Note: This is the third installment of what I intend to be a weekly-ish series. Bear with me while I flesh out the concept and figure out what I want to do with this space. The only certain thing I can tell you is I’ll be talking sports — sometimes current happenings, sometimes previews, sometimes irreverent takes on random sports/sports-related topics. Let’s have some fun.
Look, we’ve already talked about possible/theoretical expansion of the College Football Playoff. We are not here for that, even if we will touch on it. No, we are to veer further into the realm of radical ridiculousness and discuss major college football realignment.
Why? Well, the first reason is I wanted to talk about something, and with the NFL preview coming next weekend and college football being all over the sports part of my brain, this is what I drifted towards. The second reason is that when we do talk CFP expansion, for whatever reason, we never seem to discuss something that will actually cause a radical shift in the sport: realignment. Sure, every few seasons some conference will tease adding new members and we’ll dance that dance, but that’s not what I’m here to discuss. I mean full-scale, landscape-altering, foundation-shaking actual by-god realignment.
Being the college football nerd I am, I love talking realignment and all the theoretical possibilities. I’ll eat up any article on the subject, be it conference membership history or wild ideas such as a promotion/relegation system in FBS (In theory, it looks good. In reality, doesn’t actually work for collegiate athletics). I’m the weirdo who spent half an hour rearranging the conferences on NCAA Football games. On a now defunct and lost to the internet ether blog of mine, Livin’, I wrote a hypothetically realignment post where my only concern was geography, and boy did it really piss some people off. Fun times.
The key to any good crackpot realignment theory is to set some ground rules, so here are mine:
- The whole reason for this activity is to improve the sport, not the business, of college football. That means the reasoning behind my decisions are based on what’s good for the players, fans, and general well-being of the game. We don’t worry about TV deals or contracts or what university presidents want. Besides, when you improve the sport, business naturally picks up.
- With that said, let’s say in this scenario the NCAA has finally decided to take over and officially sanction a Division 1 College Football National Champion. FBS become D-1, FCS becomes D-2, D-2 moves to D-3, etc.
- Using that idea, let’s say the NCAA declares an amnesty period for schools/conferences to realign. No buyouts or anything like that. TV deals get reworked, and so forth.
- In a need to both save money and help out the environment, a heavy – but not total – emphasis is placed on geographical alignment within conferences. Most athletic departments operate in the red, there’s no need to add on ridiculous travel costs. You shouldn’t be in a conference with a team two time zones over, anyway.
- If I were getting paid to actually do this, the first thing I’d do if move a lot of teams down a division. Like, the entire MAC, for example. However, in that make believe world I would have numerous studies done to determine the proper cutoff line. I do not have that data here, so no contraction of teams will take place. We keep all 130 current FBS teams.
- We do, however, regain the Big East. While never a football powerhouse, the Big East still had a lot of great rivalries and fun football teams. Remember the West Virginia/Louisville battles of the mid 2000s? Remember when Rutgers was good? Rutgers!
- That gives us 11 conferences. That breaks down to about five power conferences, two small conferences, and middle tier of four conferences that have potential to play top notch football. The middle class is important, y’all.
- No independents. Don’t care if you have the means, it’s bullshit. Only the service academies should be allowed to be independent. Besides, in this world, it benefits teams to have a home.
- As for the playoffs: as said above, the entire purpose of the exercise is to improve the sport as a whole. With that said, all teams do deserve, and should get a clear path to the offseason. As such, all conference champions receive an automatic bid to the CFP. There will be 11 conference champions plus five at-large bids for a 16-team playoff. First round games will be played on campus at the higher seed, the rest at bowl sites that can rotate like the current system. Except make the title game an actual bowl game. Like, not just the “NCG at the Rose Bowl,” but “the Rose Bowl, this year’s NCG.”
- Yes, I am against expansion and auto-bids in our current system. But in this scenario, it makes sense. It keeps the holy sanctity of our sacred regular season, it keeps bowls involved, and it gives everyone a clear goal to play for, even if we still know only a few teams actually have a shot at winning. That said, it does even out the playing field a small bit, because everyone is on the same level in terms of the rules of the game. Giving power 5 winners an auto-bid in a six or eight team playoff doesn’t make sense, because it still gives the mid-majors and small schools a bigger hill to climb, and reduces the likelihood of getting the actual best teams involved in your playoff.
