Monday, December 17, 2012

Enough Already

By Andrew Jones

It is no secret that the college sports scene has been experiencing some rapid shifts in allegiance over the past five years. Of course, this isn't altogether new. The Big 8 existed from 1907 until 1996 when it was dissolved and morphed into the Big 12, well, I guess it only technically was named the Big 8 from 1957 until 1996, but you get the point.

Now the Big East is the conference experiencing the next mass exodus from their conference, which will likely mean the Big East will no longer exist whatsoever.

This is a problem.

What makes this a problem is not the sheer and utter annoyance it causes fans like you and me. What truly makes this a problem is that the reasons for any college or university switching conferences is always about one thing: dollars.

Geography has historically been the main factor in deciding conference allegiance. The Big East was in the east. The Pac-10 was near the Pacific Ocean. The SEC was in the southeastern part of the country, but these obviously logical realities are no longer true. What is the main factor? Money. Make no mistake. This is not about competition. This is not about winning. This is about money.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Why is that a problem?” And honestly it is a fair question. In the past 18 months, three of the four major American professional sports have experienced a lockout of their players. Two of the four have had games cancelled and one is still fighting an uphill climb to even play. Because of what? Dollars (Canadian or American).

So why should we be up in arms (or even surprised) when another competitive sports organization — the NCAA — has to deal with its participants wanting more money?

Because these are not professional athletes. These are America's schools. Even as a sports fan, doesn't it bother you that you hear more about Duke University's basketball program than about Wake Forest's breakthrough research in regenerative medicine?

I don't expect the Green Bay Packers nor the Miami Heat to be known for anything other than sports and drama, but I do expect colleges and universities to have a bigger agenda than which conference they play basketball in.

Yes, many universities — even ones with great sports programs — are doing a fantastic job of educating people. But when I look at college sports and see the number of teams switching conferences and the number of schools being reprimanded and punished for breaking recruiting violations, I see schools that have seriously lost sight of their purpose and mission. No school in the entire world was founded on the principles of “We will win as many sports championships as possible.” Schools exist to educate.

I could understand professional sports teams switching conferences if it were financially beneficial, but it isn't. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not receive any compensation for switching from the NFC Central to the NFC South when conferences realigned. They were just told what conference they were in and that's the way it was.

It is time to put an end to all of the distractions that college sports provide. And that needs to happen by telling teams what conference they are in. Period. With no exceptions. No money provisions. No independents. If teams want to be in a Division I sport, they will be grouped into the conferences that are chosen for them, geographically (with perhaps a taste of historical bias), and that's that.

Be honest, does it make any sense that Rutgers (located in New Jersey) will be in the same conference as Nebraska? They are 1,284 miles away! It is simply ridiculous that this is happening. What is it going to take for the powers that be to realize this is out of hand? Florida State joining the same conference as Washington State? Hawaii joining the Big East?

It's time for a solution, so here is a proposal.

In college football, there are currently 11 conferences and four independent teams totaling 120 schools. Could you ask for a better number? Create 10 conferences of 12 teams (or 12 conferences of 10 teams), have half be an upper tier and half be a lower tier based on the previous five seasons. The initial divisions would be messy, but it would balance itself out in a short amount of time.

Then pair an upper-tier conference with a lower-tier conference and relegate two teams each season from the upper tier to the lower tier in each conference and promote two teams each season from the lower tier to the upper tier in each conference. A playoff system could be developed easily from this system of either six or 12 teams (conference champions or top two teams of the upper tier conferences) and there you have a system in place that would run like clockwork for decades. Yes, getting it started and initial divisions would be messy, and there would have to be room to keep rivalries going between teams, but in five to 10 years, nobody would be complaining.

College basketball would be slightly messier, but we can make it work. There are currently 32 conferences and a total of 347 teams in Division IA basketball. The same system could be used as the one I proposed for college football. Create 28, 30, or 32 conferences of between 10 and 13 teams. A number of different tiers could be created. With 30 conferences, three tiers seems logical. So essentially you would have 10 conferences with classes A, B, and C. Again, relegating and promoting two teams each season based on performance.

With 28 or 32 conferences, you could use two tiers, but I'd honestly recommend four tiers. This would mean seven or eight conferences with classes of A, B, C, and D — again connected with relegations and promotions.

How would the playoffs work? Well, one could simply use the same selection process as currently exists, at least in part. I think all conference champions, regardless of which tier they land on, should be given opportunity to play in the tournament (which I would never change in any way other than perhaps getting it back to 64 teams).

So let's just say that we are using my ideal scenario and go with a 32 conference system and the NCAA tournament goes back to 64 teams.

All 32 conference champions are in the tournament. What do we do with the remaining 32 spots? Well, one could simply give them to the tier A conferences so that they would have five teams each in the tournament and B, C, and D would have one, but that hardly seems right. Or you could give the tier A conferences four teams each and tier B two teams each and C and D each get one.

I think what would probably be best though is that tier A gets three teams each, tier B gets two teams each, tiers C and D get one team each in the tournament and there are eight at-large bids available that would likely go to tier A teams, but not be limited by conference. Perhaps a stipulation could be made that tier D cannot have more than one team selected so as to separate them a bit more from tier C, but this is obviously a work in progress.

All in all, the point is, the NCAA could easily organize their two biggest money making sports of football and basketball into a far greater system of logic.

Conferences should not be governing bodies that can sue you for trying to leave. They should simply be geographical markers to properly organize a playoff system and continue or create rivalries.

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