College football is a beautiful thing. But in light of the constant controversy in regards to rankings, biases, politics, and snubs, I think everyone agrees that it could be so much better.
A couple years ago I wrote an article about re-vamping the Playoff System, but I’m not messing around anymore. Here’s a fix to the entire NCAA College Football system!
Before launching into this, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Many people don’t realize this, but including FBS (Division I-A), FCS (Divisionn I-AA), Division II, and Division III schools, there are around 780 NCAA football teams in the country. The proposed solution I detail below is a comprehensive system that includes all of these teams.
Currently, teams play 12-13 weeks of football each season, not counting the Bowl Games or the current 4-team playoff. The system below expands the Playoffs while still keeping the same amount of football played (so any of the “we can’t have the kids play more football!” people can stop right there).
Here’s how it would work:
Divide the ~780 college football teams in the country equally into 8 Regions.
The eight regions would be North, East, South, West, Central, New England, Southeast, and Southwest. Regions would have around 100 teams each, and would be adjusted to remain relatively equal in size as smaller universities gained or lost football programs.
Divide each Region into 8 Divisions, with 96 total teams (12 from each Region) in each Division.
The 12 “best” teams from each Region would be placed in Division 1, the next best in Division 2, and so on through Division 8. The lowest division would need to be tweaked since it wouldn’t always work out to have 96 teams. If enough Universities added football programs, Division 9 could be created. Here’s a rough example of what Division 1 would look like in its first year:
East: Clemson, Georgia, South Carolina, NC State, UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Appalachian State, Marshall, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee
Southeast: Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF, USF, Memphis, Troy, UAB
Central: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati, W. Michigan, Toledo, E. Michigan
North: Wisconsin, Boise State, Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Northwestern, Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Air Force
South: Texas, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, TCU, Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, SMU
Southwest: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, BYU, Utah State, North Texas
West: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Cal, USC, UCLA, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV
New England: Penn State, West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, Maryland, Virginia, Boston College, Buffalo, Temple, Navy, Army
This list is obviously rough and not definitive and it only addresses Division 1. Most of the the smaller schools that you’ve never heard of would be playing in lower Divisions. And as noted below in the “Relegation” section, these Conferences would not be permanent!
In Year 1 there could of course be a large committee that formed these Regions to make sure that each were relatively balanced, that enough rivalries were preserved, and that travel distance made sense for everyone.
Conferences would include the 12 teams in the same Region and the same Division.
For example, the 12 best teams in the North Region would form the North D-1 Conference. The next best 12 teams in the North Region would form the North D-2 Conference, and so on. During each season, teams would only play teams that were in the same Division (except for in the case of some rivalry games, described below).
Weeks 1-11: All teams from the same Conference play against each other.
This would mean that each team would play 11 Conference games each season and play each team in their Conference. At the end of Week 11, teams in each Conference would be ranked #1 through #12 based on their win/loss record in their Conference. Ties would be broken based on points differential. In other words, if a team beats another team by 13, their points differential is +13. So if one team is crushing all of its opponents, its points differential would be very large. If a team is barely winning or losing games, their points differential would be very small.
Week 12: Conference Pride Week and Playoffs Round of 16.
Each year, two Conferences would be paired up on a rotating basis (so for example, one year the North D-1 Conference might be paired up with the South D-1 Conference). The #1 team from one Conference (for example, the North D-1) would play the #2 team from the other Conference (for example, the South D-2), with the #1 team playing at home. The #2 team from the North D-1 would play the #1 team from the South D-1, with the South D-1 playing at home. Since there are 8 Conferences, there would be 4 Conference pairings. Therefore, there would be 8 total winners of these Conference pairing games which would advance to the Final 8 in the Playoffs. So these games would essentially be the Round of 16 Playoffs.
