College Football has been in a tailspin ever since the Southwest Conference fell apart after the 1996 football season. Comprised mostly of Texas schools (Southwest, eh?), eventually the academic and recruiting scandals caught up and forced the shuttering of the conference. In the years following, college football realignment has been dominated by the almighty dollar.
In the coming years, it appears college athletics are headed to the four power conferences model, where each conference will have sixteen teams. Traditional rivalries, teams from similar geographic regions, and the BCS (soon to be playoff) cinderella will be thrown away so teams can bring in more athletic revenue.
We have already seen the Nebraska Cornhuskers leave the Big XII for the B1G 10 (but that had less to do with the money than with differences with another school), the Colorado Buffaloes for the Pac 12, the West Virginia Mountaineers, Syracuse Orangemen, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Texas Christian Horned Frogs have left the Big East. In all, twenty six teams have moved conferences since May 2011. Some teams have moved up to the FBS division, and others have switched to bigger conferences.
So how can we stop the madness?
It’s time to re-negotiate the negotiating rights. Currently, each conference negotiates the rights by themselves. In 1984 ruling, NCAA vs. the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA had broken antitrust laws, allowing conferences or individual teams to negotiate their own television deals.
Since the ruling, many teams have gone with conferences and negotiated their rights that way. In recent years, examples like the University of Texas and their Longhorn Network have re-defined how conferences negotiate. They have also re-defined conference boundaries.
The new Big East conference, before the Boise State Broncos said they were leaving, would have a Western Division containing teams across four time zones.
The split between how much money each conference makes will continue to grow until the NCAA figures out how to bring in the big money, like the NFL. And you know how to do that? Negotiate as one group.
The NFL makes the big money in negotiating rights because they negotiate as one entity instead of two conferences, eight divisions, or thirty-two teams. Because the NCAA schools or conferences are negotiating as separate entities, they are stealing money from each other. Conferences are competing with each other, which while it can drive up the cost, can also drive the cost down.
Big cable networks like ABC/ESPN, CBS, Fox, etc, can negotiate to a price, and if they do not like the offer, they can move on to the next conference who wants to negotiate with them.
If the NCAA were to negotiate as a single entity, it would allow them to negotiate rights just like the NFL. Then, the NCAA will have to figure out how to split the money, which turns into the next few arguments.
How is the money going to be split? How is priority given to teams on TV?
Perhaps the biggest question that arises will college football be split? Unfortunately, if the NCAA were to negotiate a deal as a single entity, low level conferences will be pushed to the wayside, further separating the upper and lower echelons.
Suddenly, the NCAA will be forced to act, debating wether to separate the tiers, and further fragmenting college football. Will the lower teas from the FBS Division be split, and become FBS-1 and FBS-2? Then the FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA, become “Division I-AAA.” It’s something the NCAA will have to ask themselves in the next ten years. The divide is becoming wider and wider, and will continue to grow.
One idea I’d like to see the NCAA consider is something that has become popular in international football, err soccer, leagues.
Now while complications would exist with this, I think it is the best system.
Now while teams have magical runs and can go on runs and win a number of games in a 4 year stretch (see Baylor Bears with Robert Griffin III), they will not go as far. Unfortunate? Maybe. But it means that every game actually matters, and if you suddenly sink back to mediocrity, you move down. But when your playing well, you keep moving up and up.
The NCAA would be set up in tiers, with every university with an athletic program would be in the same entity, all with an equal vote in voting matters.
Start with the five major conferences: ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC. Let’s call these Tier 1.
Then, this is where things get messy.
Tier 2, in my opinion, would consist of the Big East, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and the MAC.
From there, then subsequent tiers have more teams which would make scheduling more of a nightmare.
Scheduling a number of games each season would then be tricky. Perhaps non-conference games would give way to playing every team in your conference. Or perhaps conferences would rotate with each other, where teams would be given a number based on where they finished the previous season in conference play. Then, if they rotate through conferences in non-conference play, team 1 from Conference A would play team 1 from Conference B. The next non-conference game, team A from Conference A would play the last team from Conference C.
Is this how it would turn out? Maybe, maybe not. Fans certainly will not appreciate traditional rivalries going away. Teams, vying for a national title, will not appreciate their title shot taking a big hit early in the season. Media rights, however, would love to have a tantalizing matchup so early in the year.
The NCAA, if changing to relegation, should also look to increasing the playoff from four teams to sixteen teams. Perhaps then a team wouldn’t play every conference. With five teams from each conference, plus the best fourth team from all conferences, the best team will win.
To move up/down, the best team from tiers two through how many there are (7?) will play the worst team from the tier above, and if they win, they move up. One game, winner take all.
Now every game, every year matters. TV money increases. Competition increases. So why not?
PS. As a side note, this is fixing only college football and its problems, not re-organizing these conferences and divisions for other sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. However, this model could be used to move from the “Division” to the “Tier” system for all sports, based upon the strength of each program and school size.