Saturday, September 05, 2015

What If College Football Had Promotion and Relegation?

If you follow sports outside of the United State (or even American soccer where this is a constant low-level debate), you know about promotion and relegation. Many European professional leagues have a system where the best teams in a pro league get advanced to a higher league and the worst teams get demoted. This ensures that the best teams play each other and gives the fans a more balanced league, especially with the lack of the salary caps that keep the teams in American sports closer together.

The problem is that American professional sports work in a very different manner than European sports. In Europe, most teams are independent of the leagues in which they play. In the US, almost all professional teams are actually franchises of the league. Convincing owners who paid hundreds of millions of dollars to bring in a change that would potentially drop their property out of the top league will be impossible. There's a chance that the lower professional and amateur soccer leagues in the US may eventually band together to create a pro/rel system in US soccer, but it's likely that MLS will remain in the American format above all of that even if it comes to pass. After all, the players go where the money is and the money will stay where the safety is. Pro/rel is inherently risky, meaning owners with deeper pockets will just skip straight to the guarantee of MLS.

College football is entirely different. The teams exist outside of the league. Alabama is perfectly free to leave NCAA and join NAIA, USCAA, or even band together with other schools to form their own league. The NCAA dominates this area, though, and it is already set up into tiers. It would be really simple to make a few changes and introduce promotion and relegation to college football. The FCS (second tier of college football) playoffs would decide which teams would replace the worst four or eight FBS (top tier) teams. Same thing for Division II to the FCS and the Division III to Division II.

There are problems, though. Currently, there are way too many teams in every level to make this fair. To make matters worse, there are few rules about scheduling to ensure a fair schedule by which to compare teams. Going undefeated in the American Conference (previously the Big East) when all of your nonconference games were basically the easiest teams you could find is not even as impressive as going 9-3 in SEC or Pac-12.

Even the power conferences like the SEC and Pac-10 have their share of teams that are consistently crap and are there really only to make the conference look better academically (Vanderbilt and Duke) or because of their basketball prowess (Kentucky and Duke). With pro/rel, this problem is minimized.

The Top Tier

Here's how I say we fix that problem. Let's start at the top. The top tier will be a coast-to-coast conference of the best 14 teams in the nation at the end of the previous season. Every team would play every other team in that conference one time to make a 13-game schedule with no cupcakes. Every week you'd have seven games with prime-time quality match ups. There's no room for cupcakes and because of this, the NCAA can charge a ton for the TV rights to this league. Because of the increased costs for travel, these proceeds would help offset those costs for these teams.

Here would be the 2015 National Premier Conference:
  • Ohio State
  • Oregon
  • TCU
  • Alabama
  • Michigan State
  • Florida State
  • Baylor
  • Georgia Tech
  • Georgia
  • UCLA
  • Mississippi State
  • Arizona State
  • Wisconsin
  • Mizzou
This is a very diverse conference. You have everything from the Pacific Northwest, to southern California to Florida to the Great Lakes. Sorry, but the Northeast kind of sucks at football.

The Second Tier

The teams in the second tier would be the majority of teams currently in the power 5 conferences, at least for the first year. Teams would be organized based on geography and density of schools into five conferences. The Southeast Conference (SEC) would be comprised of schools in the southeast, mostly the current SEC and southern ACC schools. The Northeast Conference (NEC) would be the northern ACC teams, some of the American Conference, and the easternmost Big Ten teams. The Northern Midwestern Conference (NMWC) would be the bulk of the Big Ten and the northernmost Big 12. The Southern Midwestern Conference would be the bulk of the Big Twelve, western SEC schools, and easternmost Pac 12 schools. The Western Conference (WC) would be the largest in square miles, but would basically be the current Pac 12 and Boise State.

All current mid-major conference (teams in the BCS that never got automatic bids to the BCS bowls) would be excluded unless they made the final top 25 ranking in the AP Poll. Those teams would form the pool that the third tier would pull from.