During the same week, Conference Pride Week would occur! The #3-#12 teams from one Conference (for example, the North D-1) would face off with their equally-ranked #3-#12 teams from the other conference (example, the South, D-1). The wins would be recorded each year and added up to the Conference Pride Week Record from past years. Wins/losses from Conference Pride Week that happened more than 7 years ago would be removed from the record (since every 7 years each Conference would have played every other Conference). This Conference record will matter for Week 13 (described below).
Week 13: Exhibition/Rivalry Week and Playoffs Round of 8.
In Week 13 the 8 winners from the Week 12 Playoff games would play again so that only 4 teams would remain. Teams from the same Conference pairing would be placed in opposite sides of the bracket so that two teams from the same Conference would have the chance to meet in the Finals.
The teams from the Conferences with the better 7-year rolling count of wins from Conference Pride Week would get home field advantage during this round of the Playoffs!
All teams that were not in the Playoffs, including the 8 teams that lost in the Round of 16, would play in an optional exhibition game in this final week of the season. This game would most-likely be used for historical rivalry games that did not happen during the season for whatever reason.
This would remain similar to the current format of Bowl Games. To be eligible to play in a Bowl Game, teams would be required to finish in the #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, or #6 position in their Conference. The 4 teams who were still in the Playoffs would not play in an extra Bowl Game. It would not be hard to set these Bowl Games to be automatically selected (example, the #3 North team plays the #3 South team in the Sun Bowl, etc), or by selection of the most juicy match-ups or historical rivalries.
Playoffs Round of 4, Playoffs Championship Game
The Final 4 Playoff teams would play in two semi final games and then one final game to determine the undisputed winner of each Division of College Football! To that point there would be zero statistics, rankings, opinions, or committees involved. Just wins.
My favorite part. This pulls from the highly-effective system that much of the world uses for soccer. Each season, the #11 and #12 ranked teams from each Conference would be moved down to the next lower Division in the same Region for the next season. The top two teams from each Conference would move up to the next highest Division. Teams that are moved down from D-1 to D-2, for example, could earn their way back into D-1 by finishing in the top 2 of their Conference during the next season. Week 12 Conference Pride Week games, Week 13 Exhibition/Rivalry Games, and Bowl Games would not be taken into account for relegation.
Reasons I Love This:
There is ZERO politics involved
If a team thinks they are the best, they just have to finish #1 or #2 in their Conference and then win in the Round of 16, Round 8, Round of 4, and the final game. They are then the best! It doesn’t matter who you played or your strength of record or your ranking or the history of your program. Just win baby.
Every single Conference game matters at both ends of the standings and in the middle
Every week will be crucial. No more of those FCS-filler games that the SEC usually does (does anybody enjoy watching Alabama crush Citadel?). Losing a Conference game may knock you out of the top 2 spots. Or worse, it may knock you into the bottom 2 spots! There will be a constant battle at the top of the Conference for advancement to the Playoffs and for home field advantage in the first Playoff game, at the bottom of the Conference to not get relegated to a lower Division the next season, and in the middle of the Conference to end ranked #6 or better to be bowl eligible.
Conference Pride Weekend would be insane!
Week 12 of the season would be the greatest week of the year. Not only would there be the Round of 16 Playoff Games, but the pride and dignity of your team’s Conference would be on the line! All teams in the Conference would be going into battle for the North or for the South or for the East or for the West, etc. How much would it suck to know that you caused your Conference to be seen as the weakest in the nation! And how much pride would teams have knowing that their victory contributed to statistical proof that theirs was the best conference! Since the games you played today would stick around for 7 years, each game would matter.
Can you imagine a Conference sweep? Oh the highlights and the commentary and wound-licking that would ensue!
And teams would be playing for more than pride. Sure, if you weren’t in the Playoffs you wouldn’t benefit from the home field advantage in the Playoffs Round of 8 that year, but you might next year or the year after that if you made the Playoffs! Everyone would be playing for something.