- A selection committee will select at-large berths and seed the CFP. There will be no weekly CFP rankings, instead fans and media can hypothesize using one of the numerous formulas and rankings that already exist. But, you could create a ranking system similar to the BCS or RPI that can be used to aid the committee.
- Bowls can continue to exist outside of the CFP. They kind of always have just existed outside of everything.
- All conferences must have a true winner. Meaning, they either must play a round-robin schedule or have a title game. No co-champs.
- No games versus lower division teams.
- 11-game regular season. Doesn’t matter how many conference games you play, 11 game max. This means the two teams playing for the national title will play 16 games. That’s one more than the current system.
I think that’s it. I could go on for days about referees and overtime rules, but we’ll save that for another time. Let’s get to it:
THE MAJOR CONFERENCES
These are where your national champions come from 99% of the time. In this exercise that distinction holds no real meaning, although it certainly helps with your chances of getting an at-large bid to the playoffs.
The ACC gets one of my bigger makeovers, and returns to its roots as a Mid-Atlantic conference with a little Florida influence. Gone are the Big East schools, and Florida St. left for a truer fit. Maryland comes home, and the conference adds UCF and South Florida to make up for their losses. Miami and Virginia Tech remain instead of returning to the Big East, they seem like natural fits in the ACC.. We also trade Georgia Tech for South Carolina, a member 1953-1970, and champ in 1969. The Carolina schools get a bit of an awkward breakup, but they only care about basketball anyway.
South: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Miami, South Florida, UCF
North: Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, NC State
Not a whole lot of change for the Big 10, but there is a major development nonetheless: Notre Dame finally accepts its place in the Big 10, the home that has been calling it for oh so long now. They are joined by Missouri, a school who do desperately wants to call the Big 10 home. If you don’t remember how hard they lobbied to get in before they moved to the SEC, you should go back and read up. Mizzou can be fun, but they’re not an SEC team. They have natural rivals in Nebraska and Illinois, too. And before you get all, “but Mizzou is too methy for the Big 10,” may I introduce you to Columbus, Ohio. The conference also gets to erase the embarrassing admittance of Rutgers, which, come on. The East stays powerful, but I can only fix so much. Plus, again, better for the fans.
East: Michigan, Michigan St., Ohio St., Penn St., Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue
West: Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa
Oh, the Big 12. An actual, real life attempt to recreate the Wild West, but in football form. It’s art, really. The origin of the Big 12 came from the death of the Big 8 and SWC. The problem is they took the entire Big 8 and only four teams from the SWC, doing away with what made the SWC so great: Texans love for, and absolutely madness driven need to dominate and win at football. The SWC was just a bunch of rich Texans trying to outspend each other to make their alma maters better on the football field, and honestly if that’s not the truest interpretation of the spirit of college football then what the hell is, I ask you? I try to rectify this here. Arkansas, finally realizing they will never, EVER win in the SEC, comes back home. But only after a cash windfall from alum Jerry Jones, whose spending ushers in a new age of the Big 12 with that ol’ SWC spirit. West Virginia leaves to play in a conference where the closest team isn’t 874 miles away. Welcome home to Houston and SMU. Houston also brings Dana Holgoson back to the conference, and you know SMU has still got some big money boosters itching to bring back the glory days.
North: Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., Arkansas
South: Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, SMU, Houston
The PAC 12 remains the same. When I look at it, I don’t see any glaring holes or obvious misfits. I think Colorado and Utah were great additions, and there’s no one out there that really screams out “PAC 12 team in the wrong conference,” you know? BYU and Boise St. are names that get thrown out there, but I don’t see it.
North: Washington, Washington St., Oregon, Oregon St., Cal, Stanford
South: Colorado, Utah, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona St.
