Before I even get started here, let me make something crystal clear:
- THIS AIN’T NEVER GONNA HAPPEN!
There is more than too much inertia and “history” built into the current incarnation of college football to assure that this sort of restructuring would be out of the question. Nevertheless, just as a flight of fancy come with me on a gedankenexperiment where we reinvent – or reimagine if you prefer – college football. What I want to do is to wave my magic wand and freeze college football as it exists today and then reinvent it. I am not talking about the game; I do not want to invent a game where there is no tackling or where there is no such thing as pass interference. I want to reinvent the way the game is structured/organized.
- [Aside: If Vice President Al Gore could presume to “reinvent the government” 20 years ago, I think I can presume to reinvent college football. And, by the way, the non-implementation of my ideas here will have about the same lasting effect on college football as Vice President Gore’s actions had on the government.]
The top tier of college football in 2016 had 128 teams in what they call FBS or what I call Division 1-A. That is the perfect number for my reinvention idea. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee and put on your thinking cap while you take a trip in my fantasy world for a moment. It just might be more interesting than a stroll down memory lane…
I want to break up the 128 Division 1-A teams into two equal parts. Let me call these parts the “Big Boys Category” and the “Little Boys Category”. I want to put 64 teams in each of the two categories and then I want to break each of the categories into 4 conferences of 16 teams each and each conference into 2 divisions of 8 teams each. The Big Boys Category would consist of:
- The SEC Teams (14 teams)
- The Big 10 Teams (14 Teams)
- The PAC-12 Teams (12 teams)
- The Big 12 (10 teams) – – plus – –
- The “14 Best Teams” from the other Conferences
The Little Boys Category would consist of the “other 64 teams”…
Now I want to divide those teams into 4 conferences and I will do that on a geographical basis. The 14 teams that I added to this category from the “other existing conferences” would go into the existing structure on the basis of best geographical fit only because there has to be some sort of criterion here to avoid a ton of tsouris along the path leading to the assignments.
The Little Boys Category will be divided up into 4 conferences of 16 teams also and I would do my best to make this as geographically consistent as possible. I am not focusing on the Little Boys category here nearly as much as the Big Boys Category but that will change later on…
In the new 16-team conferences in both Categories, there will be NO interconference play in the regular season. An 11-game regular season schedule will consist of 7 games for each team in one’s division plus 4 games against teams in the other division of the same conference rotating the inter-division schedule every year. In each conference, the two division winners will have a playoff to determine the conference winner.
The 4 conference winners in the Big Boys Category will get automatic berths in an 8-team CFP that will happen in January. The other 4 teams in that CFP bracket will be selected by either a committee or a set of computers or a “college football czar” – makes no difference to me – and the winner of that 8-team tournament will be the College Football National Champion for the year.
I can hear lots of mumbling at this point with regard to “So, what’s the big deal here?” or “All he wants to do is change the composition of the conferences.” As Lee Corso would say:
“Not so fast, my friend …”
You see, I want to do the same thing in the “Little Boys Category” but I want the playoffs there to have some sort of meaning or gravitas. In fact, I think my idea here would make the Little Boys Playoff bracket almost as interesting as the one for the Big Boys.
What I want to do here is to steal the concept of relegation from the British soccer leagues. Here is the deal:
- The 4 finalists in the Little Boys Playoff Tournament will be promoted to the Big Boys category for the next season.
- Geography will be the primary determinant for which team goes to which Big Boys Conference but in the case where that is not a clear choice, the team that finished higher in the Little Boys Playoff would get to choose where they will go.
- To make room for them, there would also be a selection process – don’t care who does it or how – to determine which 4 teams from the Big Boys Category get relegated. The easiest would be to relegate the worst team in each of the 4 conferences and then add the best 4 teams from the lower category. Since college football never does anything in the easiest way, I am sure no one would like do it that way…
My reinvention of college football has pluses and minuses; I will be the first to acknowledge that. Let me do the pluses first:
- Teams will play much more balanced schedules if they have to play all of their games “in conference”. Every game will matter as much as every other game. Athletic directors will not go out searching for a glorified scrimmage game against Comatose State because there will be no place on the schedule to put such a waste of time.
