A Real Solution to the College Football Realignment Problem

The money-first mentality that resonates throughout college football, and is most evident come Bowl Season in winter, is looking less and less like an amateur institution set in place for students to have an outlet for cultivating their athletic abilities during their stay at college while working on their university degrees. Instead, it has become a runaway train of corporate-style greed that is looking more and more like a threat to the balance, parity, and “amateurism” that NCAA claims it is all about.

What we have seen transpire over the last few years is nothing short of a money-grab at the expense of the people who actually earn that money on the field each week. And in case you’re wondering? NO – this article is not about paying college athletes which, in my opinion, is a terrible idea in and of itself. This article is about a relatively simple solution to the current money-grab and a framework for the long-term future of college football.

In all of the articles I’ve read and the countless opinions I’ve heard tossed about by Yahoo! Sports correspondents and the talking heads of the national sports media, they all seem to be stuck on this idea that athletic programs should uproot themselves and realign in order to keep up with other football schools, basketball be damned. Wendy Nix and crew from the ESPN College Football halftime show even stated their opinion that Pittsburgh, a perennial Big East power, would be making a wise choice to abandon their league and join the ACC, a league with practically the same qualities as the Big East: a basketball powerhouse with little to contribute on the football field save for one or two teams (WVU vs. Miami/FSU).

Here’s the thing: being an FBS school has never explicitly meant that you are also a D1 basketball school. In fact, many of the nation’s most elite basketball programs fall into one of two categories: a) they are highly successful in basketball, but tend to fare poorly in FBS football (Duke, UConn, Kentucky, and Indiana to name a few) or b) have successful basketball programs, but have football teams that play in the FCS, such as Marquette, Villanova, and a handful of perennial “big dance” attendees from the so called “mid-majors”. Notre Dame has also been able to maintain their position as an independent in football and a Big East member for 22 of their 26 other sports with both the football and basketball teams bringing in money and fielding relatively successful teams each season.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s a novel idea: why don’t we just scrap the conventional college football conferences altogether? Yes. I’m serious. Believe it or not, it would actually be quite easy to eliminate the current conferences for college football and leave them the way they are for every other sport. There are 120 teams in the FBS. Since there is so much talk of “super conferences”, you can divide the nation up into 6 regional conferences; Northeast, Southeast, Middle Atlantic, Northwest, Southwest, and Middle Pacific. These conferences would include two division of 7 teams each, for a total of 14 teams per conference. The other 36 mid-major college football programs would be broken up into three 12-team conferences. Each of the major conferences would have at least 2 major football programs in each division, giving every conference an equal chance at producing the national champion.

In addition, minor changes to the bowl rules and schedules would make for the current amount of bowls to remain, while switching to a playoff to determine the national champion. In this system, the winner of each of the conference championships would get an automatic spot in the eight team playoff, with the last two “wild-card” spots up for grabs. In the event that a mid-major team finished undefeated, or in the top 8 of the BCS rankings, they would receive an automatic wildcard berth. Otherwise, the last two playoff berth would be awarded to the teams who have the highest BCS ranking. Even though many people argue that a playoff would extend the season, the simple reality is this: The NCAA football season, starting in the first week of September and ending in the first, or second, week of January is 24 weeks long. If each team played a 12 game schedule, with 1 week for the conference championships, and 3 weeks for the eight-team playoffs, that leaves 8 weeks to add in bye weeks and to give the players a break between the regular season and postseason.

Aligning the conferences this way enables schools to remain in their current basketball conferences, while creating parity and a fan-satisfying format for the entire college football season. Each team would play 8 teams from their own conference, including every team in their division, and 4 non-conference opponents.

As you can see in the graphic below, each conference maintains historical rivalries and segregates teams by location. This enables tradition to continue while allowing traditional rivalries (like the Red River Rivalry) to continue while resuming some of the best from college football’s past (Pitt-Penn State Rivalry). I would also like to point out the overall parity between conferences. Highlighted in green is a very rough demonstration of how many of these teams have been ranked in the AP or BCS Top 25 between this year and last. While I’m sure I missed some teams, you can clearly see that each conference has its due share of prominent football teams.

At the end of the day, I know I’m just one person in a sea of a million opinions. But I know deep down that we have to fight for what we believe in, or the entire system and everything we know and love about college athletics will be given over to the money-hungry presidents of all the biggest universities.

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