College Football’s Biggest Dilemma: Conference Alignment

Since the College Football Playoff (CFP) system began in the 2014 season, there has been a lot of speculation as to the fairness of the four-team playoff.  The bowl season has always been one of the biggest highlights for America’s biggest sport and the CFP has been no exception to that since its beginning.

The ten conferences in college football’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) are not all created equal and this is certainly noted by what teams make the CFP. The Power Five conferences of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big Twelve (Big XII), Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) cannot all possibly be represented with the four-team playoff system. In some cases, only three are represented when an independent team like Notre Dame (2018) or two teams from one conference like Alabama and Georgia (2017) take a spot away from a conference that otherwise would not play against worthy opponents.

The arguments surrounding college football have pivoted the spotlight to increasing the playoff to eight teams. However, the bigger problem comes from the conferences and scheduling of teams being geographically and unequally imbalanced.

Before a push for an eight-team playoff can occur, a new system that its proponents say would be more fair for allowing new conferences to join the race for a national title, there needs to be a push for conference realignment. To achieve equal balance in college football, geography and rivalries need to be preserved.

Fairness, above all else, has to be at the forefront.

Here is an updated picture of a more fair way for the ten FBS college football conferences to be aligned, with explanation behind the shifting of different teams to different conferences.

Conference Re-Alignment for the Power Six

One of the main reasons for the move from a Power Five system to a Power Six system is due to the number of teams that deserve to be considered a Power Five school in football. Currently, there are 64 Power Five schools. By rearranging the conferences so that there are six conferences with 12 teams each, that would only move eight teams to Power Five status.

Teams like Brigham Young (BYU), Central Florida (UCF), Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, Notre Dame, Temple, and UConn are schools with a rich enough history in football and athletic status in other sports that they deserve the position to succeed in the new Power Six.

American Athletic Conference (The American)

East

  1. Boston College (from ACC)
  2. Connecticut (UConn)
  3. Maryland (from Big Ten)
  4. Rutgers (from Big Ten)
  5. Syracuse (from ACC)
  6. Temple

West

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Louisville (from ACC)
  3. Memphis
  4. Notre Dame (from FBS Independents)
  5. Pittsburgh (Pitt) (from ACC)
  6. West Virginia (from Big XII)

The first step in the process of creating equality in college football is moving Notre Dame to an actual conference. By adding teams like Maryland and Rutgers out of the Big Ten along with some other ACC teams and West Virginia, the conference that claims to be a “Power Six” can develop into a stronghold among mid-majors and the northeastern United States. West Virginia’s move to The American is based upon their rivalry with Pitt and an escape from the extremely long travel that exists for them as a member of the Big XII, a conference dominated by central American teams. In an eight-team playoff scenario, they would also be an automatic bid.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

North

  1. Duke
  2. North Carolina (UNC)
  3. North Carolina State
  4. Virginia
  5. Virginia Tech
  6. Wake Forrest

South

  1. Central Florida (UCF) (from The American)
  2. Clemson
  3. Florida State
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. Miami (FL)
  6. South Carolina (from SEC)

For the most part, the ACC stays pretty consistent aside from the loss of teams to the AAC. The new ACC is split between North and South, rather than Coastal and Atlantic. With the removal of teams like Boston College, Louisville, Pitt, and Syracuse, the conference is able to become more coastal and more southern geographically. UCF is also a strong fit based on their school enrollment, increasing popularity, and location. The addition of South Carolina is based off their rivalry with Clemson along with the fact that they are not historically bounded to the SEC.

Big Ten Conference (B1G)

East

  1. Indiana
  2. Michigan
  3. Michigan State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Penn State
  6. Purdue

West

  1. Illinois
  2. Iowa
  3. Iowa State (from Big XII)
  4. Minnesota
  5. Northwestern
  6. Wisconsin

Like the ACC, the Big Ten stays intact for the most part. Although the East Division pulls four of college football’s historic programs, the rivals and geographic locations allow for them to stay in the same division they are already in now. The big change is in the West Division with the addition of Iowa State. Iowa State is not historically bounded to the Big XII, has a rivalry with Iowa, and can compete on a recruiting and on-the-field standpoint.

