Over the last few years I have been a staunch CRITIC of most hypothetical proposals for a college football playoff based on the holes that existed in the specifics, logistics, and massive unintended consequences of most proposals when laid against the backdrop of real world constraints and reality. Whether by design or by ‘luck’, college football’s landscape is gradually moving towards the EXACT composition that I suggested years ago that needs to exist in order to have the most credible college football system and national football champion. In general summary, SFN has been saying for years that we need something along the lines of 64 total “BCS” or top tier of “Division One” football teams comprised of 8 conferences of 8 teams OR 4 ‘super conferences’ of 16 teams each split in two divisions of 8 teams.
Such a structure would create more natural geographic rivalries while simultaneously producing division champions to play in a conference championship game. The resulting conference champion could then advance into a four team ‘national playoff’ that wasn’t punitive to fans who wanted to travel to see their team nor too heavily reliant on home field advantage (set by seeding) in the playoffs.
This structure insures:
- that EVERY TEAM plays EVERY TEAM in a round robin format during the regular season. “EVERY GAME COUNTS”
- the regular season winner of EACH 8 team division has been ‘settled on the field’ and then advances into the conference championship games that effectively serve as the national quarterfinals.
- the integrity and week-to-week drama of the regular season remains.
- if conferences were REALLY SMART they would count ONLY the 7 games played in the 8 team divisional play towards a ‘conference record’. Why should Georgia’s divisional record be negatively impacted by playing LSU and Alabama in a year that Florida’s divisional record included games against Ole Miss and Miss State?
- schools would be incented to play big and important non-conference games like Ohio State vs Alabama because losing such a game would not result in falling out of the national championship hunt due to the reliance on conference performance for advancement.
As each realignment rumor gets us closer and closer to a conference structure that resembles the exact 64 total teams that we’ve been promoting for years, The Daily’s Dan Wolken has provided a suggestion that helps save ALL of college athletics from being potential collateral damage of the football arms race for reasons just like THIS. I like it. I like it a lot! Please click here for Wolken’s thoughts.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is particularly challenged in the current conference realignment landscape not just because of our recent relative competitive under-performance, but also because of institutional composition of the conference as small private schools such as Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College (and even Miami) comprise 25% of our entire conference!
Conferences are eating each other alive because football has gotten too big, too important to control, and the fear of getting left behind is making reasonable people do a lot of unreasonable things. And the only solution is to detach football from the NCAA structure — in terms of conferences, finances, rules, everything — and let the rest of college athletics go back to making at least a little bit of sense. If the 64 most valuable football programs want to split up into four conferences, let them align with whatever schools they want to align with and get the best TV deal possible. But for the sake of every baseball or women’s basketball team that has to fly thousands of miles to play a game that generates no revenue, it no longer makes financial or geographic sense to tie their future to football’s coattails.
Once upon a time, it was to a school’s benefit to have all its sports in one conference, which were formed for the purpose of tradition, convenience and philosophical kinship. But the earning power of football has killed that model, and now we’ve got Boise State in the Big East, West Virginia in Big 12 and fans of schools like Florida State and Clemson so scared of getting left behind that they’d rather beg Texas and Oklahoma for crumbs of the Big 12’s pie than fight for their own slice in the ACC.
If market forces are pushing these schools into these so-called super conferences, fine. Just don’t drag everything else in college athletics along. If Florida State thinks playing football in a Texas-based league is the best way to win a national title and make the most money, it should be able to make that move. But wouldn’t it be better for Florida State’s athletic department, its budget and its fans if it could leave the rest of its sports (which generate little revenue) in a league with, say, Florida, Miami, Central Florida, South Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Clemson instead of hauling its women’s volleyball team to Ames, Iowa, and Manhattan, Kan., every other week?
Consider the flip side. Schools like Kentucky, which count on basketball to generate big revenue, could benefit tremendously from a true free market in conference realignment where geography and common identity is paramount. Instead of a steady SEC diet of Auburn and LSU, for instance, they could build a league with more compatible programs like Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State. Traditional rivals Syracuse and Georgetown, who defined college basketball on the East Coast for decades, wouldn’t have to be separated by the football gulf between them.
Those are just a couple examples. The benefits to decoupling football from the rest of college athletics would be endless, producing a more sensible and compelling model for athletes, administrators and fans. And maybe better for football, too, if the superpowers could congregate without any strings attached.
We’re a long way from such dynamic change, but the evolution of college athletics seems to be happening at a faster pace than ever before. This is one way it could actually lead to a better future.