, I’m not sure this is working out.
I mean, Nebraska in the Big Ten? Missouri in the SEC? West Virginia in the Big 12?
A few years ago, college football did this crazy thing where several teams jumped from 1 conference to another like frogs to a lily pad. Let’s review what took place from 2011-14:
– Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC
– West Virginia and TCU linked up with the Big 12
– Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers accepted invitations from the Big Ten
– Colorado and Utah said hello to the Pac-12
– Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Louisville came to the ACC
After reading this list, admit it. Something just doesn’t feel right.
With these major conference shake-ups came the inevitable detritus: lost rivalries and/or border wars and athletic travel that has gotten completely out of control. Raise your hand if you miss watching the Texas A&M Aggies march into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas or the Sooner wagon descending on Lincoln, Nebraska. (I see several hands being raised). Now raise your hand if you miss the vitriol and pageantry of the Missouri-Kansas skirmish at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. (More hands).
That said, I often think about the strain on West Virginia’s athletic budget to send their women’s volleyball team half a country away (actually, it’s nearly 1500 miles) to Lubbock for a meeting with the Texas Tech Lady Raiders on a school night.
Other current conference travel itineraries that leave you scratching your head: Miami, Florida, to Syracuse, New York (ACC); Gainesville, Florida, to Columbia, Missouri (SEC); Columbia, South Carolina to College Station, Texas (SEC).
Next thing you know, Moon U will be playing Saturn State for the Milky Way Championship (sponsored by Dr. Pepper, of course).
There’s a saying that goes, “What’s the answer to 99 out of 100 questions? Money.” And I understand that often (always?) the Almighty Dollar has a great deal to do with where an institution affiliates. But what has happened in recent years has created a power shift heavily to the east and to the south. Save for Oregon, the Pac-12 has become a joke. Outside of Oklahoma, the Big 12 has become a joke. And with Clemson usurping all of the power on the eastern seaboard, the ACC has become a joke. Bowls are a joke, too.
Unfortunately, no one is laughing.
All the while, the SEC, the greatest beneficiary of said realignment, just keeps gobbling up titles and flexing its might. As an SEC football fan, I have absolutely no problem with this, but if my allegiance was to Texas or USC, I’d have a serious problem with it. There’s a reason why the top recruits out of California and Texas keep defecting to SEC schools. It’s because the SEC has become the Golden State Warriors of college football—the place where everyone has decided to go.
I’m not suggesting that the SEC is doing a thing wrong. The conference has every right to do what it needs to do to be the best, and there’s no question that the additions of Texas A&M, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Missouri have benefited the conference, both financially and from a standpoint of championships. But you wonder whether or not the current alignments are sustainable over the long haul and create the best possible outcomes for the game as a whole.
Ask yourself: Is it good for 1 conference to totally dominate? Can we truly say that college football is better than it was 10, 15 years ago?
I should say that I do not advocate socialism here. The heavy hand of leveling should not come down on the Big Bad SEC to make things more “fair.” However, it would be nice to have a bit more regional equality in college football as a whole. I don’t think the current selection system is particularly fair to conferences west of the Mississippi River, but I also think those conferences need to step up and take college football as seriously as the teams in the east do. USC was the last great dynasty of the west, but since Pete Carroll left for the NFL, the power has shifted to the opposite coast.
I realize that conference affiliations are tied up with contracts and the decisions to realign have a lot to do with money and TV rights, but if you could wave a magic wand and fix the conferences in collectively the best possible format, how would it all look?
Before we get started, I’ve broken down the conferences into 12 teams each with 2 divisions each. I felt that was important for consistency sake, and because I believe conferences are better the less teams you have in them. This way, we could retain the conference championships (yes, I think we should keep them) and the rivalries that divisions facilitate. For your convenience, I have listed the teams in alphabetical order.
Here we go:
SEC East: Clemson, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee
SEC West: Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
Notice first that there is no Arkansas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, or Texas A&M on this list. More on that in other conference discussions. The SEC East, the traditionally weaker of the 2 football divisions, would be bolstered with the addition of Clemson and the subtractions of Missouri and Vanderbilt. The East would also add a traditional rivalry with Clemson and South Carolina and bring in its geographical fence by eliminating road games at Missouri (the drive from Clemson to Athens is only 75 miles, about the same distance as Starkville to Tuscaloosa).
The addition of Florida State would add another traditional rival to an existing SEC school, Florida, and would also make sense geographically, as FSU is just 190 miles to Auburn and 152 miles to Gainesville.
Furthermore, this particular alignment would create some interesting matchups: Clemson-Tennessee, Clemson-LSU, Florida State-Auburn, Clemson-Alabama, and Florida State-LSU (who are slated to play in 2022 and 23), to name a few.
Big 12 North: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big 12 South: Arkansas, Baylor, Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
This alignment would be a blend of the old Southwest Conference and the Big 12, while at the same time heal college football of the biggest damage of realignment—the loss of major Big 12 rivalries. Bringing back Nebraska and Missouri would renew these teams’ respective rivalries with Oklahoma and Kansas, and luring A&M back west would do the same with Texas (in my opinion, it’s sinful that A&M and Texas do not play anymore). Arkansas seems to be a better fit here, as does Colorado, but to maintain the 12-team format, you’d have to drop TCU and Iowa State off the roster. TCU would go into the either the American Athletic Conference or Conference USA and Iowa State into the Big Ten.
You can imagine how a Nebraska-Colorado matchup would feel right, as would a trip to Norman, Oklahoma, for the Texas A&M Aggies. Arkansas-Oklahoma would be a rootin’ tootin’ affair, or what about a yearly Arkansas-Texas matchup that harkens back to the Broyles Royal(e) of ’69?
