Rethinking realignment: A fresh take on super conferences, divisions and scheduling
College football is not perfect.
It’s an ever-changing product that has a community debating ways that it can be perfect, but no solution to “fix” the sport is perfect.
That’s my way of saying what I’m about to propose is in fact, not perfect. There are elements of my way to fix college football that you’re not going to like (especially you, Big 12 fans). But I think for the most part, my solution to realignment and scheduling will create a more even playing field.
That’s the goal. In my opinion, the landscape of the sport is not equal. Teams play in weaker divisions, not everyone has the same amount of conference games and some teams refuse to leave their region of the country. Still, though, Power 5 teams are judged as if they’re all on the same playing field.
My realignment strategy is to do just that. I don’t want to realign conferences simply for fun. I want to do so in a way that’s functional to the Playoff era, while also in a way that raises the accountability to which teams are held. Picture this as a “what if a college football commissioner took over and changed everything tomorrow” type of scenario.
So let’s get started.
Move No. 1 — Blow up the Big 12 to create the Power 4
Let me stop you right there, Big 12 fans. This has nothing to do with the quality of play in the Big 12. This has everything to do with the fact that with only 10 teams, blowing up the conference makes more sense than anywhere else.
OK, maybe if the Big 12 was leading in annual revenue distribution, this wouldn’t make sense. It’s not, though.
So why blow up the Big 12? It’s simple. My goal is to create 4 power conferences with 16 teams apiece. That’s an easier solution than starting from scratch with each conference (it’d be hard to break up a conference with the majority of its teams on the East or West coast because you can’t have teams traveling 3 time zones for a conference game).
Because the Pac-12 only has 12 teams, it would get 4 Big 12 teams while the ACC, Big Ten and SEC would get 2 apiece. Here’s how I’d do that:
- Texas — SEC
- Kansas State — SEC
- Oklahoma — Big Ten
- Kansas — Big Ten
- West Virginia — ACC
- Baylor — ACC
- Iowa State — Pac-12
- Oklahoma State — Pac-12
- TCU — Pac-12
- Texas Tech — Pac-12
The SEC gets the big dog, Texas. Texas A&M gets a new, legitimate rival while Kansas State gives Mizzou a new rival and helps the SEC’s efforts to add a significant market in Kansas City.
Oklahoma to the Big Ten always seems like a possibility, so this time, it finally makes sense for both parties. Kansas is a football downgrade, but the basketball benefits are huge for the conference.
The ACC gets an obvious geographical candidate in West Virginia, and Baylor gives the conference an important in with the Texas market for recruiting/TV.
And yeah, it seems like the Pac-12 got a raw deal without getting one of the big-time programs, but it gets 4 schools that competed in bowl games this past year. The Pac-12 could have used that.
Now, we have 4 conferences with 16 teams apiece. But wait, there’s more.
Move No. 2 — The amnesty rule
So you know how the English Premier League relegates the bottom 3 teams? I have a similar, but different idea for the new Power 4. Instead of just eliminating the worst team from every conference, I propose an amnesty rule. That means conferences are allowed to remove 1 team and replace it with a Group of 5/Independent team.
They can only do so every 4 years, though. So let’s say that the ACC amnesties Wake Forest and adds Notre Dame in 2018. The ACC then cannot amnesty another school until 2022. It incentivizes the bottom-feeder teams not only to be competitive, but also to not put themselves in hot water with the NCAA. It’s a lot easier to get booted if a program can’t bring in any bowl game revenue because of NCAA sanctions.
Group of 5 teams will also like it because it gives them an opportunity to earn their way into the Power 4. Here are the two moves that I’d see happening immediately:
- ACC amnesties Wake Forest for Notre Dame
- Pac-12 amnesties Oregon State for Boise State
The amnestied teams can join a Group of 5 conference or become independent. They can also turn around and join a different Power 4 conference if both parties strike an agreement that abides by the 4-year amnesty grace period.
So yeah, amnesties — kinda cool, kinda terrifying.
