FanPost

How relegation could fix college football

Tom Pennington

I like to write in different places from time to time about the best ways to fix various sports from a fan stand point without ignoring the almighty dollar. I see no sport in greater need of change than college football, so I took an afternoon to try to come up with a plan to fix it.

There has been a lot of talk recently about reform in college football. A power struggle rages between the NCAA and the schools of the ‘Big 5' over scheduling, student-athlete benefits, and many other issues besides.

In my opinion, the most interesting thing to come out of all of these discussions was the report that a majority of Big 5 coaches prefer their schedules to only consist of other Big 5 schools. This is music to my ears. I have been dreaming of a day with a 12-16 team playoff and scheduling based on rotation and record (similar to how the NFL schedules) to make college football more fair and exciting. I have long thought that my idealistic proposal that follows was far off and unrealistic, but it doesn't seem quite so ridiculous now.

What I would like to see is a four tiered college football relegation system with automatic scheduling and a 12 team playoff based on record alone. No more rankings, no more two hundred or so games a year of big schools playing cupcakes to pad their record and bowl chances, no more arguing your way into a major bowl by using the media at the expense of a better team (ahem... Mack Brown). More importantly to those who could make this happen though, this system would mean more excitement, bigger TV deals, and more revenue. Attendance is down across college football and one of the solutions to kick it back up could be to give students and fans a reason to go see the games: more marquee matchups, less Alabama vs. Western Carolina.

The Tiers

Much like the tiered system used by English Premier League football, there would be four tiers in college football, consisting of the schools already in the FBS and the FCS, schools that are in the process of transitioning into the FCS, and a few select Division II schools that have recent championship success to round out the last tier and create an even number of teams in each tier. The four tiers have 64 teams each and the schools are divided into tiers based on the current FBS and FCS conference and division structure. Ideally, I would have based the tiers on actual recent performance, but the only way this would proposal would be at all realistic is if the Big 5 got to keep their schools in Tier 1 from the outset.

Tier 1 consists of the 64 teams in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC, except substitute Iowa State out for Notre Dame. There was no particular reason behind moving ISU to Tier 2 other than that the Big 12 seems to have the least power of any conference right now and I like the symmetry of keeping Kansas and Kansas State together at least initially. It matters little who starts out in which tier since there will be relegation and promotion every season.

Tier 2 consists of the other 64 teams in the FBS (there are currently 128 which makes it easy). Tier 3 consists of the teams in the top conferences in the FCS based on last year's Sagarin conference ratings. Tier 4 consists of the remaining teams in the FCS, schools currently transitioning to the FCS, and a few of the best Division II schools to make it 64 teams in Tier 4 for scheduling purposes. You could easily base Tiers 3 and 4 on actual performance without much argument, but I didn't take the time.

The extra revenue generated by Tier 1 and even Tier 2 could potentially subsidize Tiers 3 and 4 to some extent if necessary. If teams in those tiers fail to have enough money to exist without the big pay days they were accustomed to seeing from their matchups with Texas, Ohio State, USC, and the like then they could simply cease to exist and it would do no discredit to the overall system as long as at least Tiers 1 and 2 could remain intact.

The conferences and divisions

There would be four sixteen team conferences in each Tier, consisting of two 8 team divisions in each. In Tier 1, the four conferences would primarily be based on the existing ACC, Big Ten, PAC-12, and SEC while the Big 12 would be split up between those four conferences. The divisions would be based on mostly geography and history/tradition because divisions based on anything else are confusing (I'm looking at you ACC) and it works much better for relegation purposes which I will get into later. Tiers 2, 3, and 4 have conference and divisional alignments based almost exclusively on geography in order to help cut down on travel costs.

A preferred Tier 1 alignment is shown below with teams ranked 1 through 8 in each division by their average Sagarin rating over the past 4 years for scheduling purposes.

