When Pigs Fly: Regulation in College Football

Trey JonesCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2009



It’s probably the most significant difference between sports in the US and the rest of the world. Regulation, a fundamental element of most organized sports across the globe, is seldom seen or used in the US.


For those of you that are not familiar with the sports definition of regulation, let me take a moment to bring you up to speed on this truly fascinating concept...


In the realm of sports, regulation is an act where teams are divided into a number of levels. At the conclusion of each season the bottom teams in each division are demoted to the next lowest division while the top performing teams are promoted to the next highest division. 


Exceptional play is rewarded and poor performance is penalized. 


An excellent example of regulation can be found in the English Premier League (English soccer to us in the USA...). For the most part, there are four professional football groupings and they look like this...



Premier League                       20 teams              Top flight teams


Championship League               24 teams              Rest of the best


League 1                               24 teams              Either dying or growing


League 2                               24 teams              Nowhere to go but up…



Each year a few top teams from each grouping advance to the level immediately above. Those sucking wind in the cellar get demoted to the next lowest level. 


An example of a team being regulated is the English football (soccer) club Leeds United—a historically strong team. Leeds was playing in the Premier League and competing for the UEFA championship just eight or nine years ago. 


Unfortunately, a series of financial, coaching, and player selection issues saw Leeds crash from the Premier League all the way down to League 1.


Bummer for Leeds...


So, now that we all know what regulation is let’s take a look at how it might work in college football. Danger, Danger, Will Robinson...major changes are afoot!



Thinning the Ranks and Setting up the System


Currently there are over 100 FBS teams playing in conferences or as independents.  This number is staggering when you add the FCS teams allowed to play with the big boys. 


Regulation would not only cut the number of teams eligible to play for the national championship but would also consistently keep the best performing teams together. 


Less is more when attempting to determine a national champion without a playoff system...


In a nutshell, In the FBS, only 10 conferences would survive plus a grouping of 10 independents. Each conference would be restricted to 10 teams yet division play would continue. A 12-game schedule would remain with each conference members required to play eight conference and four non-conference games.


Here are the conferences...


ACC (now 10 teams)

Big 12 (oops – another name change – back to 10 teams)

Big East (now 10 teams)

Big Ten (returned to 10 teams)

CUSA (now 10 teams)

Mountain West (remains at nine)

PAC 10

SEC (now 10 teams)

WAC (remains at nine)

CUSA (now 10 teams)

Independents (total grouping of 10 teams)


Once the decision to employ regulation is made every current FBS team will have two years to compile the best record they can against other FBS teams.  


At the conclusion of the second season the 13 FBS teams with the worst records and the entire MAC and SunBelt conferences head south to the FCS. However, the MAC and SunBelt teams with the best records will be invited to fill the six or so vacant slots within the independent group.


Regulation play, allowing for both promotions and demotions, begins in the third season. At the conclusion of the third season (including the FCS playoffs) the 13 FCS teams with the best playoff performance and/or win/loss records will be invited to join the FBS. 


Each of these teams will be allowed to pick which conference (or the independent group) they wish to join—the highest ranking FCS team picking first.


Again, the bottom team from each of the FBS conferences/independent group will be demoted to the FCS. These teams will be drafted by any of the FCS conferences that has an empty slot due to a promotion.   


These teams may also choose to enter the FCS as an independent provided that slot is open.



Putting Teeth into the FCS


The FCS, no longer allowed to play for cash against the FBS and now swollen to 16 conferences, will now find itself focused on producing teams capable of entering and competing with the FBS schools. 


Some teams out of conferences like the Ivy League may pass on an invitation to join the FBS but most others would jump at the chance. Revenue packages would make such a move very attractive as would the increase in national exposure.


The FCS championship playoff now has an added bonus...these teams might be the ones making the cut to the FBS the next year!


But don’t forget...FCS teams are not only looking at promotions to the FBS...The lowest ranking conference and independent teams will be regulated to Division II!



A Move Toward Parity


Removing FCS and very poor performing FBS teams from the pool of potential competitors each year allows for a subtle move toward FBS schedule parity. 


Yes, many sub .500 teams will survive but the days of scheduling two or three FCS and bottom dwelling conference also-rans would come to an end.


A conference schedule will remain in effect but non conference games would now include more interesting and challenging matchups. 



More Drama


Regulation makes each game vitally important.  The drama of college football would now include late season match-ups between two teams on the cusp of regulation. 


Teams that saw the season “end” by the seventh or eighth week would now have something else to fight for...their place in the FBS for next year!!!


A late November non-conference game between Iowa State and Indiana now is big news! Games of this nature now have something at stake besides pride.



Influence on Polls/Voters/BCS Rankings


With no FCS teams to play and a required four game (now more difficult) non-conference schedule—voters for the BCS polls will have a bit more meat to chew on each season. 


Tougher schedules will result in harder early season play and more interesting non-conference games further down the road.


In the end, teams selected to play for the national championship will have played 12 (or 13) games against FBS teams. No cupcakes and fewer powder puffs. The arguing over teams selected will never stop but at least one issue, scheduling, can be bought down a notch...



Rewarding Success and the Consequences of Failure


Once regulation is in place, the stagnant nature of BCS (a.k.a. the old Division One and 1-A) football changes forever. Teams no longer want to win they must win to survive. 


Programs that have a history of under performing now end up being forced to modify a losing program or adapting to a new college football environment.


There is a new level of accountability never before seen in college football and it adds an element of excitement to the season.


Some long standing traditions are broken but the college football season has a bit of a different look and a lot more personality. It also has a bit more respectability as well...



When Pigs Fly…


Oh, and this will happen when I see a pig fly across the sky as I sit on my porch, with my beer and the mosquitoes, counting the days until the college football season starts...


Yes, I know that the major conferences, fans, and the networks will never accept such a move, and I know this scenario creates more problems than it solves. 


But it’s a concept that could, and should, have a place in college football—just like a well-thought-out playoff system.


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