In order to fully determine a conference champion, the best way is not in split divisions where some teams don’t play others. Sometimes, such a way works. In 2009, Alabama won the SEC West with an 8-0 conference record and Florida won the SEC East, with a similar 8-0 conference record. Then, the two played each other in the SEC Championship game as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference.
However, in 2010, Auburn won the SEC West with an 8-0 record, while South Carolina won the SEC East with a 5-3 conference record. Two schools in the West, LSU and Arkansas, finished with a better conference record at 6-2, but they did not a get chance in the Championship game. Had South Carolina won that game, then they would have been crowned the SEC Champion, despite finishing the regular season as fourth in the SEC.
The best solution is to have every team play each other. In that system, the only problem is if team A beats team B who beats team C, and they all finish with identical conference records. This is a much smaller problem than a team that is fourth or less overall in conference representing one division in the Championship game.
So, what could the SEC, as the premier conference in college football, do to work such a system out? It is actually rather simple.
First, do away with divisions. The SEC is composed of twelve teams, currently split into two six-team divisions. In this system, the twelve teams would not be divided.
Second, work out a schedule of 11 games over the 14 week regular season, with an off-week for each team, where every SEC team plays another. The games would work on a rotating basis, with teams hosting the others in off-years, as it is now. However, unlike now, no teams would roll off the conference schedule, due to being in the opposite division.
Third, schedule the annual rivalry games. Most of these will be easy. Florida would play Florida State. Georgia would play Georgia Tech. So on and so on. The conference will work out the dates of these deals, mostly the final week of the season, or Thanksgiving weekend.
Fourth, the conference will broker other non-conference games and foot the bill for Week 1. Thus, teams like Troy and Jacksonville State will fall off the schedule. In their place will be teams like USC and Ohio State. Home-and-homes will be worked out, because the conference, not the individual teams will work out the deals. This is an advantage for college football and the individual teams, because they no longer have to worry about payouts. The larger games can be played at neutral locations hosted by third parties, like the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff. In such a case, the conference is actually making money, which can be used for payouts with other games.
Fifth, give teams the option of foregoing an open date for another opponent. Not many schools will take this up because an open date can be crucial to a season, but it should be an option for the schools.
Sixth, promote regional games. Not only should games against top opponents from other big conferences be promoted, but those games against lesser profile, regional opponents should be as well. For example, Ole Miss and Mississippi State could face Southern Miss in Jackson, MS on a rotating basis. Sure, the Golden Eagles are a C-USA team, but a game in Jackson between those schools would be a huge benefit. Such games could also be worked out with Auburn/Alabama and UAB. Thus, the conference can work out one big name game for each team, some of which are annual rivalries, and another regional game.
Seventh, determine a system of tie-breakers that would leave little, if any, doubt of the champion. This would only come into effect really if three or more schools finish with the same conference record.
2) Overall record
3) Point margin in head-to-head matchups
4) Overall point margin
With two weeks of nonconference games determined by the conference on top of eleven conference games, the SEC would be able to take a stronger hold on top of college football.
In this system, the SEC would be able to determine a true champion easier than the current divisional system. Also, it puts the name of the SEC out on the line more with the high profile games, which I expect the teams to represent very well.