College Football Promotion and Relegation Revisited

When a nationally recognized site, through no fewer than three writers, comes up with an idea previously thought up by some unknown faceless blogger somewhere, and one of their own writers had raised the same idea earlier apparently independently, that’s probably a good sign the idea is a good one.

Such is the case with a promotion/relegation system for college football. Can you blame SBNation for devoting an entire week to the concept, given the madness that has been the past few years of conference realignment? Or their DawgSports blog for raising the same idea last year? You can imagine how piqued my interest was given my own promotion/relegation system that came before any of them; it’s especially interesting that their “relegation week” came the same week as the SEC/Big 12 alliance, which led many people to wonder if this was the first step towards college football condensing into four major conferences with a pseudo-playoff structure between them. Naturally, my idea differs from both sites’ proposals in a few ways:

  • I proposed only two conferences on the top level. This puts a number of very high-profile programs at risk of relegation to a lower level, but I like the notion of two semi-national conferences featuring all (or most of, or at least nothing but) the teams that college football’s engine runs on playing against each other in a guaranteed high-caliber showdown each and every week. It would basically be a licence to print money for schools and networks (to the point every single team could sign a Notre Dame-esque national contract with a network or ESPN), a bonanza of great games and classic match-ups for fans, while still maintaining the sanctity of the regular season and everything traditionalists love about college football. Win-win-win.
  • That said, given the inherent inequity of a pro/rel system I can see the argument to bump up to, let’s say four conferences on the top level – which also increases the number of teams that can offer recruits the opportunity to play on the top flight, now or later, and allows us to also maintain the maze of nonsensical bowl tie-ins (including bowls with potential relegation implications). This oh-so-neatly matches the number of major conferences the SEC/Big 12 alignment potentially presages condensation to as well. We can institute a four-team all-champion playoff, or we can put in a 12-16 team “Champions League”.
  • These two conferences would each consist of 12 teams… without divisions. Each conference would play a complete round-robin, leaving them at most one non-conference game, which should be enough to maintain any rivalries outside the conference. Those games would be meaningless in the overall scheme of things, but isn’t that what a lot of people liked about pre-BCS college football rivalries anyway? If a team somehow didn’t have a single non-conference rivalry, they could schedule the typical guarantee game.
  • Once you get past the top five levels of English soccer (the Premier League, the Championship, League One, League Two, and the National Conference), each subsequent level contains multiple leagues. The way it works there, the number of teams in each league is constant, with the borders between the leagues determined by what maintains the balance, not by rigid geographical boundaries like in the SBNation plan. Conference realignment could play out naturally, as a result of the needs of numerical balance between conferences on the same level. (The sixth level of English soccer has two leagues, the Northern and Southern Conference. The seventh level has three, the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, and the Isthmian League, each of which splits into two sub-leagues on the eighth level. Beyond that, the distribution of leagues becomes decidedly more haphazard and ad hoc, not quite as nice and neat, though the FA has been trying to reduce the 14-league ninth level down to 12, matching the six-league eighth level.)

With that in mind, let’s consider a possible structure with four conferences at the top level, extending down to NAIA. Despite the future suggested by the SEC/Big 12 alliance, I killed the Big 12 and brought back the ACC because there aren’t a lot of West Coast leagues directly below the top level, while there’s a glut of eastern and southern leagues. I’m not going to mention any teams, only the conferences at each level; conference names should be assumed to broadly reflect geographic area, as many conferences are likely to change names. Also assume that conferences at the top level contain 12 teams each, as does each subsequent level with four conferences; conferences on lower levels may have fewer teams.

  • Tier 1 (BCS): Pac-12, Big 10, SEC, ACC
  • Tier 2 (FBS): Mountain West, MAC, Conference USA, Big East
  • Tier 3 (FCS Tier 1): WAC, Missouri Valley, Sun Belt, CAA
  • Tier 4 (FCS Tier 2/Division I): Big Sky, Southland, Pioneer, Ohio Valley, SWAC, Big South, Patriot, Ivy or NEC
  • Tier 5 (Division II): Great Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Lone Star, Great American, Mid-America, Northern Sun, Great Lakes, SIAC, Gulf South, CIAA, South Atlantic, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Northeast Ten
  • Tier 6 (Division III Tier 1): Northwest, American Southwest, IIAC, MIAC, WIAC, CCIW, OAC, SCAC, Centennial, Middle Atlantic, New Jersey, Empire 8
  • Tier 7 (Division III Tier 2): SCIAC, Heartland, Upper Midwest, Midwest, Northern Athletics, MIAA, Atlantic Central, Old Dominion, Presidents, NCAC, Liberty, NESCAC
  • Tier 8: All NAIA schools and conferences

The teams assigned to each conference are left as an exercise for the reader; you may refer to my older post for assistance. Feel free to fiddle around with the conferences and their placement as well, keeping in mind that since these conferences no longer have anything to do with conferences for other sports, the actual conferences involved may be very different. For example, what conferences exist on the Division II level may just have four levels all on their own.

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