Move No. 3 — The new scheduling
This is really the reason I wanted to make the push for 4 power conferences. I have a way to create a schedule setup that would be a dream scenario for the selection committee. That is, more nonconference games between power conferences.
There are still 2 divisions per conference, with 8 teams in each division. Here’s what that would create:
- 7 conference games vs. the division
- 1 crossover matchup
- 3 nonconference games (1 each vs. other Power 4 …can’t play same team within 4-year stretch)
- Teams alternate years of 2 nonconference road games vs. 1 nonconference road game
- 1 Group of 5/Independent home game
- No FCS matchups
It’s still a 12-game schedule, conferences can still have their conference title games and every team can still have 7 home games. Athletic directors will appreciate that last number.
The benefits of this setup are obvious. Teams are forced to play every other power conference, which would make Nick Saban and the selection committee quite happy. Teams are also forced to go outside of their own region to play a game. There won’t be teams like Georgia who go a half century without crossing the Mason-Dixon Line.
There’s also less debate about conference strength and its importance. Instead of a 9-game conference schedule that we debate how good the conference is, teams will have legitimate nonconference résumés to be judged on.
As for Group of 5 teams, yeah, it’s a bummer. Only 1 Group of 5 slot per Power 4 team means that it’ll be tough to get a bunch of those opportunities. But they’re still there, and there could still be Group of 5 teams that line up multiple Power 4 matchups.
Ah, I almost forgot. The Notre Dame thing.
You were probably scratching your head earlier wondering why I just dropped the Irish in the ACC and acted like that’s a thing that would totally happen. The Power 4 would all but force Notre Dame to finally give in. Scheduling would be an absolute nightmare knowing that they’d have to travel every time they wanted to play a Power 4 team. There’s no way they’d be on board for that.
Not only does this new scheduling make the playing field more balanced — there won’t be any more discrepancies in the amount of power conference matchups that Playoff contenders have — but it also forces a proud program like Notre Dame to shed its football independence. That’s a win.
Move No. 4 — The new divisions
What adding new teams can do is force us to change the divisions. There’s a clear top-tier division in every league. Why not start from scratch?
For what it’s worth, I don’t care about geography when it comes to setting up divisions (I already made sure that we won’t have teams flying coast to coast for conference games). Teams fly everywhere now so that’s really an outdated premise as it relates to conference play for 3-4 road games in a season. Teams can still have their rivalry game as their crossover matchup if that’s the path they choose.
Keep that in mind with all of these new competition-based divisions. I’ll even let those division names stay just for fun:
- Georgia Tech
- Florida State
- Notre Dame
- Virginia Tech
- West Virginia
- N.C. State
- Boston College
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Michigan State
- Oklahoma State
- Washington State
- Arizona State
- Iowa State
- Boise State
- Texas Tech
- Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
- Kansas State
- Mississippi State
- South Carolina
Now that I’ve thoroughly upset each of you with my new divisions, I fully expect to see tons of comments about which division is better than the other. Just remember that 8 of the past 9 SEC champs came from the West, all 4 of the Big Ten champions during the Playoff era were from the East, 6 of 7 Pac-12 champions were from the North and the past 7 ACC Championship winners came from the Atlantic division.
In other words: We need change.
I’m sure my divisions aren’t perfect — some bank on things like Florida State and Texas bouncing back — but they can’t really be much more lopsided at the top than they are right now. That in itself should make the selection committee’s job easier. We won’t be left wondering if a team is Playoff-worthy because it won the “weaker” of the divisions (talking to you, Wisconsin).
The goal is this to create a regular season that’s more competitive and more balanced. All of the revenue possibilities are still there with the amount of home games, conference title games, bowl games, etc. Maybe TV rights will actually increase with a more competitive product, which would make up for the few million dollars lost in revenue distribution because conference expansion.
I get that college football is slow to adapt to change, and change this significant would be resisted. But I can’t help but think that these tweaks would make the sport we love even better.
Well, not for the Big 12.