You know, I know, we all know that the debate for the best college football conference in the country begins with second place.
There are fans from conferences other than the SEC that construct faux arguments, misapply statistics, or simply deny, deny, deny—but honestly, they know it, too.
Three teams from the same conference would have to win the next four BCS national titles just to front a challenge to the throne occupied by the SEC.
Take a moment to really think about what it would take for your conference to produce three different national champions in the next four years, with at least one of those schools winning two titles in that time frame.
Maybe two other conferences, the Big 10 and the Big 12, could put together an argument that could be taken seriously.
And that is just to qualify for debate; that is before you get to argue things like fans in the seats, players in the NFL, money from TV, or bowl records.
This article started as a power ranking of the conferences, but the lack of drama rendered the pursuit little more than baiting Big 12 and Pac-10 fans to argue why their conferences should be considered for the second spot instead of the Big 10.
I am not sure at exactly what point that particular debate turns into a pop song that has peaked on the charts and is now dropping twenty spots a week for everyone else, but it hit me a while back.
We know who is first, and as college football aficionados, do we really care about a distant, somewhat competitive race for second, third, or fourth?
The current and obvious reign of the SEC is a temporal, albeit seismic, shift from much of the rest of college football history, and SEC fans should be aware of such. Five years ago the question of the best conference was actually a debatable topic, as it has been for the better part of the last half century.
There is no panacea for restoring that type of balance to the college football universe, and certainly nothing that can be done in a single season. The momentum the SEC has generated over the last five years is unlikely to be duplicated, but with some solid strategy and a little daring, it can be countered.
1. Get to 12 Teams and Get a Conference Championship
Always go with the low-hanging fruit first.
Make no mistake, the expansion talk coming from the Big 10 and the Pac-10 is being driven by their realization that their conferences suffer from the lack of a conference championship game.
Specifically, they suffer in the Three R’s: Revenue, Recognition, and Respect.
Conference championships are television cash cows that almost always lap the field in terms of viewership when compared to other high-profile regular season games.
Last year’s USC-Ohio State matchup was the most watched football game ever broadcast on ESPN with roughly 10.6 million viewers. Pretty heady stuff until you compare it to the approximately 17.9 million that watched the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida.
That difference, as it relates to the Three R’s, is the temptress that is luring the Big 10 and Pac-10 to consider expanding their membership.
2. Inter-conference Play Agreements
More than the possibility of conferences like the Big 12 and Pac-10 joining forces on an independent television network—which has been much discussed—what if the two agreed to have each of its teams play an opponent from the other conference all on the same day?
Imagine a Saturday in September when all Big 12 teams lined up against Pac-10 foes.
It would be the biggest story of the day, by far. It would dominate the media cycle for at least the week before, if not longer, and would be a headline theme for any season.
Would it be hard to pull off? Yes.
Is it impossible? No.
A multiyear agreement featuring different matchups each year would be ideal, but even if it occurred only one time, wouldn’t it be worth it?
Maybe this idea is too far-fetched, but conferences should be looking at ways that change the backdrop of what is currently being done. Premium matchups like Ohio State vs. USC are intriguing and entertaining, but they do little to affect the bigger picture.
3. Pay to Lose — or at Least Risk It
The practice of paying small schools to take a whipping on the road is commonplace in all conferences. Among larger schools, most agreements to play are of the home-and-home variety, in which each team is “paid” when hosting the game.
With the cost of many cupcake games inching toward, if not reaching, the $1 million mark, why not pay that much to a top BCS team to come to town?
No, it is not a guaranteed win, but the argument that it is better to beat a really bad team than lose to a really good one has not yielded much return for the investment.
Nebraska fans are quick to point out—and rightly so—how profitable their football program is. Why not take an easy $3 million of that and offer it to Florida to visit Lincoln some September?
Does Florida come for that price? Probably not, but it changes the discussion a bit on how national a program Florida really is, doesn’t it?
At the very least it becomes a pretty good recruiting tool.
And before you start telling me how improbable this is because the coaches would never go for it, remember that they are not the ones who negotiate such things. ADs do, and they have a different set of priorities.
Remember how many coaches actually wanted a 12-game regular season?
They got one anyway.
The economic downturn has every AD in the country looking for ways to earn and maximize revenue options. Why not take advantage of that to challenge the status quo?
The credibility of these ideas does not rely much on their plausibility, but more the difference in thinking they purport, in the face of what is currently being done by other conferences to catch—or keep pace with—the SEC.
Playing the same game as the SEC according to the rules the SEC has established is a good way to stay three steps behind their lead.
But the other conferences already know that.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his other articles.