The SEC gets a small but significant makeover, with a nod to tradition and also to the idea of the SEC as an actual entity, because let’s be honest, it just means more. We bring back founding member Georgia Tech, who left in 1964 because they were mad at Bear Bryant or something. Atlanta is an SEC town, through and through, to pretend otherwise is foolish. Gone is South Carolina, the team who was the second choice in 1990’s SEC expansion behind… Florida State. The Seminoles join the conference that is their most natural fit (have you been to Tallahassee? It’s is S-E-C as fuuuck), and that probably pisses off Florida and it’s never a bad thing to stick it to those jort-wearing asshats (I love you, Gator-fan friends). Missouri and Arkansas are gone, too, and for better, I think. Texas A&M stays put, because they’ve acclimated so well and frankly they just don’t want to share a conference with Texas (and who could blame them? But they have to renew the yearly rivalry game). To fill our last spot? Memphis. Yup, Memphis. Yes, that Memphis. Look, if Ole Miss and Mississippi State are power conference schools, then so is Memphis. Hell, Memphis is probably in better shape as a program than the Rebels are right now, plus that’s a great addition in basketball and barbeque. It sits in another SEC hotbed, and that’s a road trip you just want every SEC fan base to make. We do get a third Tigers team in the West alone, but who’ll give a shit when a Memphis Tiger victory over Ole Miss or Tennessee actually counts in conference?
East: Florida, Florida St., Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
West: Alabama, Auburn, Memphis, Ole Miss, Miss. St., LSU, Texas A&M
The next tier, which might produce a national champion every blue moon, but mostly produces solid champs who are more than capable of winning a playoff game or two. Every so often a champ of one of these conferences makes a deep run, and every few years they get an at-large berth as well. Lots of good football being played at this level.
Here’s where thing start to get crazy. The AAC was born out of the death of Big East football, but it still has merit in this mythical universe as an East Coast/Appalachian mid-major conference. We end up with ten members, and an eclectic group at that. This was probably the hardest conference to work on, but there’s a lot of potential for weird college football here.
Appalachian St., Middle Tennessee St., Old Dominion, Army, Navy, East Carolina, Liberty, Western Kentucky, Marshall, Charlotte
It’s funny, growing up in Baltimore, college football was not a big deal at all. CBS used to have rights to both the SEC and Big East, and many times I’d get Miami bludgeoning some hapless Big East also-ran instead of an Alabama game, and I hated it. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I long for the days of Pat White leading a ridiculously prolific West Virginia offense into Louisville on a Thursday night and seeing just how high Vegas would set the over/under. We keep the original northeastern vibe, here, and bring back some classic rivalries both old and more modern. Also, Rutgers and UMass are here.
Boston College, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, Temple, UConn, UMass, West Virginia
This is a mid-major conference that has gone through more members than the nWo did in late 90s WCW. Seriously, look at this members entry on Wikipedia. In this new world of college football, C-USA takes on a more distinct southern mid-major flavor.
East: Coastal Carolina, Georgia St., Georgia Southern, FIU, FAU, Troy
West: Arkansas St., Southern Miss, Tulsa, Tulane, UAB, South Alabama
The MWC stays the same save for one change: bring back BYU and jettison New Mexico. More than once during the BCS-era, the MWC was a better conference than one of the BCS conferences. Those years really forged an identity for the conference, and that spirit remains.
East: Boise St., BYU, Air Force, Colorado St., Utah St., Wyoming
West: Fresno St., Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego St., San Jose St., UNLV
THE LITTLE GUYS
If I were to knock teams down a level, these are the most likely candidates. That’s not a knock on the football they play, the schools simply don’t have the resources that even the mid-majors possess. These are going to be your 15-16 seeds in the CFP every year, and while they won’t make much noise in the post-season, their best are certainly good enough to knock off a big boy on occasion.
Like the PAC 12, the MAC remains the same. Marshall and Western Kentucky would make good additions, but that would give the conference 14 teams and that’s just too much for anyone but the Big 10 and SEC.
East: Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent St., Ohio, Miami U
West: Ball St., Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan
Finally we arrive at the Sun Belt, a conference that has had members ranging from Idaho to Miami. This iteration has a heavy southwestern tilt to it, rounding out at 10 schools all from Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. The Big East’s return really created a ripple effect that had me spending a lot of time on the AAC, C-USA and Sun Belt.
Louisiana Tech, Louisiana, UL Monroe, North Texas, New Mexico, New Mexico St., Rice, Texas St., UTEP, UTSA