This is what your 2015 NCAA Second Tier would look like:


  • Florida
  • Tennessee
  • South Carolina
  • Kentucky
  • Vanderbilt
  • Ole Miss
  • Auburn
  • LSU
  • Clemson
  • Miami
  • UCF
  • Memphis
  • Georgia Southern
  • Appalachian State
  • Boston College
  • Syracuse
  • Pittsburgh
  • Virginia Tech
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Rutgers
  • Penn State
  • NC State
  • Wake Forest
  • Duke
  • North Carolina
  • West Virginia
  • Navy


  • Louisville
  • Cincinnati
  • Michigan
  • Indiana
  • Nebraska
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Northwestern
  • Purdue
  • Notre Dame
  • Bowling Green
  • North Dakota State
  • Marshall

  • Arkansas
  • Texas A&M
  • Kansas State
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Oklahoma State
  • Texas Tech
  • Kansas
  • Iowa State
  • Texas State
  • Louisiana Lafayette
  • Arkansas State
  • Louisiana Tech
  • BYU
  • Boise State
  • Stanford
  • Washington
  • Cal
  • Oregon State
  • Washington State
  • Arizona
  • USC
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Colorado State
  • Utah State
  • Air Force
Teams in these conferences would only play games within their conferences until bowl season when the teams at the top would play each other for the right of promotion. The top teams in each conference would play a mini tournament to decide which four teams get promoted to the NPC and which remain in their regional conference. Conferences would be reshuffled slightly each year to keep them balanced in number and as small, geographically, as possible.

A few notes on this list: The easiest conference to make was the SEC. The Southeast is the heart and soul of college football. While the NFL is the most popular sports league in the country, people in the south are often more passionate about their favorite college team than they are about the nearest NFL team. While the Falcons have been usually good in recent years, as much as it pains me to admit this as a Georgia Tech fan, UGA football is the most popular sports team in the state. People in Alabama barely even know what the NFL is compared to the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn. I had to drag in a few mid-major teams to fill out the new SEC, but the teams I added are solid teams with histories of exceptional achievement. Georgia Southern came into the FBS last year and won their conference in the first year. While still in the FCS, Southern scored more points against the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide than any other team that year and that included the combined total for the ranked LSU team that played them twice that season. Last year they lost by less than a touchdown to both Georgia Tech and NC State. In 2013, they beat Florida. Appalachian State didn't have quite the successful entrance to FBS, but they were still good and have a history of being the most-likely regular-season loss for Georgia Southern.

The NMWC was perhaps the most difficult conference to fill. Despite having the 2014 national champion and a college football history only matched by Texas and the SEC, it turned out to be not as deep of a region than either the Southeast or south central. The worst teams in this conference are among some of the most likely to be relegated. This conference is also the only one to pull a team out of the current third second tier in the NCAA. North Dakota State is the only FCS team on this list, but they may be one of the teams least likely to be relegated. NDSU dominates the FCS and has won the last four national championships at that level. The also have an 8-0 record against teams already in this second tier since 2010.

Each level below the second tier would be organized in a similar way.


The most likely teams to be relegated from the top tier in this hypothetical 2015 would be Arizona State, Wisconsin, Mississippi State, and Georgia. Arizona State has been inconsistent in recent years  and there's no reason to suspect they're going to suddenly be consistently good against the best competition. Wisconsin rode a weak conference (outside of Ohio State) to their end-of-the-season ranking, and Mississippi state was fading hard at the end of last year and wasn't supposed to be good to start with. They were 0-2 against teams that made the NPC. I added UGA to this list partly because I hate Georgia (Go Tech!), but also because even Georgia fans are worried about their quarterback situation this season.

The most likely teams to be promoted would be Clemson, Stanford, Marshall, and Louisville. Why? Clemson has always been the team that you were afraid to meet because of their talent, but who never quite could keep up with the best teams. With the best teams all in the NPC, they have a very good chance of making the jump. Boise State, Marshall, and Louisville are all good teams that will be playing in the weaker conferences. The West and North Midwest are both conferences that are in areas without a lot of depth. Take out the top couple of teams and it's suddenly a vastly easier conference to win. Stanford already was a competitor on a regular basis in the Pac 10.

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