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The Time Is Now For Major College Football Changes

William Ristov

Now that it is obvious that one major BCS conference intends to go to at least 13 teams it is time to take this moment and use it to correct the problems that have long existed with Division 1 college football while it is still possible to do so, before one league or another effects a change in the balance of power that is not in the long term best interest of the sport and fans in all parts of the country.

It has long been clear that Division 1 football is far too large to be managed in a wise way.  It has needed to be broke in half for a long time.  The obvious concern of the have-nots is revenue.  I believe such concerns can still be resolved by the power leagues going to four superconferences and in fact it can be used as the impetus to create a better system for every single interested party–players, coaches, institutions, and especially the long suffering college football fan who loves the only sport that still has a system based on way too much subjective opinion to determine a champion and a postseason that has devolved to the point that people care about only two games, the bowl their team is in and possibly the BCS championship, although when you feel robbed of a logical and equitable way of arriving at the two participants, even that seems somewhat empty.  When you are a father you always hope to leave things better for your children, so in the interest of future generations of fans, let’s take this moment and use it wisely.

Here is where we are at.  Obviously the SEC, Pac 12, and Big 10 have designs on being the dominant conference by expanding and outdoing each other.  The Big 12(or Texas) and Big East have become too decimated by defections to become the fourth major conference to be connected regionally and that can compete with those three.  That leaves the ACC.  Which means that their commissioner better get aggressive unless he wishes to become another Baghdad Bebee.

Since it will take four major conferences to achieve the proper and equitable way to structure major college football, the commissioners of those four leagues would best serve the interests of those they represent by working in a collaborative way rather than a competitive way when it comes to conference realignment.  They must become visionaries who will be forever lauded as the four wise men who put in place a structure that will forever improve the sport they represent.  The result of this will be a win for everyone in college football and all who are connected to it.

Let me lay out the vision for our four (potential) legendary wise men to make it easy for them by putting the plan in three parts: 1) The problems that urgently need corrected 2) The structure of the realignment and breakup of Division 1 and how the seasons would play out 3) How the masterpiece we have created preserves the best of the current structure, improves the product and maximizes both revenues and enjoyment of the participants and their customers (fans.)

First the problems needing corrected, in no particular order.

–Bad football games!  Nebraska/TN Chattanooga?  (Sub in whatever FCS or awful D1 team you wish)  Seriously, you cannot expect to pass that off as top level entertainment (see price of ticket) can you?  And how long until there is a tragic injury due to the vast difference in athletic ability in the teams?

–Poor TV games!  See above.  And the logical progression:  poor games beget poor ratings which beget less advertising dollars which beget smaller TV revenues which beget smaller TV contracts with conferences.

–Obviously 120 D1 schools do not and cannot compete on the same or even close to the same level due to the vast differences in facilities, budgets, athletes, etc.  Wouldn’t the bottom half or so find more enjoyment in competing on their own level with a chance to be a champion of a lower division as long as revenues could remain roughly the same, perhaps even higher?

–We are tired of the subjective nature of arriving at the final two teams.  Polls, computers, and opinions are fine but should not determine a champion.  And shouldn’t any coach clearly know what he must do to become a champion without resorting to running up the score on a hapless opponent?

–The current playoff proposals have often been rejected because they would take some meaning away from regular season games, teams could end up playing too many games increasing the strain on both players and the academic schedules, and destroying the bowl system that coaches and players like as a reward for a good season and cities like as a way to promote themselves and tourism.

–While on the subject of bowls, 99% of them could be named the Nobody Cares Bowl.  And obviously if no one cares, then revenues from tickets, visitors and TV is well below where it could be.

–Power schools such as Nebraska need 7 home games of as high a quality as possible to be able to sell tickets at the price they want.

–No preseason means that teams schedule as many cupcakes as possible to get a feel for their teams and avoid a loss that can ruin their ranking and any chance at a championship.  The results?  See items one and two above.

–Although this does not directly relate to realignment and competitive balance, it is critical to also use this moment to address two major problems, creating a system of fair compensation to players and sufficiently penalizing players, coaches and institutions which break the rules or the law to the extent that deterrence is achieved.  If this does not change soon the system will be irretrievably harmed.  Things are different now, players jerseys are sold, video games are sold both using their number and likeness without the name so that no one has to compensate the player.  This is wrong and everyone knows it.  Considering that players at top level schools practice and study football year round, are prevented from many ways of earning extra money and are going to suffer long term effects from the 4 to 5 years of their life they lay on the line for their university, do not tell me that their scholarship is enough.  Many never graduate, so what good is that to someone who may suffer chronic health conditions for life.  Let’s call it what it is undercompensated labor to be polite, others may be more blunt.  And a reasonable and equitable system of compensation would go a long way towards solving the cheating problem.  Either college football acts on this or a giant class action lawsuit will hit them where it hurts.  It amazes me it hasn’t yet.

After highlighting the problems needing addressed, let’s lay out the structure of the new system and then see how it addresses these and improves college football in other ways too.

Let us start with what is undeniable and work our way from there.  The SEC, Pac 12 and Big Ten are stable and here to stay.  Of the other three BCS conferences only the ACC has the regional continuity to become the fourth.  So what must be done becomes obvious, add 3 teams to the SEC and 4 teams to the others and then divide each conference into two sections.  In so doing one must try his best to respect rivalries, regional fit, TV markets and football prowess while balancing the leagues as much as possible since they will be the basis for the postseason structure.