SEC East

SEC West

PAC-12 East

PAC-12 West

1. Alabama

LSU

Oklahoma State

Oregon

2. South Carolina

Texas A&M

Oklahoma

Stanford

3. Auburn

Missouri

Arizona State

USC

4. Georgia

TCU

Texas

Washington

5. Florida

Baylor

Arizona

UCLA

6. Vanderbilt

Mississippi State

Utah

Oregon State

7. Tennessee

Arkansas

Texas Tech

California

8. Kentucky

Ole Miss

Colorado

Washington State

Big Ten East

Big Ten West

ACC South

ACC North

1. Ohio State

Wisconsin

Florida State

Notre Dame

2. Mich. State

Kansas State

Clemson

Virginia Tech

3. Michigan

Nebraska

North Carolina

Louisville

4. Penn State

Iowa

Miami

West Virginia

5. Rutgers

Northwestern

Georgia Tech

Pittsburgh

6. Maryland

Illinois

NC State

Syracuse

7. Indiana

Minnesota

Duke

Boston College

8. Purdue

Kansas

Wake Forest

Virginia

I didn't include the layout for the rest of the Tiers, because I'm guessing that nobody would be too interested, but if you want to see, I would be happy to share.

Scheduling

The most important reform made under this system to me is uniform scheduling. Eliminate the cupcakes that every team schedules each year to pad their chances at making a bowl, say goodbye to schools that never even leave their home state in their non-conference schedules (Florida), and conclude the arguments over which team plays in a better conference or against a tougher schedule. By taking the scheduling out of the schools' hands, schedule padding is eliminated.

While I pick on Florida above, every school is horribly guilty of the scheduling cupcakes phenomenon. Please see Texas A&M's 2014 non-conference schedule as an example: Lamar (FCS), Rice, SMU, and UL Monroe. Not one of those schools is even in the top 80 teams in the country according to most preseason ratings/logic. In this format, every game you play would be against a team in your Tier, meaning every non-conference game would be against a top 64 team in the country if you are in Tier 1.

Under this format, scheduling would be normalized and transparent across all of college football. Similar to the NFL, each school's schedule would be based on yearly in division matchups, rotating opponents, and scheduling based on performance. The goal is to make each school's non-conference schedule as close to even as possible while preserving the yearly in division matchups that we have all grown to love. Transparency is also a big plus as fans would be able to figure out the teams' schedules the next year as soon as the season was over, just like how fans of the NFL can.

Performance ratings

In order to properly balance the schedules, each division would be ranked 1 through 8 by its teams' performance in the past four years. The performance rating of each team would be a weighted win total (losses are not included so as to not punish teams who lose in conference championship games or in playoff games) from the past four seasons. Only wins accumulated at or above a school's current tier are counted in the performance rating, and if wins were accumulated above a school's current tier, they are weighted by a factor of 2. For example, if BYU happened to have eight Tier 1 wins and 18 Tier 2 wins in the last four years and were currently in Tier 2, then their win total would be 34 since the Tier 1 wins are multiplied by 2. But if they had the same win total and were currently in Tier 1, then their win total would only be 8 because they would only have 8 Tier 1 wins and Tier 2 wins would not be counted.

Please note that I start off by using average Sagarin ratings over the past 4 years instead of this performance rating in order to provide a better idea of true team performance since real college football scheduling has been so unbalanced. Once teams spent a couple of years in this proposed scheduling system, Sagarin ratings would no longer be necessary.

Each team's performance rating would be recalculated every two years so as to avoid scheduling oddities (rivalry games being hosted by the same team many years in a row or repeat non-conference matchups many years in a row). A promoted/relegated team would inherit the rating/schedule held by the team it replaced unless it was in one of the recalculation years which occur every other year. So if BYU was promoted and Cal was relegated in 2014, BYU would inherit Cal's schedule for 2015 since it had already been decided before the previous season.

Non-conference schedules

Each team would play three non-conference games a season, one against a team in each of the other conferences. In year 1, teams in the East/South divisions of each conference would play one team from each of the other East/South divisions, while in year 2, teams in the East/South divisions would play teams from the other conferences' West/North divisions. Each school's non-conference matchups are selected based on performance ratings.

In year one, the schedules break down based on the tables shown below, but the matchups rotate every two years in order to avoid repetitive scheduling (home-away designations flip each year). For example, in year one SEC East #1 (Alabama) plays a home game against PAC-12 East #1 (Oklahoma State), a road game at Big Ten East #4 (Penn State), and a road game against ACC South #7 (Duke). The ratings in each schedule are not perfectly even and some teams will obviously play more difficult schedules than others, but they are the best way possible to try to make schedules as equal as possible. Please also note, that teams would be welcome to switch games to neutral locations any time they so choose. Games like Florida-Georgia and Texas-Oklahoma could remain at their yearly rivalry game locations.

