Powell Fixes College Football

I am a huge sports fan, and I have a particular affinity for college sports. While I bleed green and yellow for my beloved Oregon Ducks, I also pull hard for the Portland State Vikings, Linfield Wildcats, University of Central Florida Golden Knights, and Boise State Broncos. I will stay up late on Saturdays taking in the PAC-12 After Dark, and I dropped our old satellite television provider because they couldn't deliver the PAC-12 Network.

I've thought long and hard (no, really...) about the realities of the present climate for major college football. Here's the final summation, which people much smarter than me have explored in great depth: the system isn't fair. It isn't equitable. It enriches the long-entrenched programs while penalizing those that would like to experience even a modicum of ascension. 

This is toxic for the sports landscape, and it leads to that charade of a "playoff" at the end of the year is supposed to pick a true national champion. Our current "playoff" is an improvement, of course, on the previous systems that included the AP Poll and the clown show of the BCS.

But that doesn't mean that we can't demand more. We need a more equitable system...

Look, the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), which was formerly known as NCAA D1AA, has a sixteen-team playoff every year. Those student-athletes, just as those playing in all of the other divisions, take final exams and have to complete their schoolwork on time. They wrap up their championship game in early January--just as the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams do. 

Right now, selecting four teams for the "playoff" is subjective. There are many conferences that play FBS football, but there are five so-called "power conferences" (SEC, PAC-12, BIG-10, BIG-12, and ACC) vying for those spots.

This year, for the first time ever, two SEC teams made the playoff. That's correct--two teams from a single conference made it to the final four because there supposedly weren't enough viable candidates from the rest of college football.


College sports are at a crossroads that are bordering on a crisis. Attendance fell precipitously last year, a drop that hasn't been seen in thirty-four years! The games are expensive and season tickets, which often require a substantial "donation" to the university's booster organization, are pricing out families. Couple that with the fact that every game is on television in ultra-clear HD, and it's no surprise that people are staying home.

This trend bleeds revenue for the athletic departments, and some schools without active fan bases or big-money donors (and yes, I understand that Phil Knight subsidizes my Ducks; just another stroke of luck for ol' Powell...) flounder. 

Consider a proud university like Oregon State University as an example. They are falling way behind in the race to keep up with richer, more successful programs. They are flying to Ohio to play OSU in the Horseshoe as sacrificial lambs to begin the year for a $1.7 million-dollar payout that they rely on to keep the entire athletic department afloat. That's right, a team that went 1-11 last year, finished last in the PAC-12 in recruiting this year, and whose coach unceremoniously quit in the middle of the campaign (leaving $12 million on the table; Who does that?) is going to go on the road to play Ohio State University.

Makes perfect sense, right?

And the cost of national travel is astronomical. Please read this superb article on the discrepancies and costs of travel in intercollegiate athletics. If you don't have time to look at it, here's a quick snippet:
Travel is one of the most arduous aspects of college basketball. Hours upon hours every season are dedicated to getting to the next town, buses and planes essentially becoming players' and coaches' mobile second homes. 
Some have it easier than others. 
At the highest levels of Division I, buses park next to charter planes filled with spacious seats, teams' schedules based on when the runway is open. Convenience affords efficiency: Practice at home, fly out in the evening, play the next day, head straight home.
Most schools, though, can't afford to charter planes. The cost of travel drains resources and is distracting to student-athletes. Maybe they should play closer to home, am I right?

So, yeah, what if we could do it better? It would take some growing pains and two decades of adjustment, but I believe it would be worth it in the long run. Realignment would help institutions save money, which they could pass on to the customers that support these programs in the form of reduced ticket prices. It would also create a month of competitive football that would be unlike anything else in sports. 

You think March Madness is crazy? 

Just wait for December Delirium...

It would level the playing field, creating an opportunity for teams like 2017's undefeated UCF squad to prove its mettle on the field of play. Novel idea, right?

Here's what I'm thinking, because this post is getting long and it's only going to get longer:

We create six conferences, each with two divisions, and we play it off to decide the national champion at the end of the year.

I put some time and energy into this, and anyone reading this will likely disagree with my realignment proposal, but I took traditional conference ties, traditional rivalries, and geography into account in organizing this. 

That last component, by the way, was the most critical factor in my thought process. Simply put, I'm trying to make it all easier for the fans, athletes, and schools...

Caveats and Considerations:

  • Some current FCS schools would have to step up and join the FBS in my scenario. Some FBS teams, I think, are squeezed out (UTSA?). First draft here...
  • Some current FCS schools that rely on sacrificial whippings as payday games would suffer a blow to their bottom lines.
  • Some traditional rivalries would be disrupted. But I contend that new rivalries would emerge in less than two decades. It only took ten years for The War on I-4 (South Florida and Central Florida) to become super heated. In twenty years, the landscape would be settled. Change is difficult at first, even when it's made with the best of intentions. In fifty years, though, fans wouldn't have remembered any other configuration--just as I now know very little about the old PAC-8.
  • Teams would play nine games in their division (round robin), plus two preseason games. One preseason game would have to be against a team from a different FBS division, which might keep some rivalries in play. The other could come against a team from the FCS. For a team that falls below .500, there would be no bowl game (the bowl system would remain, albeit a formal playoff would also emerge alongside it), so they would only play eleven games (potentially losing revenue with our current twelve-game slates).
Okay, enough of that. Here's the system I would propose if I could simply make it so. Each conference has two divisions. Ten teams in each division.

These names are generic placeholders; I guess that's why we have commissioners! 

The Great West
Frontier Division:

Washington State
Oregon State
Utah State
Nevada Reno
Nevada Las Vegas
Montana State

Golden Division:

San Jose State
Fresno State
San Diego State
Arizona State
Boise State

Mountain Region

Plains Division:

New Mexico
New Mexico State
Air Force
Colorado State
Kansas State

Lone Star Division:

Texas Tech
Oklahoma State
North Texas
Texas A&M

Big South

Bayou Division:

Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Lafayette
Arkansas State
Louisiana Tech

Heartland Division:

Middle Tennessee
Mississippi State
Southern Miss

Southern Atlantic

Sunshine Division:

Georgia State
Georgia Tech
Florida State

Low Country Division:

South Carolina
Wake Forest
East Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Virginia Tech
Georgia Southern

Northern Atlantic

Appalachian Division:

West Virginia
Western Kentucky
Miami of Ohio
Ohio University
Appalachian State

Midwest Division:

Ball State
Northern Illinois
Bowling Green

Great Lakes 

Upper Peninsula Division:

Western Michigan
Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan
Michigan State
Ohio State
Kent State
North Dakota
North Dakota State

Colonial Division:

Penn State
Boston College 
Coastal Carolina


Notre Dame

The twelve division winners would be automatically seeded in a playoff format, with the final four at-large spots being selected by a committee of coaches and athletic directors. Ideally, we would see a slew of regional playoff games that would culminate in a true national champion that has been selected on the field.

These teams would have an 11-game regular season. After the sixteen that are selected for a playoff, there would be 30-38 teams that could vie for regional bowl games to add that twelfth game and still create local revenue and television programming content.

And there you have it--at least in draft form. I know that I've overlooked teams that recently moved up and this is simply a first run at this. But the idea here is to reduce travel costs, create efficiencies for fans (lower ticket prices and easier traveling conditions) and athletic departments, create regional and inter-state rivalries, instill more parity in college football (this would revolutionize recruiting), and create a better college playoff system.

Whew...that was a long one...

You're welcome! :)

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