So we need 15 teams from the Big East, Big 12, Independents, and non-AQ conferences.  Again let’s start with the obvious to be included using the above factors.  Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State (Boone Pickens U), Notre Dame, Missouri, and Syracuse make the cut as obvious choices.

That leaves nine spots open.  Non AQ teams that have proved themselves and would add desirable markets and regions to their leagues include Boise State, TCU, and BYU.  That leaves six spots.  Based on desired markets, regions and either proven or potential football prowess with the proper motivation the remaining six are Pittsburgh, Louisville, UConn, West Virginia, Kansas, and UNLV (a stretch, but potential and fits markets and regions criteria).

Sorry Charlie goes out to Iowa St, Kansas St, Texas Tech, Baylor, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and South Florida.  Maybe they will have as much fun being the big boys of the lower division where championships are within reach.  Some may argue the relative strength of these programs versus others included but none of them fits as well as others into the regional picture.

Now for the placement and what makes the most sense based on current members, regions, preserving rivalries and balance of power.  Each conference gets an A and B division instead of silly names.  It would look like this:

Big 16– A)  Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue.

B)  Nebraska, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri.

Pac 16– A) Oregon, Washington, USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, California, Stanford.

B)  Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, BYU, Boise State, UNLV, Texas, Colorado.

SEC– A) Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Auburn.

B)  Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A & M, LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Mississippi State.

ACC– A)  Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Maryland.

B)  Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, TCU, UConn, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Louisville.

Here is how you would schedule a conference season.  Every year you play your seven division opponents and three from the other division, home one year and road the next.  So there would be 10 conference games each year leaving 2 for non-conference, preserving the 12 game schedule and giving each school the ability (and the revenue) to approach the non-conference as they see fit.

Then each conference will have a championship game on the first weekend in December, sites determined by a bidding process to maximize revenue.  The four conference champions will play on January 1, Big 16 and Pac 16 in the Rose Bowl and SEC/ACC in Sugar or Orange (highest bidder).  The two winners play in the College Super Bowl on around January 15, again in city that bids highest.  All the other bowls are free to continue and do as they wish in pairing up non championship teams.

As for the seven current BCS schools left out, they join the rest of Division 1 schools and form a secondary league that also divides into 4 leagues along the lines of MAC plus Iowa State making 14, MWC/WAC minus Louisiana Tech plus Kansas State making 13, and Conference USA and Sunbelt plus Louisiana Tech, Army, Navy, Rutgers, Baylor, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, and South Florida making 29 and re-dividing in a sensible way to two divisions.  That makes 56 which opens the door to the 8 strongest FCS teams that fit into the regional divisions.  Now what do you have?  Another 64 team league that can structure its season like the primary league, negotiate its own TV contracts, bowls, host cities for playoffs etc.  And these schools can continue to play teams from the primary league as revenue generators.  But only their conference games matter to their now reasonable championship hopes so two road games against superior teams could only help.

Now let us consider the masterpiece we have created and how it corrects existing problems, preserves what is best about the current system and structure and finally how it improves the product to everyone’s benefit.

1)  Would there really be any bad football or poorly rated TV games anymore?  Every conference game would be critically important, most rivalries and regional interest would remain intact and some rivalries could even be restored.  Iowa/Iowa State for example.  Who wouldn’t love to see Texas/Texas A&M or USC/Notre Dame, Nebraska/Oklahoma play for bragging rights (not to mention huge TV revenues they could keep) without losing a chance to win the championship?

2)  We have clearly shown that splitting Division 1 into two levels not only is very sensible and long overdue but will result in greater benefits and revenues for all institutions.

3)  We can still engage in as much conjecture and subjective opinion and polling and computer rankings as we want, it just doesn’t factor into determining the champion.

4)  Allows institutional choice as to how to approach non-conference games to maximize revenue.  2 home games?  2 marquee matchups or restored rivalries to maximize revenue from ratings and ticket sales?  Each decides the best approach for their institution.

5)  We have finally created a playoff that a) doesn’t penalize a team for losing a game to a tough opponent (in fact undefeated seasons may be extremely rare and losses not a cause for despair) b) enhances not diminishes the regular season c) doesn’t add to the season or create added academic challenges d) preserves and enhances the bowl system e) sends TV and other revenues through the roof while settling things on the field.  Just sketch out the top 5 or so teams from each league and imagine the quality and ratings of each step in the process in getting to a champion!  I think I should buy stock in a TV manufacturer!

6)  Perhaps use this time of momentous change to correct once and for all the inequities and injustice that causes real hardship for student athletes both during college and later in life.  Since they basically must eat, breathe and live football year round, compensate them enough during college so even the poor ones can have a reasonable existence maybe even do the right thing and marry their girlfriend and support any children they have.  Put some of these new revenues in a trust fund for those who do not make it in the NFL or maybe suffer injuries that affect them for life.  In short, do the right thing.  Let them share in the revenues they create and do not compare them to athletes in other sports, there is no comparison.  If those other athletes can find ways to generate revenues with their sport then go for it, otherwise be quiet.  And perhaps by addressing this and instituting real penalties on those responsible parties who break the rules or the law, perhaps college football will suffer far fewer embarrassing revelations, voided victories and tainted champions and trophy winners.

Now some may choose to tweak or argue the specifics but I believe the foundation for something amazing for the world’s greatest sport has just been laid, don’t you think?

Now if we can just lock those 4 commissioners (I mean legendary-wise visionaries!) in a room somewhere until they make this happen!

William Ristov is a long time college football fan from Nebraska.  He is a Husker fan and currently works as an insurance agent.  His college football plan was submitted to MrSEC.com last week.

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