SEC

PAC

BIG

ACC

1

1

@4

@7

2

@2

5

8

3

3

@6

@1

4

@4

7

2

5

5

@8

@3

6

@6

1

4

7

7

@2

@5

8

@8

3

6

PAC

BIG

ACC

SEC

1

7

@4

@1

2

@8

5

2

3

1

@6

@3

4

@2

7

4

5

3

@8

@5

6

@4

1

6

7

5

@2

@7

8

@6

3

8

BIG

ACC

SEC

PAC

1

1

@6

@3

2

@2

7

4

3

3

@8

@5

4

@4

1

6

5

5

@2

@7

6

@6

3

8

7

7

@4

@1

8

@8

5

2

ACC

SEC

PAC

BIG

1

3

@6

@1

2

@4

7

2

3

5

@8

@3

4

@6

1

4

5

7

@2

@5

6

@8

3

6

7

1

@4

@7

8

@2

5

8

Inter-division schedules

Each school would play two inter-division games every year. Teams ranked 1 & 8, 2 & 7, 3 & 6, and 4 & 5, would play the same inter-division teams in an effort to simplify and balance schedules. In year one, teams ranked 1 & 8 in one division will play teams ranked 1 & 8 in the other division, but this would rotate every year.

Intra-division schedules

Each team would play 7 intra-division games, one against each of the teams in its division. Every school has one game reserved as the last game of the season, usually the school's primary rival, but not always. Home and away games switch off every year (obviously), unless schools like Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma prefer to keep their annual rivalry games at neutral locations.

Examples

Since schedules are decided in two year increments, below are four examples of teams' 2014 and 2015 regular season schedules both in the current format and in this proposed new format. I took four of the potentially relegated teams (Kentucky, Colorado, Purdue, Wake Forest) and four of the potentially promoted teams (UL Lafayette, BYU, Cincinnati, Marshall) and swapped them out in the 2015 schedules in order to show how relegation/promotion might affect scheduling. Byes are also not taken into account for the purpose of these schedules, but would obviously be necessary. You can take a look and let me know which schedule looks better to you as a paying fan/customer: the current format or my proposed new format (non-conference games in bold).

California Golden Bears Current

California Golden Bears Proposed

Week

2014

2015 (unannounced, out of order)

2014

2015

1

@ Northwestern

Grambling St.

Northwestern

@ Rutgers

2

Sacramento St.

San Diego State

@ Va. Tech

Clemson

3

@ Arizona

@ Texas

@ Arkansas

Tennessee

4

Colorado

Arizona State

@ Oklahoma

Oklahoma St.

5

@ Wash St.

@Utah

Texas Tech

@ BYU

6

Washington

Washington St.

UCLA

@ Wash St.

7

UCLA

@Washington

Washington St.

@ UCLA

8

Oregon

@UCLA

Oregon

Washington

9

@ Oregon St

@Oregon

@Oregon St.

@ Oregon

10

@USC

Oregon St.

@ Washington

Oregon St.

11

Stanford

USC

USC

@ USC

12

BYU

@Stanford

@Stanford

Stanford


Ohio State Current

Ohio State Proposed

Week

2014

2015

2014

2015

1

@ Navy

@ Va. Tech

@ Arizona St.

USC

2

Virginia Tech

Hawaii

@ Vanderbilt

Mississippi St.

3

Kent State

Northern Ill.

Florida St.

@ Notre Dame

4

Cincinnati

Western Mich.

@ Kansas

Minnesota

5

@ Maryland

@ Indiana

Wisconsin

@ Kansas State

6

Rutgers

Maryland

@ Rutgers

Indiana

7

@ Penn State

Penn State

Maryland

@ Maryland

8

Illinois

@ Rutgers

Purdue

@ Michigan St.

9

@ Michigan St.

Minnesota

@ Indiana

Rutgers

10

@ Minnesota

@ Illinois

Penn State

@ Cincinnati

11

Indiana

Michigan St.

Michigan State

@ Penn State

12

Michigan

@ Michigan

@ Michigan

Michigan

Alabama Current

Alabama Proposed

Week

2014

2015 (unannounced, out of order)

2014

2015

1

West Virginia

Wisconsin

@ Duke

Boston College

2

Florida Atlantic

TBA

@ Penn State

Iowa

3

Southern Miss.

TBA (likely FCS)

Oklahoma St.