…my mouth is already watering.
Big Ten East: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue
Big 10 West: Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Penn State, Wisconsin
So Notre Dame is in the ACC in basketball, but the football team has never been in a conference? That makes a lot of sense—or actually it makes no sense at all.
Look, I get that Notre Dame plays a tough schedule (I mean, if a game with Stanford doesn’t put the fear of God in you, I don’t know what does), but seriously, Irish, man up and join a conference. I’m not necessarily saying this because I’m upset with Notre Dame. I’m saying this because it makes college football better. Who wouldn’t get excited about a Notre Dame-Penn State or Notre Dame-Ohio State matchup? Who wouldn’t love for Notre Dame-Michigan State to have conference implications? It just makes too much sense.
Also, I love the addition of Iowa State here to bring a traditional rivalry in the Big Ten West. But to do this, conference mainstay Northwestern would have to drop out and move to either Conference USA or the American Athletic Conference. It’s just part of the big decisions we have to make here at SDS.
You may have made note that I added Penn State in the West also. That’s because the East is chock-full of good teams and someone needed to move for balance sake. The Nittany Lions were the obvious choice.
ACC North: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State
ACC South: Central Florida (UCF), Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), South Florida (USF), Vanderbilt, Wake Forest
How do you make the ACC competitive in football again? By taking Clemson out of the equation.
Let’s be honest: no one in the ACC is going to compete with Clemson anytime soon. But, if you were to relocate the Fighting Dabos to, say, the SEC, then you immediately create more parity than before, thereby making the conference more competitive.
Honestly, I’d like for the ACC champion to be up in the air for once. I miss that.
And what would be wrong with adding the Sunshine State twins, Central Florida and South Florida? Both teams have been competitive over the last twenty or so years and have enrollments north of 49,000 (yes, I said that right), so maybe it’s time for these schools to join a Power 5 Conference. The ACC seems as good a fit as an elbow pad on the American Dream Dusty Rhodes.
I also added Vanderbilt here, not necessarily because I don’t like Vandy in the SEC, but because I feel it’s a better fit with the high academic institutions like Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina all residing in the ACC.
Pac-12 North: Boise State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
Pac-12 South: Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah
At first glance, I love Boise being in the Pac-12. There’s no question I’d tune into a Boise-Oregon or Boise-UCLA matchup. The problem with this alignment is that you separate traditional rivals California and Stanford to accommodate for the addition of Boise in the Pac-12 North. Does anyone strenuously object? I didn’t think so.
The only change to the Pac-12 South in this format is the addition of Stanford and the subtraction of Colorado. Otherwise, I’d keep it as-is. Though Utah still feels a bit like the stranger of the bunch, you and I will both warm up to the Utes being a Pac-12 staple as the years go by.
I do realize that travel is an issue here, but you cannot logically break up this conference and maintain the same level of quality as before.
Big East North: Army, Boston College, Navy, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple
Big East South: Appalachian State, East Carolina, Maryland, Marshall, Pittsburgh, West Virginia
I know. I’m creating an entirely new conference. And I know. We’ve experimented with this before.
But if you look at this collective, it seems like a really good grouping, both from a rivalry standpoint and a geographical one.
The Big East South is a group of teams bunched up from just 4 states: West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The teams listed here all have that Appalachian huskiness to them and travel would flow relatively easily between these institutions of higher learning. The only question I have is, “Why would it behoove West Virginia to agree to this?” I’ll give you 2, actually 3, reasons. Because the Mountaineers would have a greater opportunity to become conference champions year in and year out, and travel would be much less of a burden. And third, I love a West Virginia/Marshall game in either Morgantown or Huntington.
In the north, you bring Army and Navy into the same conference and add the markets of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston into the mix. No, a Syracuse-Rutgers matchup doesn’t necessarily invite a cascade of emotions like Elvis in his prime at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, but it’s a much easier road trip for the alumni base and seems more natural than Syracuse-Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham.
So now that we’ve created the Power 6 conferences, how do we arrange the College Football Playoff? Simple.
Since under the current format there is absolutely no chance that a non-Power 5 team is getting into the final 4 grouping (believe me, I’ve sat in on a mock selection exercise at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine, Texas), we’ll arrange the brackets based on the Power 6.
Let’s reward the top 2 seeds with a bye. For these purposes, let’s just say that Clemson and Alabama claim those slots, Clemson being the 1-seed and Alabama the 2-seed. The 3-seed would be matched up in the first round with the 6-seed, and the 4-seed with the 5-seed.
It would look something like this:
(3) Ohio State vs. (6) West Virginia
(4) USC vs. (5) Miami (FL)
Winner of (3) vs. (6) against Clemson
Winner of (4) vs. (5) against Alabama
“But Al,” you say. “What if North Carolina gets in?”
So be it. The very nature of this playoff structure will facilitate greater regional equality. Soon, you’ll see teams from all conferences actually vying for these 6 slots instead of being left to twist in the wind. You’ll see a lot of teams get better quickly. You won’t see as much recruiting defection to other regions if a player truly believes he can compete for a championship by staying closer to home. And, at the same time, the elite powers that have been successful recently (Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma) will still have essentially the same opportunity to win the national title.
The only difference between this set-up and the current format is that you’ll extend the invitations only to the conference champions and bar anyone else from sneaking in with an at-large bid.
If you’re terribly offended by that structure, keep the current 4-team format and have an extra conference from which to choose.
These are just suggestions, mind you. At the end of the day, I think we all want the same thing. I think we all want college football to be as strong as it can possibly be.
But we have to be careful not to get to a point where money sacrifices quality at the altar.