Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Anti-Conference Approach

By Andrew Jones

As college football fans anticipate the start of the season, every other story (if not more) seem to be about Johnny Manziel's off-the-field antics. SC's Brad Oremland covered this topic last week and looked at the angle of amateur athletes not getting paid and the NCAA's hypocrisy related to such topics as memorabilia. I'm with Brad 100% on all that.

In my opinion, what is overlooked in all the offseason hype is this basic reality: if Texas A&M had not transferred to the SEC, we would not care about Johnny Football.

If Texas A&M had remained in the Big 12 they never would have played Alabama, much less managed to beat them. Without that win and without being in the strength of the SEC, Johnny Manziel would have not won the Heisman Trophy and all of us would not only care a lot less about his antics off the field, but I think the antics themselves would either not have happened or gone unnoticed.

The SEC has won the last seven national championships. In the Associated Press rankings for 2013, five of the top 10 teams are from the SEC. The dominance is obvious. Whether or not this dominance is a good or bad for college football is up for debate, but I think it is time to make a major shift in college football.

The past few years have seen a plague of movement in college football conferences to the point where the names don't even make any sense anymore. For 2013, the Big 10 has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10 teams. The Big East no longer exists and geography doesn't seem to matter to anything except names. Seriously, Colorado and Utah are over 500 miles away from the Pacific Ocean. Missouri is neither in the south or the east.

If geography doesn't matter, let's dispense with it entirely and move forward with a new system that will showcase better matchups, preserve the bowl system, leave room for a playoff, and provide better recourse for punishing teams that have broken the rules. What system could do that? A tiered system such as is used in the Premier League.

For those who are unfamiliar with the system, the way the Premier League works is as follows: there are always 20 teams in the Premier League. After every season, the bottom three teams in the Premier League are relegated or demoted to the Football League Championship. Meanwhile the top three teams from the Football League Championship are promoted to the Premier League. The Football League Championship also demotes its bottom teams and takes on the best teams from League One every season.

If this were adopted for college football here's what it could look like: There are currently 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly known as Division I-A). These could be split up in to six tiers of 20 teams or four tiers of 30 teams. For now, let's go with four tiers of 30 teams.

Each team would play 12 games. Two games would be reserved for rivalry games played as the first and last games of the season. The other 10 games would be against same tier opponents. Who plays who would be determined by the unbiased selection of a computer.

The top tier would be the only tier eligible for the playoff that would determine the champion each season. I'd suggest an eight team playoff ranked according to record.

The biggest difference between my proposal for college football and that of the Premier League would be how relegation and promotion works. The bottom five teams of the top tier would be up for relegation, while the top five teams of the second tier would be up for promotion. But instead of just switching these teams around, why not have them play in a bowl game? Whoever wins is in the top tier, whoever loses in the second tier. Currently, I watch very few Bowl Games that are not part of the Bowl Championship Series. But if Michigan had to beat Northern Illinois to stay in the top tier, I'd probably watch that game. There's a lot on the line there. There are actual consequences.

Not only would bowl games be more exciting, but the regular season would be far improved. I don't know about you, but I really don't care that Alabama can beat Western Carolina 49-0. Of course they can. Now imagine this totally made up schedule for Alabama.

@Auburn (rival game)
vs. Kansas St.
vs. Boise St.
@ Notre Dame
vs. Oklahoma
@ Clemson
vs. Texas A&M
@ Oregon
vs. Nebraska
@ Louisville
vs. Arkansas (rival game)

I think each week would be worth watching. And I think the days of undefeated seasons would be gone or at least as unlikely as an undefeated season in the NFL.

The SEC's dominance created a strange problem where six of the best 10 teams in the nation at the end of the regular season were in the SEC, but only two of those six teams could play in games reserved for the best 10 teams. In this new system, all of those teams would have been in the top tier and been able to stay without question.

This system would be great for teams like BYU, TCU, or Boise State who created perennial powerhouse teams from perennial weak conferences. They would play teams of similar talent levels and show that they actually belong in the top tier because there would be no such thing as a weak schedule.

But perhaps the most attractive thing about this system would be the ability to punish teams for their transgressions in a fitting fashion. Let's take Penn State as an example. Penn State's crimes were a major offense. What's the punishment? Relegate them to the lowest tier where they will spend a year playing Tulane, Akron, Idaho, and Florida Atlantic. Sure, they'll probably be able to jump up to tier three at season's end, but I bet they'd have a hard time making their way to the top tier within 10 years. And if you don't think that's harsh enough, then relegate them to the bottom tier for two years or five years or whatever is enough to satisfy your taste for judgment.

When all is said in done, this system would even the playing field to create better regular season games, a better playoff system, and not only keep bowl games, but make them better and more valuable. Schools in the bottom rung of power conferences would be the ones to object most vehemently to this proposal. Teams like Kentucky, Colorado, and Duke can't be in love with a system that would put them in the third of four tiers to play against good teams from weaker conferences, but that's where they belong in the football world. If they want to dig themselves out of it, they'll have to work for it.

The top two tiers would be the only ones people pay attention to, obviously with a large focus tending toward the top tier, but isn't that what happens year in and year out anyway. The top teams are the top teams. There are very few surprises as to who that will be in a given year.

Teams whose rankings are doubted would have to win or be demoted — whether that is the often underrated Boise States of college football or the often overrated Ohio States of college football. No team could march through a weak conference. No team could claim their conference was too stacked. Everyone would be right where they ought to be and that's the way it should be.

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