A Radical Solution for Everything That Is Wrong With College Football

McLeod NealeAnalyst ISeptember 1, 2008

With the way that all of the conferences looked this weekend, I think that it is appropriate to bring up the issues surrounding the BCS and the structure of conferences.

It seems that college football has fallen into a great imbalance: Ohio State, USC, and Oklahoma have no worthy challengers within their conferences, while the ACC and Big East, albeit with a couple of contenders, have fallen to a level that is below mediocrity.

Then you have the SEC, which has many teams that can win the conference.  When they get a shot at all of the marbles, they have collectively gotten the job done an extremely high percentage of the time.

All of this has led to disaster after disaster with the BCS due to the fact that the BCS rankings depend largely on a team's record, which can be greatly affected by the difficulty of the schedule that a team faces that year.  That has been the story the past couple of seasons, and the early signs say that it probably won't change.

Something needs to be changed with the current system because the same thing seems to be happening.  College football fans are getting tired of the same old arguments and watching the same old teams sit on the top—and watching the same old system get it all wrong.

What is really ironic about the game of college football, though, is that fans whine and gripe about all of the things that are wrong with college football—but at the same time we just can't get enough of it.  Now you know the problems that I have with college football, but it is also important to get the ideas of other people.

If a group of college football fans were posed with the question, "What is wrong with college football today?" possible answers to that question might sound something like this.

1. The BCS

It stinks, and it is not a fair system.  It has failed us many times over again, yet we return to our own vomit every time.  It failed us in 2004 when an undefeated team SEC team did not get the chance to compete for a BCS title.

Last season was a disaster.  A whole lot of teams had two losses, yet teams got eliminated from the national championship in the conference room, not by losing on the field.

People who justify the BCS say that, although it is not a good system, there are no better alternatives to the BCS, which makes the BCS the lesser of all evils.

There are many college football fans who disagree and would argue that we can find a way that teams are eliminated from championship contention by players on the field, rather than stinky greedy old men in conference rooms.

2. Conference Disparity

If the rest of the country did not know already, after this weekend it should be clear that the SEC is head and shoulders better than every conference in the country.  The projected No. 6 SEC team, Alabama, flat-out embarrassed the projected No. 1 ACC team, Clemson.

The Alabama-Clemson game sent a resounding message to the rest of the country: The SEC is light years ahead of everyone else, in a league of its own as the first ever super-conference.

No conference has as many contenders year in and year out.  It is pretty clear that six teams have a legitimate shot at winning the conference this year: LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee.

Every other conference has a sure pick as to who will most likely win the conference.  In the Pac-10 it is USC, in the Big Ten it is Ohio State, in the Big 12 it is Oklahoma, in the Big East it is West Virginia, and in the ACC it is Clemson.

While these conferences are not even close to stacking up against the SEC, there still are individual teams around the country that stack up pretty well against the best SEC teams.

The ironic thing is that the SEC now is what the ACC was supposed to become after adding Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College: the super-conference of college football.

The thing that people fail to realize, though, is that the SEC is so far ahead in many more ways than just the teams it puts on the football field.  The SEC collectively has the best stadiums, facilities, fan bases, and college towns.  They make the most money and are the ones that rule college football.  This is what every conference should strive to be.

While there are teams out there that can compete individually with the SEC schools in all of these aspects, no conference has had a higher rate of success as a whole.

The Big 12 has received a lot of hype this offseason, but one thing is pretty evident after Week One: There are quite a few pretenders in this conference.  The conference knows where the best football is played, and that is why they go after SEC defensive coordinators like Bob Stoops, Will Muschamp, and Bo Pelini.

Bob Stoops, the former defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators who won a national title with the Gators in 1996, has been the real deal at Oklahoma and leads the NCAA in win percentage since arriving in Norman.  Stoops has dominated the conference because his teams know how to do something that the rest of the pretenders in the conference do not: play solid defense.

Missouri and Texas Tech showed their defensive weaknesses in Week One, when Texas Tech yielded 24 points to FCS team Eastern Washington and Missouri allowed Illinois' run-first QB "Juice" Williams to pass for 451 yards through the air for five TDs, which in turn allowed the Illinois offense to put up 42 points on the scoreboard.

The fact is that this conference does not know how to play solid defense, and that is why the smart teams like Texas and Nebraska are going after SEC defensive coordinators.  A thorough comparison of Bob Stoops and Mike Leach is even more evidence for the old saying, "defense wins championships."

3. SEC!  SEC!  SEC!

I know that everyone has heard the chant, and it really gets on your nerves if you are a Pac-10, Big Ten, ACC, Big East, or Big 12 fan.  Why are there SEC fans?  I don't think you will ever hear anyone chanting "Pac-10," "Big Ten," "Big 12," "ACC," or "Big East."  It is a strange phenomenon that is unique to the SEC.

What happened to hating your rival at all costs?  Could you imagine a Michigan fan pulling for Ohio State in any game?  Yuck...

Well, there are (fill in the blank with SEC team) fans out there that will pull for (fill in the blank with rivaling SEC team) in certain games.

4. It is all about the money

Despite all of the things that are fundamentally wrong with college football, in the eyes of a few, there is one thing that is right with college football that trumps all of the other things that are wrong about it: It makes a heck of a lot of money.

