Mega-leagues good for college football
After all the craziness this weekend surrounding Texas A&M possibly going to the SEC, many in the media and plenty of die-hard fans on message boards and Twitter were signaling the end of the college football world as they knew it, and they didn’t feel fine.
But instead of thinking that change might not be a plus, understand that it’s actually necessary. As the NCAA and conference heads made very clear after their last round of talks last week, nothing is going to change for the time being, as long as the conferences stay as is.
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College football fans, if you want a real, live playoff and not some sort of convoluted "Plus One" thing that would only provide more questions than answers, then you want realignment. You want expansion. You want the too-big-to-fail superconferences, and you want the big leagues to get bigger, meaner and greedier.
College football can still be college football and it can still have all the same charm and all the same joy that made fans fall in love with it in the first place, and when all the dust settles and all the billions of dollars get distributed, the shocker will be that the fans will benefit and the game will be better, even if some traditionalists will whine that it’ll look more like the NFL.
So how should this work? More important, how likely is it that there will be a rise of four 18-team leagues? The wheels are already in motion, so, five years from now, expect it to happen.
Here’s a best-guess idea and proposal for the alignment of all the top programs and all the top TV markets. The programs that don’t make the cut would go to a sort of FBS-Plus grouping, where they could still play the big boys, as they do now, but everyone can stop pretending they have a shot to play for the national title.
One thing about doing this, though: This has to be kept in the land of the real. Programs like Vanderbilt, Baylor and Duke aren’t going to be kicked out of their big conferences, for academic tie-ins as well as athletic traditions, so some football teams that you think should be in probably won’t get a shot because of TV market, fan base or academic status. Remember, basketball plays a part in this, too.
Welcome to the world of the 18-team leagues and the easy eight-team playoff. Really, you’ll grow to like it.
In a perfect world, the four conference champions would play off in a hellacious Final Four, but the commissioners and athletic directors will want the money and the prestige of having two teams from each league in the fun. With nine-team divisions, every team will play an eight-game divisional schedule along with two interdivisional dates. That would allow for two payday nonconference games against the lower-level teams.
Again, trying to deal with reality, each conference champion would get in along with the highest-ranked team left on the board. It would be nice if the playoff was limited to just the division winners, but that won’t happen.
First, the SEC will take away Florida State as one of the prime programs on the radar, and Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech will be the next to go. The SEC wants in the Virginia/Washington D.C. market, while getting the Yellow Jackets will be a pride thing since Atlanta is the center of the league’s world. Clemson will come close to going to the SEC, but in the end, it’ll end up sticking around and will be very, very happy to be in the easiest of the four conferences, Instead of butting its head against the SEC wall every year, Clemson would be a superstar in the ACC.
The ACC will make up for the losses — especially the loss of Florida State — by going big in Florida with South Florida and UCF bringing in the Tampa and Orlando markets while providing easy rivals for Miami. TCU and Houston will bring in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston TV markets, while getting Connecticut for basketball and West Virginia for football would be two nice upgrades.
The Big Ten
The rumors will keep swirling about Missouri going to the SEC, but the Big Ten will pounce to give Illinois a natural geographic rival. And then the big fish will be reeled in. Notre Dame will make a big stink about possibly going to the Pac-18 or the SEC, but academically and geographically, the pressure will be too much to not join the Big Ten. The appeasement will be getting put in the same division as Indiana, Purdue, Pitt, Rutgers, and Syracuse, keeping some semblance of the Big East basketball world intact.
The BTN wants TV markets, and it’ll snap up Rutgers and Syracuse to go along with Pitt, creating a whale of a rivalry date with Penn State.
No one really wants Iowa State, and it’s not a great fit for the Big Ten, but it’ll be an easy fit in the same division as Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.
Out of all the scenarios, this one is the most likely to happen. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were close to jumping over to the then-Pac-10 last summer, and while the SEC will show some interest, the two programs will head west with the Sooner-USC rivalry quickly becoming one of the best in college football. The North will get Kansas to make the basketball season that much more interesting, while taking Boise State would be a nice piece of the puzzle to create a rivalry with Washington State. The league had problems with the idea of taking BYU on the first round of expansion talks in 2010, but now the two will marry up to give Utah its long-time rival.
Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech
Yes, Texas A&M, you will get the call from the SEC; it’ll just happen a little later than you wanted it to. However, it’ll come at a price — you won’t escape the Texas shadow. Texas Tech will also be along for the ride to create a whale of a West, with the rivalries forming with LSU while reuniting with former Southwest Conference star, Arkansas. While everyone is talking about Clemson coming in, the SEC will end up taking Virginia Tech instead. The move to the Virginia markets is big for talent, while getting the Washington D.C TV screens will only help the already great package. Georgia Tech isn’t necessarily a must for the ratings, but the league won’t want to lose the Atlanta-based school to the Big Ten and Georgia needs its rival. Florida State will be a lock once the A&M dust clears.
The playoff will be easy. Eight teams with the first round coming before Christmas, tailored around whatever the NFL is doing. The four conference champions will play the wild-cards, and they’ll all be rewarded for winning their respective titles by playing the first round game at home. The teams will be seeded according to the rankings — throwing a bone to the coaches’ poll — with the top ranked team playing the No. 8 seed, and so on, as long as the matchup wasn’t between two teams in the same conference.
The Final Four will be on New Year’s Day, with one game at either the Pasadena or Glendale, and the other in either New Orleans or Miami. The national title game will be played a week later in a rotating spot among the four current BCS sites.
This year, the playoff, according to the above format, would’ve probably looked something like this . . .
West Virginia vs. Auburn
Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin
Arkansas vs. TCU
Ohio State vs. Oregon
Whether you’re a traditionalist or not, you’d have to admit this would’ve been fun. Someday, it will be.
To understand how important a shock to the system will be is to accept just how bad the current set up actually is. The past, especially the Poll and Bowl way of determining a champion, really wasn’t all that great, and as more of the business side of things takes over, many of the beliefs surrounding the game are misguided.
Myth: A college football playoff would kill the bowl system.
Reality: An eight-team playoff would only take up seven games and would likely occupy the BCS games as they’re currently set up now. Everyone else would play in bowl games as usual.
Myth: A college football playoff would hurt the student-athletes academically.
Reality: There’s no school from mid-December to the first week of January, A four or eight-team playoff could be played without anyone missing a class. The same can’t be said for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Myth: The rise of superconferences would end the dreams of the little guy forever.
Reality: Ask Boise State if it got a fair shake in the court of public opinion last year. Ask TCU what it feels like to go unbeaten and not play for the whole ball of wax. In the current set up, at least 70 programs don’t have any shot whatsoever of playing for the national title no matter what they do.
Myth: The world will be a lesser place if the big conferences got bigger and the little conferences were pushed aside.
Reality: You don’t care about the little conferences.
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The simple fact of the matter is that the big schools and the big football programs are always going to have an unfair advantage. It’s not right that Michigan can sell 106,000 tickets for one game and Eastern Michigan might not hit half that mark for an entire season, and yet they’re both FBS teams. The have-nots can have their own part of the college football world, but the time has come for the mega-programs to be allowed to move forward.
Myth: A college football playoff would ruin what makes the game great.
Reality: Now, more than ever, creating a college football playoff is a must for the integrity of the sport.
College football, you have a problem. The championship matchup is determined on opinion. Auburn might have been the best team in the nation last year, but would you have bet the kids that TCU couldn’t have pulled off the upset? How many good teams have been left out of the BCS Championship race because they started the year ranked a bit too low? In 2009, Alabama and Texas went unbeaten after starting out among the top teams in the first polls, and no one else had a chance.
With the TV contracts getting bigger and the networks having more at stake, the perception will be there, real or not, that ESPN will play favorites when covering the SEC, Texas, and anyone who can make the network the bigger ad dollars.
The networks don’t want a weakened Ohio State, and ESPN certainly didn’t want a 2010 Sugar Bowl without Terrelle Pryor and a full-force Buckeye team or a BCS Championship without Cam Newton. Again, whether it’s fair or not — and, no, ESPN doesn’t control the NCAA rulings — if there’s any segment of the fan base that doesn’t trust that the system that puts two teams in a championship game, especially if there are other viable options, then the game suffers.
No, it’s not quirky, and no, it’s not a good thing for teams like TCU last year, Boise State in 2009 and 2006, Utah in 2008 and 2004, and Auburn in 2004 to end the year unbeaten and without a chance to play for the national championship.
College football, it’s time for a playoff and it's time to finally make some big changes. In this case, bigger will be better.