Fans would also be watching their paired Conference for that year very closely, since they would know that their team would be playing one of them in Week 12. So if my team is in the Central Conference and I know that this year we’re paired with the North Conference, you can bet that I’ll be watching the highlights from the North! Because if my team finishes #1 or #2 in my Conference then the first round of the playoffs will be against North! And if my team finishes #3-#12, my Conference Pride game will be against my matching team in the North.
Rivalries would flourish
Since teams that were not relegated would be playing at least 9 teams that they played the season before, intense Conference rivalries would develop.
Cross-conference rivalries would be strong as well with 15 high-quality Playoff games each year, plus the opportunity to play cross-conference opponents in the Week 12 Conference Pride week and in the Week 13 exhibition games, and in the Bowl Games. The best teams would constantly be running into each other in the Playoffs, in Bowl Games, and in non-Conference Rivalry Weeks.
Relevancy for the D-2, D-3, D-4, etc Divisions
Currently, I have no idea who even plays in the FCS or in Division II or III. But if teams I knew such as Rutgers or Illinois or Vanderbilt (or heaven forbid my Ohio State) were getting relegated into Division II, I might actually peak in to see which teams were winning their Conference, if my favorite region was dominating the Conference Pride week counts in that Division, who made the playoffs and will be joining my team in D-1 the next year, etc.
Accountability for the bad “Big Wigs”
Currently there are Power 5 D-1 schools who are constantly awful and seemingly are fine with that fact. I’m looking at the Kansas, Illinois, Oregon State, and Vanderbilts of the world. But they remain in the FBS simply because that’s the way things are. Not anymore! If a school doesn’t value winning football games, they will soon find themselves relegated to D-2, and a hot D-2 school will take their place! The big wigs will have to earn their way back.
Glory for the bad “Big Wigs”
On the same token, bad “Big Wigs” could have decent shots to win the D-2 leagues! How fun would it be for a team like Vanderbilt or Kansas to go undefeated in D-2 and go on to win their Playoffs and get all hyped up to be going back to D-1 on a high. It would be a great jump start to many programs.
“Nobodies” could climb
As mentioned before, there are no politics involved. If a D-3 school somehow gets insanely good and finishes top 2 in their Conference, they bump up to D-2. Say they then finish top 2 in D-2 the next year- then they go up to D-1. And all of a sudden they have our attention! We would learn about that school and where they are from and how the heck they got so good. And they’d have an equal shot at making the D-1 playoffs along with the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world. And they’d get solid recruits and be able to change the whole program around for a long time. This would be the Cinderalla stories of March Madness on steroids!
Easy for Schedulers and Logistics
All Conference games would be pre-scheduled based on your ranking from the previous year. All Conference Pride games would be automatically set, based on who matches your ranking in the paired conference. The only game to schedule would be the Week 13 exhibition/rivalry game. Some of these would need to be changed last minute based on who advanced in the playoffs, but that is a small price to pay for not having to worry about scheduling for the rest of the season.
The points differential tiebreaker would keep games interesting to the end, even in blowouts
Every single point would matter! Even in blowout games, the winning team would be trying to destroy the other team by even more in order to increase their differential. And the losing team would be equally-incentivized, since every lost point and every Field Goal they could scrape together could be the difference between relegation or a chance to stay in D-1 for the next year. Teams would be playing for something every single second of the season.
Balanced Conferences are no longer punished
The current system rewards top-heavy conferences. In other words, if a conference has one or two good teams and many bad teams, then it’s more likely to produce an undefeated or 1-loss team, because it was easy for them to beat up on the bad teams. If a conference has 6 or 7 great teams that all beat up on each other, then the best team will probably finish with 3-4 losses and therefore does not make the Playoff or even get much recognition for being a great team. Why would we punish Conferences for having balanced, good teams in it? The new system guarantees that the top 2 teams in each Conference make the Playoff, and their home field advantage in the playoffs is not reliant on their record.
Well, rant over.
Do I realize that this will never happen? Yes.
Do I think that it’s glorious and exciting and perfect? Also yes.