Gurgling somewhere beneath the storylines of fired coaches, Heisman hopefuls and SEC dominance is the coming of major change in college football.
According to an Associated Press report via ESPN, a “packet” was distributed at a recent NCAA meeting of faculty athletic representatives from D-I programs.
The packet was entitled “Principles and Model for New Governance Structure,” and it suggested “that FBS institutions and conferences that are more closely aligned in issues and athletics resources form a new division.”
This is significant because rather than the concept of a split being insinuated by the commissioner of one of the Big Five conferences, or as part of the rumor mill, it was distributed in pamphlet form by the NCAA.
Is splitting the FBS into subdivisions inevitable? Well, it’s hard to say.
What is clear is that a well-engineered separation offers advantages to programs on both sides of the dividing line.
One of the primary reasons the NCAA’s $2,000 stipend plan was overridden by 161 D-I schools in December 2011 was that it created a further gap between the haves and the have-nots.
It’s simple: The schools that could afford to offer a stipend would enjoy a considerable advantage in recruiting over the schools that could not. This same logic can be applied to a number of other advantages big-money programs have over institutions which generate less cash flow.
To illustrate, the table below utilizes USA Today’s college finances database to provide the average athletic department revenue for each FBS conference in 2012.
Ticket sales, a major component of revenue, are shown in the next table which lists average attendance—according to figures provided in ESPN's box scores—at conference games for each FBS league through Week 5 of the 2013 season.
The message is clear: It’s not about whether a line should be drawn between the big conferences and the smaller ones, because the line already exists.
According to an April 2013 article by Jon Solomon on AL.com, SEC commissioner Mike Slive stated that a split could be necessary to push the stipend legislation through the NCAA.
Obviously, if things like that don’t get accomplished, then it may be appropriate to talk about some alternative or division or something like that. But that’s not our desire. That’s not our goal, and that’s not something we’re trying to get to.
Solving the stipend issue could also decrease the number of NCAA sanctions for players taking illegal money, which, according to athletes, is needed to meet their basic living expenses.
The split, combined with a rule limiting “super-division” programs to one lower-division opponent per season, could have significant scheduling consequences.
The main effect would be a more level playing field in strength of schedule.
By reducing the number of teams in the super-division to 65 (programs from the 2014 ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Notre Dame) and requiring them all to play each other, two things would happen.
First, teams would only get one true cupcake game per year from the new lower division, which would consist of programs from the non-BCS conferences (plus the American Athletic) as opposed to the FCS.
Next, former BCS—now super-division—programs such as Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Colorado and Kentucky would be flooded with requests for nonconference games.
To put this into today’s terms, teams in BCS conferences could only schedule a single non-BCS foe per season.
This would make Oregon’s 4-0 record (wins over FCS Nicholls St., Virginia, Tennessee and Cal) significantly more comparable to Ohio State’s 5-0 record (wins over Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal, FCS Florida A&M and Wisconsin).
This would be the case because, under the new rule, the Buckeyes would be required to replace two of their three lower-tier opponents with BCS foes.
Reduction in Bowl Games
In the current model, seven of the 30 non-BCS bowl games feature matchups between two teams hailing from non-Big Five conferences (American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and independents other than Notre Dame).
Another 12 bowls pit a team from a Big Five conference with a team from a non-Big Five member.
The following table highlights the 11 bowl games which, according to FBSchedules.com, limit their bids to members of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC.
Splitting the FBS into two subdivisions would result in 19 of the existing bowl games going away. This would happen because each level would presumably handle its postseason exclusive of the other.
With only 11 non-BCS bowl games remaining to spread over the new 65-member super-division, only 34 percent would go bowling. This would be 13 percent less than the 47 percent of the FBS field which attends non-BCS bowls today.
The reduction would be an important step in restoring the prestige and attraction of the bowls that aren’t part of the new playoff scheme.
Equality for All
Consider this: What is the No. 1 goal for the Fresno State football program in 2013?
Is it to win more than 10 games for the first time since 2001, is it to capture its second consecutive Mountain West championship or is it to shock the world and win the BCS title?
While it’s not known what is included on coach Tim DeRuyter’s list of goals, it’s not likely that “win the national championship” appears.
Because, well, that’s just not going to happen.
The college football world has been programmed to accept the fate of Fresno State and other non-BCS programs, but it doesn’t make the reality of the situation any less unjust.
It’s like saying that, no matter how many games they win, the Jacksonville Jaguars can’t win the Super Bowl. Because, you know, the Jaguars are an “expansion team.” Yes, Jacksonville has an outside shot of playing in a postseason “showcase” game that doesn’t mean anything, but as far a title, no way.
It’s ludicrous to think of a coach in any sport addressing his/her troops at the beginning of a season by saying, “even if we win every single game, we can’t win the biggest championship in the division we play in.”
Though splitting the FBS into two divisions may seem to boost the haves while taking another unfair swipe at the have-nots, in reality it equals justice for the “medium” guy.
The kids who will play for the 61 non-Big Five conference programs in 2014 deserve the split, because they have just as much of a right to play for a national championship as do the athletes from Alabama, USC or Texas.