- Bowl games at the end of the season will be a lot more interesting because of the lack of interconference play. There will be an element of inter-conference rivalry that develops and there will be a curiosity factor to see how conferences fare against one another.
- The big money will be with the Big Boys Category and so there will be a significant monetary incentive to win and to stay in the Big Boys Category. Relegation will be more than just an affront to alums; relegation will be a good swift kick in the wallet. A late season head-to-head game between two teams that are both 1-8 will be meaningful to each team – and particularly meaningful to each coach and athletic director.
- The Little Boys Category teams that do very well in a season can get to spend the next season trying to establish themselves in the Big Boys Category where the big money is. That makes the Little Boys Playoff Tournament very important to the teams and the coaches – – and that will make that playoff into something that fans might be interested in.
The posers at the NCAA will not be able to complain that too many of their student-athletes will play too many games under my phantasmagorical new system. Most teams will play only 11 games plus a bowl game (perhaps). The best teams will play 11 regular season games plus 2 games in a conference tournament plus as many as 3 games in a CFP-like tournament for a maximum of 16 games. In the current rendition of college football the two best teams play a 15-game schedule. My idea is NOT a huge expansion of an already over-exposed sport.
Please note that I have refrained from including here one of my pet ideas from NCAA Mythical Picks. Please note that the decision(s) on relegation will not be made on the basis of an on-field tournament where the losing team has to play on to see if it will be relegated or not. My imaginary SHOE Tournament from Mythical Picks is fun for me to imagine; it would never work in reality.
I can hear screams of upset already over the idea of relegation because that relegation would potentially interrupt/destroy longstanding rivalries. There is no “schedule flexibility” in my scheme so if one party to the annual “Big Deal Game” sucks wind for a year, they may indeed have to forego next year’s “Big Deal Game”. You know what? Life will go on…
I would be open to the idea of extending the relegation/promotion opportunities to the teams that finish in the Top 4 of the Division 1-AA national tournament that already exists. The reason I would not mandate it from the start is that it is not clear to me that all of the schools in Division 1-AA would want to try to grow their football program into one that might continue to exist at the Division 1-A level. For example, Ivy League teams would probably not want to do that and I really do not know how the folks at this year’s four finalist schools in the Division 1-AA tournament would feel about “being promoted” to the Little Boys Category of Division 1-A. For the record, this year’s finalists are:
- Eastern Washington
- James Madison
- North Dakota St.
- Youngstown St.
By the same token, I would not presume to extend the relegation/promotion concept down from Division 1-AA to Division II or from Division II to Division III. I know that sort of thing happens in the British soccer leagues and that is the model for my idea. I just don’t know if it is a good idea to implement this all the way up and down the ladder here in American football.
Earlier on, I said that I really did not care how various selections would be made in this reinvented system. Actually, that is not completely correct. I do care that the humans involved in the decision making are people who can and will spend the time to pay attention to what they are doing. A committee composed of athletic directors and coaches and journalists is not going to be satisfactory for a simple reason:
- Those folks have other full-time jobs and commitments that preclude them from spending 40-50 hours per week doing nothing but focusing on the tasks at hand such as adding 4 at-large teams to the Big Boys Category CFP and/or picking the 4 worst teams in the Big Boys Category to relegate. That is not a job done by simply reading stat compilations; the selectors need to take the time to watch the candidate teams and make decisions based on the “Eyeball Test” as well as the “Statistical Test”.
Oh, by the way, that same statement would eliminate a totally computer based selection process. Computers are not yet to the point where they might perform any sort of “Eyeball Test”.
I made a passing reference above to a “college football czar”. I doubt that I would have difficulty convincing you that finding an acceptable person to assume that position would be impossible. However, I will offer a nominee for the job.
- Larry Culpepper – the Dr. Pepper stadium vendor. After all, he invented the College Football Playoff, right?
That completes your tour of my fantasy world for the reinvented game of college football. It will never come to pass, but I had fun contemplating it. And now, let me go and adjust my meds …
But don’t get me wrong I love sports………