An Ideal College Football Structure, Part One

Remember a few years back when college football was in constant chaos because conferences were folding, schools were moving, and other conferences were rising up or at least renaming themselves (or stubbornly sticking to their old names even when they no longer make any sense – looking at you, Big 10 and Big XII)? Of course you remember.

It was exciting, especially if you were from a G5 school hoping your team could make the jump to a bigger, more well-respected conference. What a time to be alive!

Obviously, a lot of things that were predicted back then never came to be, but the landscape of college football was changed significantly, due in no small part to the fact that realignment happened around the same time that the BCS was expiring and people were clamoring for a playoff. That’s an issue that we still haven’t solved.

It’s better we have one than don’t, but it has been made exceedingly clear that there is still no way for the G5 to land a team in the National Championship short of some kind of crash and burn from all the good P5 teams. Even three straight undefeated seasons from UCF would be no guarantee.

So even though realignment is pretty dead – for now. Right AAC?… and the playoffs probably can’t expand for at least a few more years no matter how much we fans complain about it, the idea of how to fix college football in a way that would make almost everyone happy is one that has stuck with me.

Rethinking the Schedule

After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I created a system that I think could fulfill that goal. In my structure, all 10 conferences have 16 teams divided into four 4 team divisions. The season runs as follows:

    • The first 3 games, free scheduling as always.
    • The next 7 games, conference play. Each team will play the other three teams in their division every season. They will rotate between the other divisions in their conference each year for the other four games.
      • This works well for the NFL and would guarantee that each team has a chance to build and/or maintain multiple ongoing rivalries with schools in a geographically similar area.
    • The final 2 games are conference semifinals. Only the 4 division champions will compete in these games, which will be played against each other to decide the conference champ.
      • It’s like a mini-version of college basketball’s conference tournaments, only where the regular season still matters because you must win the division to compete.

At the end of the year, eight teams are chosen for the National Championship Playoffs: The five Power 5 conference champs, a Group of 5 representative and the next two highest ranked at-large teams.

Already one of the most popular playoff format proposals, this guarantees the G5 at least one shot at the championship every year without leaving out any other teams one could reasonably believe are National Championship worthy.

Everyone else can go to bowl games, if they are good enough, as usual – though I would require a 7-5 record minimum (and with that I’m being kind of generous; I really think it should be 8-4).

Rebuilding the FBS

You may have noted the biggest problem with this: 10 conferences with 16 teams each makes 160 teams. There are currently only 130 FBS teams, which means 30 more teams would have to move up.

This of course, won’t happen in real life for many years, if at all. So what am I thinking with this proposal?

When I decided to do this, I wanted to set up a model that could show what college football could be, not just what it will be. So, in that way, this structure will be different from most other ideas you have read about.

It’s not a prediction. It’s not even really a suggestion – at least not every bit of it. Instead, it’s more like a gold standard to aim for. Maybe one day we can set something up that’s close.

For the purposes of my idealistic model, I did a few unrealistic things: First, I chose 30 teams to move up. I based my selection of these teams on several factors:

  • Overall prestige
  • Academic success
  • All-time football success
  • Recent football success
  • Success in other major sports
  • Strong rivalries
  • Desire to move up
  • Ability to move up

It wasn’t necessary for a team to have all of these factors in its favor. In some cases, it only needed one factor in its favor if that factor was strong enough. In any event, these are the teams I added to the FBS level:

 

*Alaska

Lehigh

Brown

Maine

California-Davis

Montana

Columbia

Montana State

Cornell

North Dakota

Dartmouth

North Dakota State

Delaware

Pennsylvania

Eastern Washington

Princeton

Florida A&M

South Dakota

Georgetown

South Dakota State

Grambling State

Southern

Harvard

*Vermont

Idaho

Villanova

James Madison

William & Mary

Lafayette

Yale

 

You’ll notice I have two non-existent teams, Alaska and Vermont, the first of which never existed and the second of which has been defunct for quite a while. That’s just because I wanted to have a team in every state, which is also the only reason Maine made the cut (the Black Bears haven’t been a top program on the gridiron or in academics for most of their history).

If that’s not important to you, feel free to sub in three “better” options of your choosing. Of course, this whole thing is based on my loosely defined rules, so if you’re going to do that, why not just make your own system for selection?

I also did a conference alignment overhaul to make things make sense geographically. It’s not perfect (it never is) but I think I did a pretty good job maintaining rivalries and potentially sparking more by making sure that all teams in the same state play in the same conference (with the exception of the P5/G5 divide).

A New Standard

If college football moved to something resembling this one day, I honestly think most people would be pretty satisfied with it:

  • The larger schools maintain the advantage many would argue that they deserve, but every single team has a path to the National Championship.
  • Every conference has a mini-tournament every year, guaranteeing that the regular season still matters while borrowing one of the coolest things about college basketball – the chaos of championship week.
  • All teams are aligned geographically, encouraging long-lasting rivalries that can be easily maintained.
  • Bowl games remain and regain some prestige by requiring a higher minimum win/loss record for admission.

I have always thought that it was possible to retain the things most beloved about college football while innovating it to make it more fair and compelling for everyone. This is my way of doing that. When we come back for Part Two, I’ll look further at the exact alignment and present some scheduling examples to mull over.

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