Big Twelve Conference (Big XII)

North

  1. Colorado (from Pac-12)
  2. Kansas
  3. Kansas State
  4. Nebraska (from Big Ten)
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Oklahoma State

South

  1. Baylor
  2. Houston (from The American)
  3. Texas
  4. Texas A&M (from SEC)
  5. Texas Christian (TCU)
  6. Texas Tech

Moving Colorado into the conference was actually a tough decision, but one that saw the potential for a renewed rivalry with Nebraska coming from the Big Ten. Houston was an easy move from The American as was Texas A&M back from the SEC, creating an all-Texas South Division.

Pac-12

North

  1. California (Cal)
  2. Oregon
  3. Oregon State
  4. Stanford
  5. Washington
  6. Washington State

South

  1. Arizona
  2. Arizona State
  3. Brigham Young (BYU) (from FBS Independents)
  4. Central Los Angeles (UCLA)
  5. Southern California (USC)
  6. Utah

The Pac-12 remains mostly unchanged aside from the addition of BYU. Although BYU is not a major powerhouse, their Holy War rivalry with Utah and historical relevance played a part in them being the equalizer in the new conference alignment.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)

East

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Florida
  4. Georgia
  5. Tennessee
  6. Vanderbilt

West

  1. Arkansas
  2. Kentucky
  3. Louisiana State (LSU)
  4. Mississippi (Ole Miss)
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Missouri

The SEC is the only conference that does not add teams from other conferences. Geographically, everyone is a perfect fit and the realignment of divisions comes from the exit of South Carolina and Texas A&M.

Scheduling for the Power Six

The Power Six conferences have 12 teams each, which creates a set of 3 rivalries in each division of every conference. As far as scheduling goes, a more balanced system needs to be created so that every conference is not only playing a balanced divisional and cross-divisional schedule, but also a fair out-of-conference schedule.

The conference scheduling for the Power Six conferences, as a suggestion, would go as follows:

  • Every team plays their five divisional opponents every year.
  • Every team plays half (three) cross-divisional opponents every year, rotating on a year-to-year basis. For example, Ohio State would play at home against Wisconsin one season, play a different cross-divisional game the following year (say, Minnesota at home), and play at Wisconsin the year after.

This is where things get competitive. Every year, out-of-conference scheduling would be determined by how a team does the year prior. The top two teams from a Power Six conference would play the 3rd and 4th best teams from another conference. The conference that each conference plays every year would be on a constant rotation.

For example, if Oklahoma and Texas play in the Big XII Championship game like they did in 2018, they would play the 3rd and 4th best teams from another conference the following year (say, the Big Ten). One game would be at home, one game would be away. The 4th best team from the Big Ten would play at home against the Big XII champ and on the road against the Big XII runner-up and the 3rd place team from the Big Ten would play at home against the Big XII runner-up and on the road against the Big XII champ.

If Ohio State and Northwestern play in the Big Ten Championship game like they did in 2018, they would play a different conference’s 3rd and 4th best teams.

This system would continue down the line with the 5th and 6th place teams of conferences playing the 7th and 8th and the 9th and 10th playing against the 11th and 12th.

With two games left on the 12-game schedule, this leaves room for two mid-major opponents. The top Power Six team from the final CFP rankings would be granted the privilege of playing the lowest ranked team from the new “Group of Four” conferences. There would also be room in the schedule for all 72 Power Six teams to play a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent.

The reasoning behind keeping FCS opponents in the schedule is because these games are a major funding boost for smaller Division I opponents. These are the types of games that allow for a FCS opponent to grow their program.

Conference Re-Alignment for the Group of Four

Outside of the new Power Six conferences, the alignment of the remaining four groupings gets interesting. As the Power Six conferences each have 12 teams each, the Group of Four each have 16. These 16-team conferences will ensure that every conference champion from a mid-major conference will be deserving of a bigger bowl game and, if there were to be an expansion, possible a spot in the CFP.

