Conference Realignment: One Solution To Rule Them All

The first step is admitting that you have a problem.

I've said this before, and I'm going to say it again: There is a simple solution to all of the conference realignment mess that has been tormenting college football for the last few years. If my system were implemented, it would ensure fair access to the national championship playoff for all, while still preserving the big-money programs' position at the top of the table.

I originally presented this system last year, and I continue to believe it is the best way to restructure college football in this era of big money. Currently, big money is driving every bad decision in college athletics, from the southeastern conference adding a school from a state that was not even in the Confederacy to the Big East adding a team from San Diego to its ranks. (Just think about that last one for a moment and soak in its absurdity.)

My new system is based upon three primary changes. Those changes are:

1) Separate the organization and structure of college football from all other sports (all football conferences are "football-only").

2) Reorganize all football conferences along geographic lines.

3) Implement a system of promotion and relegation within Division I football.

The primary benefits of these changes, all of which are major and sorely needed, in my opinion, are:

1) Allow schools who have top-tier football programs to enjoy the money associated with big-time college football without having to hamstring basketball and non-revenue sports with huge travel budgets.

2) Preserve historic rivalries and natural geographic matchups in all sports.

3) Provide a guaranteed path for "lower-tier" schools to be able to legitimately compete for a national championship based wholly on merit.

None of the current athletic conferences would need to be dissolved. In fact, virtually all of them could keep operating as they are today with their "regular" membership in all sports except football, and with a "football-only" division that is completely separate. (Though I suspect that if this change were passed, a new wave of realignment would occur that would bring many schools' non-revenue sports back into, more or less, their previous historical places.) For that reason, I have used current conference names in the "stacks" I have created below.

For reference purposes, here is the current conference alignment as it looked for the 2012 football season (and it gets even crazier in 2013):

Iaconferences2012_medium

And here is the new conference/stack map for the promotion/relegation system:

Newconferences_medium

Have I piqued your interest? Then, please, read on...

The stack breakdown by state is as follows. (The total number of schools in the stack is in parentheses.) Every Division I school in each state is in the associated stack, with the lone exception of Miami (FL), who is in the ACC stack. I did this both for competitive reasons and because of the fact that Miami has far more in common from a demographics standpoint with the Atlantic seaboard and northern schools than with the schools in the southeast. Miami (FL) is literally the only exception to my geographically-based rule. Here is the state breakdown:

SEC stack (45): GA, FL, AL, MS, SC, TN, KY

ACC stack (57): NC, VA, WV, VA, DC, MD, DE, NJ, CT, RI, MA, PA, NY, NH, VT, ME

Big Ten stack (40): OH, IN, MI, IL, WI, MN, IA, ND, SD

Big XII stack (42): LA, TX, AR, OK, KS, NE, NM, CO, WY

Pac-12 stack (33): CA, AZ, UT, NV, OR, WA, ID, MT, HI

Now, when flaming my conference alignment in the comments below, please remember that I haven't changed the 8-game conference schedule or the 12-game overall schedule, so out-of-conference matchups are always available to teams who are no longer grouped in the same stack or conference.

Also, remember that conference membership will literally change every year, with the best two performers advancing a level and the worst two performers dropping a level.

Here are the promotion/relegation rules:

- Each of the top two tiers is a twelve-team league with two divisions. The third tier (historically the Division I-AA teams) is broken down into two conferences, which are not limited in size.
- At the end of the regular season, the team in each division with the worst conference record is relegated to the league on the next lower tier.
- At the end of the season, the second-tier team who wins their division is promoted to the top-tier league in their stack.
- At the end of the season, the winners of each of the two third-tier conferences is promoted to the second-tier league in their stack. (For the Pac-12 stack, which only has one third-tier conference, the top two finishers from that league are promoted.) For very large third-tier conferences, this might necessitate a playoff due to equivalent conference records (if whatever tiebreakers are in place are tied, as well).

For the first season, each stack breaks down as follows:

SEC

(Top)

East West
Clemson Alabama
Florida Auburn
Florida State Mississippi State
Georgia Ole Miss
Ga. Tech Tennessee
South Carolina Vanderbilt

Conference USA

(Second-Tier)

East West
Florida Atlantic Kentucky
Florida International Louisville
Troy Memphis
UAB Middle Tenn. State
Central Florida Southern Miss
South Florida Western Kentucky

Third-Tier Conferences


Southern Conference (TN, AL, KY, MS) Big South Conference (GA, FL, SC)
Austin Peay Charleston Southern
Chattanooga The Citadel
Eastern Kentucky Coastal Carolina
Jacksonville State (AL) Furman
Morehead State Georgia Southern
Murray State Georgia State
Samford Jacksonville U. (FL)
South Alabama Presbyterian
Tennessee-Martin Wofford
Tennessee State
Tennessee Tech

If this system were in place in 2012:

Relegated: Georgia Tech (to Conference USA)
Tennessee Auburn (to Conference USA)
Florida Atlantic (to Big South)
Southern Miss (to Southern Conference)

Promoted: Central Florida (to SEC)
Louisville (to SEC)
Eastern Kentucky (to Conference USA)
Georgia Southern (to Conference USA)

ACC

(Top)

North South
Boston College
Miami (FL)
Penn State
NC State
Pitt North Carolina
Syracuse Virginia Tech
UConn Virginia
West Virginia
Wake Forest

Big East

(Second-Tier)

