Why College Football No Longer Needs to Split Conferences into Divisions

Samuel ChiCollege Football Playoff GuruMarch 17, 2014

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With realignment once again taking center stage in the 2014 season, a new question has popped up. Should FBS conferences dispense with the divisional setup in football?

Next season, three of the Big Five conferences will have 14 teams each, divided into seven-team divisions. Of the 10 conferences that play FBS football, seven of them will have divisions, with their respective winners meeting in conference championship games. By 2015 (assuming there are no other changes), only the Big 12 and Sun Belt will not stage conference title games.

This is in stark contrast with college basketball. Of the 32 Division I conferences, only three (Big South, Mid-American, Ohio Valley) have divisional splits. The other 29 conferences, including all of the "Big Five," play without an internal split of teams.

College football may be moving in that direction, too.

The ACC has submitted a proposal to "deregulate" football conference championship games, according to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd. It's seeking to discard legislation that requires conferences to have at least 12 teams divided into two divisions in order to have a conference title game.

This proposal has wide-ranging support among all FBS conferences, and it's not difficult to see why. Divisional setups have been typically arbitrary—just look at the thankfully euthanized "Legends" and "Leaders" divisions in the Big Ten or the fact that Missouri is in the SEC "East" since joining the conference when Columbia, Mo., is west of every SEC campus except Arkansas and Texas A&M.

And with the advent of the 14-team divisions, if the current legislation is upheld, a team could conceivably go 12 years between visits to the stadium of a fellow conference member that's not in its division. 

Big Five Conference Scheduling Setup for 2014
ConferenceTeamsScheduling Setup
ACC147-team divisions, with 5 teams also playing Notre Dame
Big Ten147-team divisions, some teams guaranteed "rivalry games"
Big 1210Each team plays true 9-team round-robin schedule
Pac-12126-team divisions, with Calif. schools guranteed to meet
SEC147-team divisions, each with guaranteed "rivalry game"
Source: PlayoffGuru.com

Since it's obvious that conference championship games are here to stay—there's just too much money to be made from television revenue—there's no way these conferences will voluntarily discard the divisional setup unless it's no longer required to stage a title game. But if they're freed from the binds of divisions, then conferences will have a much freer hand in how they want to stage the title games.

They may decide to match up the teams with the best records, thus maximizing the potential of their champions' chances of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. They also would be able to stage a title game without having 12 teams (think of the 10-team Big 12), thus eliminating the pressing need that fueled realignment in the first place.

For the fans and television executives, this is also a no-brainer. There will be more varied matchups within all conferences and theoretically the championship games would be more attractive since they won't be subject to the whimsical nature of the divisions.

It just makes too much sense. But since this is the NCAA we're talking about, the approval of the proposal is far from a sure thing.


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