@ Oregon

4

Florida

UL Monroe

@ Ole Miss

Arkansas

5

@ Ole Miss

Ole Miss

LSU

@ Texas A&M

6

@ Arkansas

Arkansas

Vanderbilt

@ Vanderbilt

7

Texas A&M

@ Texas A&M

Georgia

@ Georgia

8

@ Tennessee

Tennessee

@ Tennessee

Tennessee

9

@ LSU

LSU

South Carolina

@ UL Lafayette

10

Mississippi St.

@ Miss. St.

@ Florida

@ S. Carolina

11

West Carolina

@ SEC East

Kentucky

Florida

12

Auburn

@ Auburn

@ Auburn

Auburn


Florida State Current

Florida State Proposed

Week

2014

2015 (unannounced, out of order)

2014

2015

1

Oklahoma St.

Texas State

Auburn

@ Missouri

2

The Citadel

USF

@ Utah

Oregon State

3

Clemson

@ Clemson

@ Ohio State

Wisconsin

4

@ NC State

NC State

@ Virginia

Boston College

5

Wake Forest

@ Wake Forest

Notre Dame

@ Va. Tech

6

@ Syracuse

Syracuse

@ Duke

Duke

7

Notre Dame

Louisville

@ Georgia Tech

@ NC State

8

@ Louisville

@ ACC Coastal

Wake Forest

@ Marshall

9

Virginia

Miami

NC State

North Carolina

10

@ Miami

@ BC

Clemson

Georgia Tech

11

Boston College

Chattanooga

@ N. Carolina

@ Clemson

12

Florida

@ Florida

Miami

@ Miami

Playoffs

We all know that the College Football Playoff is extremely unlikely to stay at just four teams. There is simply too much money to be made from a bigger playoff system with more teams and more games. Under the current system, I think 16 teams would be ideal. However, under a relegation system I believe 12 teams would be preferable, similar to the NFL playoff system.

The four teams that receive byes in the first round of these playoffs would be the winners of the conference championship games. Not only would they receive byes in the first round in order to rest their players after having to play in their conference's championship game, but they would also get the four highest seeds which would give them home games in the second round of the tournament. The four conference championship games would be hosted by the teams with the better overall record in the regular season with head to head record and then strength of schedule (opponents' winning percentage) used as tiebreakers. These on campus games would be better for attendance and would cut down on fan/team travel. They would take place the first Saturday of December, much like they do now. Potential conference championship matchups for this season might be thrillers like: Georgia @ Alabama, Oregon @ Oklahoma, Wisconsin @ Ohio State, and Notre Dame @ Florida State.

The other eight qualifiers for the tournament would be based on at large bids for the teams with the best overall records with head to head record and then strength of schedule used as tiebreakers for both qualification and seeding. The first two rounds of the playoffs would be hosted by the higher seeded team. The first round would take place immediately following conference championship weekend on the second Saturday in December and the second round would take place on the third Saturday in December.

The third round semifinals and championship game would take place at rotating bowl sites similar to the ones in the college football playoff currently. The three games would alternate between being hosted by the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls and the Peach, Cotton, and Rose Bowls. The title game would rotate between these bowl sites so that each one hosted it once every six years. The two games hosting the semifinals would be selected for either side of the bracket based on the best geographical fit for the highest seeded teams. The semifinals would be scheduled for New Year's Day with the title game being on the first Monday that is at least one week from New Year's Day. A potential 2014 playoff bracket is shown below (all teams are seeded, but for some reason, when I copied it over the double digit seeded teams lost the numbers next to them).

Other Bowl Games

Other bowl games are free to exist independently and schedule games between any teams that they wish from any tier as long as it does not interfere with any playoff games. Teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs are also welcome to sign up to play in an additional bowl game if they so choose. Some schools may wish to sign agreements to play one another if they are not scheduled to do so in the regular season and they don't have other playoff obligations. This would allow certain rivalries to continue on no matter what. For example, if Michigan somehow got relegated to Tier 2, they are welcome to have a standing agreement in place to play Ohio State if Ohio State is out of the playoffs by round 1. Another example would be if Notre Dame wanted to continue to play USC every season, the two schools could agree to play one another in a game at whatever site they choose assuming that both are out of the playoffs.

