College Football Divisional Alignment: Would Three Divisions of Four Work?

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College Football Divisional Alignment: Would Three Divisions of Four Work?
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The usual way of taking a conference of 12 for football is to divide into two divisions of six. Of course, there's always debate as to who belongs in which division for the sake of geography and competitive balance. I'm exploring an alternate format: three divisions of four teams.

Here's the proposal for the Pac-10/12:

California: UCLA, USC, Berkeley, Stanford

Northwest: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State

Mountain: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah

Each team plays each opponent in the same division and plays three of the four teams in the other two divisions for a total of nine games and would not play one team in each division. The byes would alternate every two years to allow for home and home.

For example, in the first two years of an eight-year cycle, UCLA would not play Washington and Arizona; the next two, WSU and ASU; then Oregon and Colorado; and the last two, Oregon State and Utah. It would always be two teams in different divisions.

So every team in the Pac-10/12 would play every other team six times in eight years and would guarantee every team would play either UCLA or USC every year (much of the talk is who gets in the division with the Southern California teams). 

In a two-by-six alignment, a team would play the same five teams every year even if they have little to no rivalry between the them. They would play the teams in the other division less often—either two times every four years if they split the inter-divisional games into three home-and-home series at a time. That time period between inter-division games could be longer if a permanent, annual rivaly exists between two teams in opposite divisions.

In one proposal, Colorado and Utah are with the LA schools. While the Mountain Time Zone teams might like being with UCLA and USC, I don't think UCLA and USC like being tied in with the MT schools and not get the chance to play Cal and Stanford every year.

My divisions seem to make more geographical sense than any two-by-six proposal they can come up with. All four California schools can stay in the same division, and all four of the Pacific Northwest schools stay together as well.

The travel should be more spread out as teams outside of the Pacific Northwest would make three trips in two years. If they make two trips there one year, they would make only one the next. The same holds true for the teams in the Mountain Time Zone. Every team then would be guaranteed one trip to California a year.

The three-by-four format also works well for the ACC as opposed to the Coastal and Atlantic divisions where no one outside of the ACC remembers who is in which division.

The North division could have Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. A Carolina division could have North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, and Wake Forest. The South could have Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, and Clemson.

I think the Big 10 works better in a two-by-six format—Eastern and Central divisions based on time zones. (As an Easterner I think being in the "West" division is awkward) Same with the SEC. If the ACC did North/South, they would split the Carolina schools up.

Now, of course, is the obvious problem. Three divisional winners can't meet in the championship game. The two solutions would be to either take the two divisional champs with the best records or the two best teams overall, even if they have the same record.

Of course, the divisional champ with the worst record will complain but I don't think being the best of four teams warrants a place in the title game the same as the best of six teams would. Of course the schedule would make a difference in terms of records, but teams in the same division don't play the same schedule now either.

In the old Big 12, if Nebraska played Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma and Colorado played the other three Big 12 South teams, Colorado could have won the division even if Nebraska had the better record against the Big 12 North.

Under my plan, each divisional opponent would play seven of nine common games. If you are comparing two non-divisional opponents, the worst case scenario is that the two teams would bypass two different teams meaning at the very least they would have at least five common games out of nine. Besides, right now the NFL, MLB, and the NBA compare and seed teams in different divisions despite very different schedules.

Of course my system isn't perfect but it might make the travel fairer and strengthen the rivalries. In a two-by-six, you play the same five teams every year and the other six teams less often. In a three by four, you only play three teams every year and play the others more often.

The other argument of course in this format is whether should two teams from the same division be able to play in the title game. Sure, a rematch in the championship game would be unfair to the team that won the first game. Then again, in the two-by-six format there is nothing stopping rematches either.

I would say just pick the two best teams regardless of division. That would make competitive balance in divisions less important. This is not a new argument. I remember once the Big 12 South wanted to change so the two best teams made the title game rather than one from each division because the second best from the South was clearly better than the best from the North.

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