Divisions, Pods, or Free-For-All?

The college football landscape continues to evolve.

The evolution is still realignment. However, this time, it's within the conferences and how they schedule.

The Power Five conferences, with the exception of the Big 12, have been playing football in divisions for some time. However, with the NCAA's new policy that allows for conferences with 12 teams or more to operate freely, without a mandate to have divisions, the talk is out as to how to schedule conference slates.

The Pac-12 has already made the first move, deciding that the conference title game will feature the two teams with the highest winning percentage in conference play, regardless of division. The ACC is mulling a potential 3-5-5 format (with three permanent opponents). The SEC is also considering the pod format, especially as Texas and Oklahoma will be joining the conference no later than 2025.

So why scrap divisions, or better yet, why keep them?

Scrapping divisions allows the ability for schools to play more conference members and visit all conference venues during a student athlete's time, should he spend all four years on campus. It also allows the potential to have some epic rematches that can have a significant effect on the College Football Playoff. A second showdown between Michigan and Ohio State last year, one week after the Wolverines triumphed in Ann Arbor, would have been more entertaining and produced better ratings than Michigan's blowout of Iowa.

Getting rid of lopsided divisions and providing a more broad scheduling process could produce a better product on the field and possibly boost football attendance, which has been declining over the past few years.

For a conference that has had rapid realignment and a lot of lost rivalries, this is a perfect scenario. As the Big 12 goes back to 12 teams, the idea of divisions doesn't make as much sense, given the wide geographic footprint and lack of true fierce rivalries left within the conference.

Keeping divisions allows for old rivalries to continue; which plays a key role in conferences such as the SEC or Big Ten, as many rivalries stretch for hundreds of years. It also can make the games more relevant. Take, for example, the Michigan/Ohio State game mentioned earlier. If both teams knew they would playing a week later in Indianapolis for the conference title, neither team would open their playbook much, and the game would be more like a scrimmage ... it wouldn't mean as much to either side, even if it's a major rivalry.

Secondly, in the midst of a pandemic, as well as a rough economy, keeping divisions, even temporarily, could benefit Power Five schools. By creating schedules that keep games as close to your geographic footprint as possible, you reduce costs, which help athletic departments, many still trying to recover from COVID losses they took in 2020. And with realignment creating some interesting footprints, keeping games closer might be pivotal.

Third, not every pod is created equal as well. Sure, conference rivalries are important to fan bases, but just like divisions, someone is going to get the break of having a perennial doormat as a permanent opponent each year, compared to the others. It's one thing if everyone in a division gets that opportunity; it's a whole different ballgame if just three get it each year.

So basically, we're looking at a perfect list of imperfect solutions.

I do think, though, that some conferences should go without divisions and some should. And, it should stay a conference issue. The NCAA was right to lift any mandate on it and let the conferences decide for themselves which is best.

No doubt, this debate will continue to heat up, as I doubt the transition of schools to new conferences is far from ending anytime soon. But for now, there's a lot of options and a lot of offseason discussion and debate, which helps carry us all through the long summer months.

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