What If the SEC Got Rid of Divisions for Football?

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2014

SEC commissioner Mike Slive
SEC commissioner Mike SliveMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Odds are that if you've stumbled across this piece, you're either curious about the possibility of removing the divisions in the SEC, or you'd like to see what this insane writer could possibly be talking about.

First, take a look at this piece by Tom Fornelli of CBS, which explores the idea of the two best teams in the ACC playing in the conference championship game without the requirement of being a division winner. The example used is Florida State facing Georgia Tech and Duke the past two seasons instead of Clemson, a team that finished with a better record than the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils both years.

No offense to Paul Johnson's 6-6 squad from 2012, but all of college football would benefit from the conference championship games pitting together the two most deserving teams. But this is just the beginning of the discussion.

The real question is: If winning the division were to play no role in making the conference championship, why have divisions at all?

Did QB Tajh Boyd and Clemson deserve a rematch with Florida State?
Did QB Tajh Boyd and Clemson deserve a rematch with Florida State?Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Let's use the SEC as an example, because it's generally regarded as the best division in college football. As with most debates that invoke the passion of collegiate fanbases, there are pros and cons aplenty.

The first benefit to eliminating the East and West Divisions would be being able to create a relatively even schedule for all 14 teams. In 2013, in addition to facing each team in the SEC West, Alabama faced Tennessee and Kentucky from the East, and the two combined for exactly two conference wins all season.

That's not meant to denigrate the Crimson Tide or turn this into a "who has Bama played" argument. But it looks unfair when you consider Texas A&M played Missouri and Vanderbilt from the East Division—the Tigers and Commodores combined for 11 conference wins.

Without the division barrier, it would be easier to create a schedule that doesn't make things incredibly difficult for some teams and relatively easy for others. There's no way to make things truly even, and you can't predict how teams will fare when the schedules are first made. But there's little doubt as to who had the tougher SEC schedule between the Aggies and Crimson Tide, and it shouldn't be so easily apparent.

One of the negative aspects that initially stands out, however, is the potential loss of rivalry games. Because each team must play other squads within its division, rivalries have formed and certain contests now mean more than others, as it should be in college football, a sport built on passion.

Rivalries like Georgia-Florida are important
Rivalries like Georgia-Florida are importantRob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

A counter to that might be to keep the more traditional rivalries, like the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn or the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida.

You might also see this proposition and be concerned about the possibility of a rematch, although that chance exists within the current setup as well. In 2010, Auburn played South Carolina both in the regular season and in the conference title game. Out in the Pac-12, Stanford and Arizona State squared off twice in 2013.

The bottom line goes back to John Swofford's initial concern: how can we create the best possible title game within each conference? Shouldn't the best two teams square off for the right to be called champions?

Some fans will point to winning the division as a distinct honor that merits inclusion in the conference championship regardless of the perceived strength of that division. But is it really fair for a 6-6 Georgia Tech team to get the chance to play for a BCS bid over a Clemson team that lost just one conference game, as was the case in 2012? Or for six-win UCLA to play Oregon instead of one-loss Stanford, which occurred in 2011?

It would seem the creation of divisions exists merely for organization's sake. You have two groups of teams split evenly within a conference, and scheduling becomes easier knowing that each team must face everyone within its own division. Tie-breakers are less complicated as well, knowing that the winners of each group will play for the right to be called conference champs.

And if we're being honest, it's not a broken system set up to constantly fail. Auburn and Missouri both earned spots in the SEC title game in 2013, and the Big Ten tilt between Ohio State and Michigan State was a classic. Sometimes, things work out great and nobody complains.

But if there's a better way to do something, it should at least be explored. Ten years ago, the idea of super-conferences might have sounded crazy, but here's a guess that even 10 years from now the landscape of the game will look much different than it is today.

So what if the SEC got rid of its divisions altogether? Is the idea crazy, or so crazy that it might actually work?