The sad fact is that it is all about money.  No matter how much we cry, nothing will change.  The only way change will happen is if the right people are convinced that their wallets will be padded and lined.

5. Older discontinued rivalries

Many football fans long for the rivalries of the past.  Some examples of these rivalries include Florida and Miami, Clemson and Georgia, USF and UCF, and Pitt and Penn State, among many others.  These rivalries have been sacrificed due to conference restructuring and other reasons.

6. Conference Championship Game?

The rules are different for every conference.  The number of teams in every conference may vary, and some teams play in conference championships, while others do not.  Can we get some consistency please?

7.  Out of Conference (OOC) scheduling: I wish I could see my team play (fill in the blank)

SEC teams play against patsies for their OOC games, and they always play them at home and get the opportunity to pad their stats.  Meanwhile, my team goes out on the road and plays tough OOC teams that they can't pad their stats against.

Big problems deserve big answers, and that is why the answer to this problem has to be very radical—but in order to get to our solution, we must first understand our problem.  All of these problems stem from one main problem: the money.

Money is why we have the BCS problem, and the BCS problem is further magnified by conference disparity, which, when paired with a flawed system like the BCS, formed the lethal combination that brought about the infamous SEC chant.

No one has proposed a feasible solution to these problems because they do not address the root of the problem.  The only problem that people have attempted to address is the BCS problem, but in order to address the BCS problem we have to address the money problem.

So our dilemma is that we need to either find a new, fair system that can make more money than the BCS, and thus line the pockets of the right people who have the ability to make things happen, or we can find a way to tweak the current system so that games are decided on the field.

I think that a little bit of both can happen.  You can tweak the current system and make the system a whole lot fairer while simultaneously bringing in more money during the process.

When it comes to making money in college football, there is no better place to look than the SEC.  The way to make money in college football is to do things the way that the SEC does it.

I know this is going to sound really cliché, but I am going to say it anyway: What college football needs is an SEC makeover.

What I mean is that college football should be restructured into four super conferences.  The winners of these super-conferences would then enter a four-team playoff at the end of the year, which would determine the national champion.

This system would still keep the current bowl system and just incorporate the four-team playoff into the major bowl games, where traditional bowl tie-ins would still apply, while conference runner-ups would get automatic bids to other bowls.  The BCS system would not change much at all.

In essence this is the "plus one" game that many people said that they would be open to in the first place.  You could still keep the tradition of the Rose Bowl, as that would be a semifinal game every year as the showdown between the Pac-10 and Big Ten champs, while the SEC and Big 12 would have a showdown in the Fiesta as has been custom in the past.

The other major bowls could be filled with the conference runner-ups, and the same bowl system would still be intact.  This is something that almost became a reality this offseason with the plus one format.

The slight difference is that condensing the conferences down to four super-conferences makes it a perfect system that would work every time, rather than it just being another system that is labeled as the lesser of two evils.

The way that college football would be restructured would aim to meet the following goals.

1. Structure college football into four super-conferences, which I call the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-10, which contain either four divisions of four teams per division or two divisions of eight teams per division.

The conference champion could be determined in the same sort of manner that the Big 12, ACC, and SEC currently are in the case the conferences are split into two divisions.  It could also be determined in a four-team mini-playoff format if the conference is structured into four divisions.

2. Keep as many rivalries in the same conference as possible.  No team would have multiple rivals outside of their conference.  There would only be one maximum OOC rival.  The goal would be to renew rivalries of the past and to maintain current rivalries.

3. Make conferences as equal in strength as possible.  This will give the conferences an SEC-like effect in terms of schedule strength and feeling of accomplishment of winning a conference championship.

This would be the equivalent of making the Final Four in basketball.  Winning your division would be the equivalent of making the Sweet 16.  This system would still make every game of the season important due to the fact that conference seeding would be on the line.

One of the casualties that come along with playing in a weaker conference is that the value and appreciation that comes with winning that conference's championship gets diminished as the strength of the conference diminishes.  Super-conferences would make conference championships mean a lot more.

At the same time, in a four-division system, a division championship would be something that could be in reach most years for the good teams.

4. Structure the conferences and divisions in a way that is geographically friendly to the teams that play in them.

5. Balance the combined economic strength of the teams in their respective conferences.

6. Either establish three levels—I-A, I-AA (current minor conference I-A teams and weak major conference I-A schools), and I-AAA (current I-AA schools)—within Division I football, or lump together all of the teams that would hypothetically be in I-AA and I-AAA and put them all into the FCS, leaving only the super-conference teams in the FBS.

7. Depending on which format is used (four divisions/two divisions) teams would be required to play 12 games against:

A) Every team in their division (either three games or seven games).

B) A permanent opponent within the conference from another division (one game).

C) Either four teams from another division (rotates annually) that everyone else in your division will also play (in years that one of those teams is the permanent opponent, another team within the conference may be selected), in addition to a team from one of the other two divisions (rotates annually) or one opponent from the other division that rotates annually (either five games or one game).

4) One team from every other conference (one permanent and two rotating).

So who would be in what conference?  Considering many factors, this is what I thought would be the best way to break up the conferences.


Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, UNC, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia, USF, Louisville, UCF

Big Ten

Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, Boston College, Maryland, West Virginia, Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame

Big 12

Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State


USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington, Washington State, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Colorado


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