Conference USA (C-USA)

North

  1. Appalachian State (from Sun Belt)
  2. Army (from FBS Independents)
  3. Eastern California (from The American)
  4. James Madison (from FCS)
  5. Liberty (from FBS Independents)
  6. Massachusetts (UMass) (from FBS Independents)
  7. Navy (from The American)
  8. Old Dominion

South

  1. UNC Charlotte
  2. Coastal Carolina (from Sun Belt)
  3. Florida Atlantic
  4. Florida International
  5. Georgia Southern (from Sun Belt)
  6. Georgia State (from Sun Belt)
  7. Middle Tennessee
  8. South Florida (USF) (from The American)

The new Conference USA would consist of teams that were formerly in the Sun Belt, but rearranged so that geography and competitiveness can play a factor. Rivalries such as Liberty and James Madison and Army and Navy in the North Division will highlight the conference as a whole. The addition of South Florida in the South is also a big step forward.

Mid-American Conference (MAC)

East

  1. Akron
  2. Bowling Green
  3. Buffalo
  4. Kent State
  5. Marshall (from C-USA)
  6. Ohio
  7. Toledo
  8. Youngstown State (from FCS)

West

  1. Ball State
  2. Central Michigan
  3. Eastern Kentucky (from FCS)
  4. Eastern Michigan
  5. Miami (OH)
  6. Northern Illinois
  7. Western Kentucky (from C-USA)
  8. Western Michigan

The MAC is a staple of Big Ten country mid-major football. The addition of Youngstown State, a traditional FCS powerhouse, and Eastern Kentucky would be beneficial for the conference. Western Kentucky coming over from C-USA would also be a good geographical fit.

Mountain West Conference

Northeast

  1. Air Force
  2. Boise State
  3. Colorado State
  4. Eastern Washington (from FCS)
  5. Idaho (from FCS)
  6. Montana (from FCS)
  7. Utah State
  8. Wyoming

Southwest

  1. Fresno State
  2. Hawai’i
  3. Nevada
  4. Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV)
  5. New Mexico
  6. New Mexico State (from FBS Independents)
  7. San Diego State
  8. San Jose State

The Mountain West would be split into Northeast and Southwest Divisions based upon the location of the schools. The addition of higher-level FCS teams will expand the conference and the rivalry of New Mexico and New Mexico State would be reignited, as it should.

Sun Belt Conference

East

  1. Alabama Birmingham (UAB) (from C-USA)
  2. Louisiana Lafayette
  3. Louisiana Monroe
  4. Louisiana Tech (from C-USA)
  5. South Alabama
  6. Southern Mississippi (from C-USA)
  7. Troy
  8. Tulane (from The American)

West

  1. Arkansas State
  2. North Texas (from C-USA)
  3. Rice (from C-USA)
  4. Southern Methodist (SMU) (from The American)
  5. Texas El Paso (UTEP) (from C-USA)
  6. Texas San Antonio (UTSA) (from C-USA)
  7. Texas State
  8. Tulsa (from The American)

Many of the teams that would form the new Sun Belt would be coming from C-USA and vise versa, along with SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa from The American. The East Division consists of many schools in Alabama and Louisiana while the West Division will be mostly mid-major schools in Texas.

Scheduling for the Group of Four

The Group of Four conferences have 16 teams each, which creates a set of 4 rivalries in each division of every conference. Scheduling for the Group of Four would be balanced throughout, with the majority of the games being played to be divisional.

The conference scheduling for the Group of Four conferences, as a suggestion, would go as follows:

  • Every team plays their seven divisional opponents every year.
  • Every team plays three cross-divisional opponents every year.

Every year, out-of-conference scheduling would again be determined by how a team does the year prior. The top team from a Group of Four conference would play the best team from another Group of Four conference. The conference that each conference plays every year would be on a constant rotation, just like the Power Six.

For example, if Tulsa wins the Sun Belt Championship game, they would play the Mountain West Conference champ the following season.

This system would continue down the line, where teams that finished in the same position from different Group of Four conferences would play the following season.

With one game left on the 12-game schedule, this leaves room for the single Power Six opponent. The top Group of Four team from the final CFP rankings would be granted the privilege of playing the lowest ranked team from the new Power Six conferences.

This new system would allow for the conference champ from a Group of Four school to prove that they are above the other schools they play.

The growing need to expand upon a CFP system cannot be done without an equal balance within the college football conferences themselves. If there is to be an expansion from four to eight teams making the playoff, there needs to be an even playing field for all teams. With that comes the importance of set scheduling that can prove how other conferences compare to others. A more balanced playing field to ensure a more even playoff at the conclusion of the season can be achieved if scheduling and geographical considerations are taken into account.

 

 

 

 

 

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