The college football deck was shuffled a bit this past month. The Big Ten now twelve. The Big 12 now ten. The PAC-10 now also at twelve. The Mountain West getting Boise State while losing Utah.
The SEC, ACC, and Big East stood pat, but not before discussions of Texas A&M joining the SEC among other shenanigans.
All of the recent moves, and continued speculation about the college football landscape, come down to one thing.
How can the conferences and teams get more of it and maximize their revenue?
The arms race of spending for football program facilities and coaches has reached ridiculous levels. 75 percent of all BCS football programs are in the red. They need more moolah… and they need it now.
There are only two ways to increase revenue.
One is via television. Increased viewership will lead to bigger contracts and more money.
The other is to have a playoff system. Similar to the windfall that schools enjoy via the NCAA basketball tournament.
Tournaments in general make money. That is why all pro sports have expanded their playoffs to create a tournament type structure. It is why the World Cup rakes it in.
Both of these objectives can be attained via a “super conference” scenario. The leading college football powers would get together and create four 16-team super leagues structured into two divisions each.
Each division plays all seven of its opponents and two from the other division (round robin). That would create nine compelling league games and still leave room for three inter league contests.
TV would love it. Revenues would increase. Basketball would follow along.
Such a structure would also lend itself very well to a four, eight, or 16-team playoff system if such was adopted. This would further increase revenues.
Which leads me to the question; if this happens (and a lot of people are predicting that it will) then why would these schools need the NCAA?
They could control their own destiny… and keep all of the money. No more persnickety rules emanating from the bureaucracy in Indiana-no-place.
If the power schools decided that compensation for players was OK, then they could do it.
They could also set their own standards with regards to admission. Under the rationale that if a school is OK with admitting a student, who are we to tell them not to let them in?
Laisse z- faire. Capitalism. And all that jazz.
So why would these schools keep the NCAA organization around?
Additionally, would they adopt some sort of relegation system like futbol does in Europe? Get rid of the bottom four schools each year for the top performers from the next tier down?
After all, how long do the performers in the BCS conferences have to carry legacy schools that have not pulled their weight in several decades?
Does the SEC really need Vanderbilt, who have not won anything since the Model T was around? Would they be better served dumping them and taking on a better Houston or Southern Mississippi?
Could not the PAC-10 be a better conference by getting rid of poor ol’ Washington State and taking on an up-and-comer like Boise?
Is the Big 12 really better with a lousy Baylor team who has not had a winning season in 15 years and continues to draw poorly, rather than a top ten TCU?
Could the champion of the MAC replace an Indiana, who has done nothing in football since their Rose Bowl appearance way back in 1966?
If these conferences expanded to 16 and then had relegation, some of the dregs would have to fight to stay in. This would not only continually strengthen the leagues, but would also increase ratings. Suddenly two bottom dwellers facing off at the end of the season would be a good game worth watching: Winner stays, loser leaves.
A relegation system would also allow for up-and-comers to have a shot. People forget, but before Coach Beamer, Virginia Tech pretty much sucked. Same thing with Kansas State before Coach Snyder, and Rutgers was horrible before this past decade.
UConn and USF are new programs. Utah was never that good before Urban Meyer came along. Relegation would allow programs such as this to get into the mix if they are rising.
A relegation system would have enough flexibility to allow turn —arounds, new comers, and such to get into the top tier.
In the current landscape, this would mean that schools like TCU, Houston, SMU, BYU, Boise State, East Carolina, and the winner of the MAC would have a chance to improve their fortunes and get in with the big boys if they won out.
It would also mean that schools like the aforementioned Vandy, Washington State, Indiana, and Baylor would be nervous… along with Iowa State, Kansas, Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse, and Mississippi State.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
After all, why should the dregs get to continually ride the coat tails of the power programs, just because back in the 1920s they were competitive?
By that standard, we would be including Cornell, Fordham, Marquette, the University of Chicago, and Carnegie Mellon in our discussions.
College football and college sports in general continue to evolve. I predict that the day of the super conferences will be upon us within a decade or so.
When this happens, I also predict three outcomes.
A championship playoff will be enacted to generate more revenue.
The NCAA will be jettisoned to give the schools more freedom to run things as they wish, which may include a loosening of academic standards, and a move toward player compensation.
After a few years, some sort of relegation system will be put in place to make the bottom schools fight to stay in, and give the next tier's top schools a chance at the prize in order to maximize revenues and minimize free riders in the system.
In the end, this will lead to some very good football, although the programs will be very much divorced from the academic experience and objectives of the institutions which wouldn't be ideal.