A Modest NCAA Proposal: Realignment? How About Relegation?

Perhaps a year of MAC play could do them good.

My major sports loves are college football and professional basketball, but for the rest of my family, soccer is king. My mom grew up in Sao Paulo. One of my uncles even played club ball there, so when the World Cup rolls around, intensity in my family approaches a level typically reserved only for religious devotion ("Matt, it's time to go to church." "But Brazil is about to play Poland!" "...turns out we can have church at home today"). Like a lot of folks, I dutifully gave the EPL a try during college, to try and sustain that level of energy.

I never got into it. I'm sure the fact the games would play during weird hours of the day didn't help, or the fact that my ADD-ravaged American brain couldn't handle 80 min without scoring. The lack of a salary cap, draft system, and tacit acknowledgment that more than half of the teams don't have a chance in hell of winning the league bugged me a little bit too (I guess I think that every team should have a chance at a title without having to resort to being purchased by a shady Russian oligarch. If that makes me a football 'outsider', then so be it).

But you know what is awesome about the EPL? Relegation.

For those who aren't familiar with the process, the bottom three teams in the EPL standings every year are banished to a second division (which is somewhat analogous to the minors). The top finishers in the second division are also promoted to the EPL, and so forth along all the varying levels of English soccer. This system is used in other leagues around the world. Under this system, technically any squad at any level could win the highest championship, so long as they could sustain a strong enough record to be promoted. Plus, you have a reason to watch games between terrible teams at the end of the year. Everybody will play hard every game to avoid being relegated.

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"Please don't make me play in the WAC."

When you explain this process to American fans, they often think of the tankapalooza at the end of the regular season and wistfully sigh. "That sounds totally awesome. I'd love a way to force the Charlotte Bobcats to play teams in Idaho", before they remember "but American minor league teams are typically used as a developmental tools for major league franchises, rather than independent entities. The system wouldn't work here". This is true of just about every sporting arrangement....Except one: College football.

Waitwaitwait, don't close down the article and go back to Facebook just yet. Hear me out for a second.

I propose that the major conferences align themselves as such:

Pac-12-----WAC----Big Sky

ACC-----CUSA----CAA

B1G-----MAC----MVC

Big 12-----MWC----Southland

SEC-----Sun Belt-----SoCon

Big East----NL West (oh c'mon; like anything else about this conference makes sense).

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RUTGERS! THE SAN DIEGO PADRES! BIG EAST FOOTBALL!

Under this system, the lowest performing team in each conference would be required to play the next season under the second tier conference. The lower tier conference champion would be promoted to the next conference. For example, if Minnesota finishes last place in the B1G, and Northern Illinois wins the MAC, then Northern Illinois would play in the Big Ten for the next season, and Minny would play in the MAC. The MWC champion would join the MAC, and the worst MAC team (say, Buffalo or Akron) would play in MVC.

Why is this a good idea?

  1. It is the most egalitarian system possible under the current football environment. Smaller schools can struggle with scheduling the bigger names needed to play their way into a bowl. Now, *any* Division 1 program can force themselves into a "big boys'" schedule. All you have to do is win.
  2. It's better for struggling programs. If we're being totally honest, there usually isn't much of a difference between the worst team in a "power" conference and the best squads in a mid major. The horrible Minnesota teams would lose to not just the best MAC team, but likely several MAC teams. Paul Wulff's Washington State squads did nobody any favors by lining up to play Oregon and USC. They would have been better off playing Utah State and New Mexico State until they were able to develop their talent a little more. Playing against teams better aligned to your talent level gives players more meaningful game time, and a better chance of achieving a modicum of success. Would you rather get murdered by 30 points by vastly superior competition, or have a chance of competing for a lower-tier bowl game?
  3. It's better for stronger programs. You now get a terrible game removed from your schedule, and replaced with a better team (albeit one you should still expect to win). If you're in the ACC and you're struggling for respect, I think you'd rather play somebody like ECU than, I dunno, Duke.
  4. It can save FCS schools a lot of money. By allowing schools to see exactly how they could compete in the FBS world before making huge financial commitments, they wouldn't have to sink unnecessary overhead into trying to keep up with the joneses until absolutely necessary.
  5. It makes the entire regular season important. And isn't that one of the things we love the most about college football? Nobody can tank That mid-November Northwestern/Indiana game could have huge implications for relegation. How much more exciting are those random Tuesday MACtion games if you know the winner might be coming to the Horseshoe next season?

And now, some possible concerns:

  1. It could jeopardize important rivalry games. Sure, but if Minnesota gets put in "bad football time out" for a year or two, you think Iowa or Wisconsin wouldn't want to play them out of conference? Just replace your gimme Eastern Idaho State Tech matchup with the crappy B1G school. Problem solved.
  2. Not every FCS team has a promotional path. Fair point. We can allow an option that allows any FCS team that makes the playoff semifinals can compete as an FBS independent should they so choose.
  3. It messes up tradition. So? The power conference teams that are running the risk of relegation usually aren't super steeped in tradition anyway. Are ACC fans going to cry because there is a chance they might not get to play Duke every single year? I mean, besides UNC, who can always schedule Duke out of conference. I remain skeptical.
  4. It could really hurt schools financially. So? Why split up that sweet sweet conference bowl money with football deadbeats? This is America baby, and we pull ourselves up by bootstraps around here. Conference TV networks could be free to negotiate hardship payouts to temporarily relegated teams if they so choose.
  5. Aren't the MWC and CUSA combining or something? They were. But now they're not. Or something. If so, whats a good work around? Promote by geography? Top finisher gets to pick the conference?
  6. I don't know what to do with the Big East. Yeah, I've got nothing there. Send the loser to the Patriot League or something.

So I'm not seeing too many downsides here, but I am seeing a way to eliminate some boring and dumb football games near the end of the season. Save the harumph-harumph-tradition-Rose-Bowl-student-athletes for Delany's next press conference.

Would this make college football more interesting?

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