Relegation/Promotion

Teams finishing last in their respective divisions by overall record (not just in conference record) would be subject to the possibility of relegation to Tier 2. The team finishing last in each division would have to play their counter-part in the other division in their conference in a game hosted by the team with the better overall record to determine who would be relegated and who would stay in their current tier. These games could take place whenever is best for revenue purposes; probably on the same weekend as the conference championship games in earlier time slots to make sure students are still on campus.

For example, preseason rankings show that the teams most at risk of relegation from Tier 1 in 2014 would be Kentucky, Arkansas, Colorado, California (L), Purdue, Kansas, Wake Forest, and Virginia. If these teams all finished last in their respective divisions, relegation matchups would look something like - Kentucky @ Arkansas, California @ Colorado, Purdue @ Kansas, and Wake Forest @ Virginia - with the losers being relegated to Tier 2. These might not seem like the most exciting matchups, but with Americans' proclivity to watch any football that is made available to them and with a huge amount of money and bragging rights at stake, I actually think they could do quite well in terms of ratings. If Kentucky, Cal, Purdue, and Wake Forest happened to be the losers, they would be replaced by the four Tier 2 conference champions. Hypothetically, these could be schools like UL Lafayette (replacing Kentucky in the SEC), BYU (PAC-12), Cincinnati (Big Ten), and Marshall (ACC) who are all expected to have good teams in 2014.

The four winners of the conference championship games in Tiers 2-4 would be promoted with one exception: if a team in Tier 2, 3, or 4 failed to win their conference championship game, but managed to win the their playoff championship, that team would be selected for promotion over the team that won its conference championship. For example, if BYU won its conference championship game in Tier 2, but Utah State was able to win the Tier 2 playoff championship by earning an at large playoff spot, then Utah State would be promoted to Tier 1 in 2015 and BYU would have to remain in Tier 2. This serves to give the playoffs in Tiers 2-4 more meaning.

Teams qualifying for promotion/relegation would not automatically enter a specific conference in their new tier, but would be placed in a conference based on geographical fit and history. Divisions within conferences would only be realigned every other year in order to avoid repetitive scheduling (e.g., Ohio State hosting Michigan many times in a row). This means that after year 1, the team promoted into the PAC-12 (BYU for example) would replace hypothetical relegation victim Cal in the West division regardless of geographical fit. However, after year 2, potential realignment would be reviewed in each conference division in order to better match geography, rivalries, and history. For example, if year 2 (2015) relegation sent Colorado to Tier 2 and called up Boise State, then Boise State might replace BYU in the West and send BYU to the East.

Potential Issues

I know there are a ton of issues with this plan and that at its core it is not likely to happen. Ultimately, I think the good far outweighs the bad, however. Here are a few of the potential major issues.

The biggest pitfall in the way is the wide variety of size and pocket books of the schools being discussed. The current system takes an athletic department with nearly unlimited resources like Ohio State and makes it play by the same rules as Eastern Michigan. This proposed system could be considered guilty of the same, although probably to a lesser extent. For example, although it might be necessary, it may be difficult to allow higher stipends for Tier 1 athletes than Tier 2 athletes because of the possibility of a Tier 2 school being promoted to Tier 1 and vice versa. I do not consider this proposal to be any worse than the current system in this respect, but I don't see it as a perfect solution either.

Revenue sharing is another potential issue since so many of the smaller schools currently rely on the big pay day that playing the larger schools brings in order to fund their departments. These small teams may require subsidies of some sort in order to make the system work or they could fall by the wayside.

Traditions could potentially be compromised as teams wouldn't have the freedom to create their own schedules except for in a potential post-season bowl agreement. Even so, I think college football's biggest and most important traditions would survive and thrive.

The players would have much more of a physical toll taken on them with these proposed new schedules, although I have never seen this as a valid excuse to prevent a playoff or a change to a new system. If you want to make it easier on the student-athletes, then shorten the games and have fewer plays. College football games last much longer than professional football games due to the clock stoppages on first downs and a few other unnecessary rules. Fewer plays mean fewer injuries and only the best teams would be playing more games than they currently are anyway.

The final problem I see is that college football fans might begin to lose interest because they will yearn for years past when they could check the Week 1 schedule and drool over matchups like Idaho at Florida, South Dakota at Oregon, North Texas at Texas, Louisiana Tech at Oklahoma, and Rice at Notre Dame (just kidding).

FanPosts are user created content and don't necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Land-Grant Holy Land. Unless they're awesome. In which case we can't believe you didn't read this phenomenal article on our site sooner. Shame on you.

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