Making the Case for Major College Football Conferences to Drop Divisions

Samuel ChiCollege Football Playoff GuruMay 30, 2014

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

With all of the bellyaching about the recent decisions by the SEC and ACC to keep eight-game conference schedules, a most important point was largely missed: The scheduling setup makes competition within those conferences unfair.

Whenever there's an imbalance in the strengths of the conference's divisions, the race for the championship will become lopsided. Essentially, you'll rarely get the two best teams to play in the conference championship games. On top of that, there's also the issue of preserving the familiarity and cohesion within the conferences.

When the SEC decided to adopt the 6-1-1 model, with seven of the eight conference games permanently set, it meant that six teams within your own conference won't set foot on your campus for an entire decade. In the case of the ACC, teams will see Notre Dame—technically not a member—more often than a few actual member schools.

There is an easy way to fix this, and it's already been put on the table: College football should dump divisions.

College basketball has been getting along just fine without divisions, even though some leagues have as many as 16 teams. Only three of the 32 conferences employ divisions, and none of the major conferences do.

The divisions came into existence in 1992 when then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer exploited a little-known NCAA bylaw in order to stage a conference championship game after the SEC expanded to 12 teams.

All other major conferences followed suit. But as realignment made conferences bigger—beginning in 2014, the ACC, Big Ten and SEC will all have 14 teams—the divisional setup has become more unwieldy.

In March, the ACC, in collaboration with the Big 12, submitted a proposal to drop divisions while allowing conferences to continue staging championship games. It was tabled during the NCAA's April meetings, but it may be considered when the board convenes again in August.

Major Conference Championship Games (2014)
ACCDec. 6Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)ABC/ESPN*
Big TenDec. 6Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, Indiana)Fox
Pac-12Dec. 5Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, California)Fox
SECDec. 6Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Georgia)CBS
* To be determined

The 10-team Big 12, currently the only one of the five major conferences without a divisional setup or a title game, believes dumping divisions only makes sense as we move into the College Football Playoff era this fall.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dennis Dodd of in March:

Theoretically, we could say we're going to take the two highest in the BCS rankings and have them play at the end of the season. ...

... You wouldn't any longer have to have 12 (teams). You wouldn't any longer have to play a full round-robin in your subdivision. That would actually afford us the opportunity to have a playoff between two selected teams by whatever process we would want to select.

In fact, the Big 12 has already taken steps toward making that a reality.

This week, the conference formally adopted a new tiebreaking procedure, tying it to the CFP poll as released by the selection committee. The same procedure obviously may be applied should it become necessary to determine the two teams to play in the conference championship game.

There is one other peripheral, though not unimportant, benefit to dumping the divisions: It is widely believed that the Big 12 will eventually expand back up to 12 teams in order to stage a conference title game.

If that's no longer a prerequisite, then we might have some stability with conference memberships for a while after five years of constant realignment maneuvers.


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