North South
Army Appalachian State
Buffalo Duke
Delaware East Carolina
Rutgers Marshall
Temple Maryland
Villanova Navy

Third-Tier Conferences


Colonial Athletic Association (DC, KY, MD, NC, VA, WV)
Patriot League (CT, DE, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI)
Campbell Bryant
Davidson Bucknell
Elon Central Conn. St.
Gardner-Webb Colgate
Georgetown Duquesne
James Madison Fordham
Liberty Holy Cross (MA)
Old Dominion Lafayette
Richmond Lehigh
Towson Maine
VMI Marist
Western Carolina Monmouth
William & Mary New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Sacred Heart
St. Francis (PA)
SUNY-Albany
SUNY-Stony Brook
UMass
Wagner

If this system were in place in 2012:

Relegated: Boston College (to Big East)
Virginia (to Big East)
Army or Delaware (to Patriot League)
Maryland or Appalachian State (to CAA)

Promoted: Rutgers (to ACC)
Duke or East Carolina (to ACC)
Old Dominion (to Big East)
Stony Brook or Lehigh (to Big East)

Big Ten

(Top)

East West
Indiana
Illinois
Michigan
Iowa
Notre Dame
Minnesota
Ohio State
Northwestern
Purdue Wisconsin
Michigan State
Iowa State

Mid-American Conference

(Second-Tier)

East West
Cincinnati Northern Illinois
Akron Central Michigan
Kent Eastern Michigan
Bowling Green
Western Michigan
Miami (OH)
Toledo
Ohio U.
Ball State

Third-Tier Conferences


Pioneer Conference (IA, ND, SD, IL)
Ohio Valley Conference (IN, OH, MI)
Drake Butler
North Dakota
Dayton
North Dakota State
Valparaiso
South Dakota
Indiana State
South Dakota State
Youngstown State
Northern Iowa

Eastern Illinois

Illinois State

Southern Illinois

Western Illinois

Robert Morris

If this system were in place in 2012:

Relegated: Indiana (to MAC)
Illinois (to MAC)
Akron (to Ohio Valley)
Eastern Michigan (to Ohio Valley)

Promoted: Cincinnati (to B1G)
Northern Illinois (to B1G)
North Dakota State (to MAC)
Butler (to MAC)

Big XII

(Top)

North South
Kansas
Arkansas
Kansas State
LSU
Missouri
Oklahoma
Nebraska
Texas Tech
Oklahoma State
Texas
TCU
Texas A&M

Mountain West

(Second-Tier)

East West
Colorado
Air Force
Louisiana Tech
Baylor
Louisiana-Lafayette Colorado State
Houston
Tulsa
Rice
UTEP
SMU
Wyoming

Third-Tier Conferences


Southland Conference (LA, AR)
Missouri Valley Conference (TX, NM, CO, MO)
Louisiana-Monroe North Texas
Tulane
New Mexico
McNeese State
New Mexico State
Nicholls State
UT San Antonio
Northwestern State (LA)
Lamar
Southeastern Louisiana
Sam Houston State
Arkansas State
Stephen F. Austin
Central Arkansas
Texas State

Northern Colorado

Missouri State

SE Missouri State

If this system were in place in 2012:

Relegated: Kansas (to Mountain West)
Arkansas (to Mountain West)
Colorado (to Missouri Valley)
UTEP (to Missouri Valley)

Promoted: Louisiana Tech (to Big XII)
Baylor or Tulsa (to Big XII)
Louisiana-Monroe (to Mountain West)
New Mexico (to Mountain West)

Pac-12

(Top)

North South
Boise State
Arizona
Cal
Arizona State
Oregon
BYU
Oregon State
UCLA
Stanford USC
Washington
Utah

WAC

(Second-Tier)

North South
Fresno State
Hawaii
Idaho Nevada
Washington State
UNLV
Montana
Utah State
Eastern Washington
San Diego State
San Jose State
Northern Arizona

Third-Tier Conference

Great West Conference (CA, UT, OR, ID, MT)
San Diego U.
Cal Poly
Southern Utah
UC-Davis
Portland State
Sacramento State
Weber State
Idaho State
Montana State

If this system were in place in 2012:

Relegated: Cal (to WAC)
Utah (to WAC)
Idaho or Montana (to Great West)
UNLV (to Great West)

Promoted: San Jose State (to Pac-12)
Utah State (to Pac-12)
Montana State (to WAC)
Cal Poly (to WAC)

I think this is an equitable system, and it completely eliminates the threat of further realignment. If a team from the lower tiers wants to play their way up into big-boy football, they have a path with which to do just that.

Please also note that I'm not dealing with the postseason at all in this post. In fact, you could ostensibly still have the Division I-AA playoffs, since Division I-AA is now just the third tier of football. Heck for people who love playoffs, you could even have a new playoff between the champions of the tier two leagues. But the bottom line is that this system is created to deal with the sport as a whole and the regular season, not the postseason.

The real sticking point, from a practical standpoint, is the issue of scholarships. Today's schools in Division I-A (tiers one and two in this system) currently are allowed 85 scholarships, while Division I-AA schools (tier three in this system) are only allowed 60 scholarships. I think that issue could be overcome, however, either by simply lifting the I-AA scholarship limit to 85 or by providing a special "golden parachute" provision for schools that get relegated to tier three by allowing them to phase down to 60 scholarships over a two-year period.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Go Dawgs!

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