Conference realignment: Scheduling undergoes overhaul
Following the 2013 season, when college football moved from the Bowl Championship Series to the new College Football Playoff, fans and pundits alike lauded the move as a step in the right direction. While installing a playoff system was the right choice, a four-team playoff simply isn’t sufficient for the new world of college football.
There’s a lot of debate about what teams should and shouldn’t make it into the college football playoff, and with five power conferences and four spots, it creates potential for major problems to occur.
Last week in the conference realignment series, we laid out the four conferences and the 72 teams that populate them.
This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at the organization of the conferences and how scheduling would work in the regular season.
How it all works: Regular Season
Last week, we talked about how the 72 teams were organized into four conferences with 18 teams per conference. Those are further broken down into two divisions of nine teams per conference in the West, Central, East and South.
While conferences in this situation are much larger than what we’re used to, scheduling works pretty similarly to how it does now.
Each team plays the same amount of games each year as they currently do, 12 games, as well as a conference championship game in each conference.
The biggest difference in this system, as opposed to how conferences schedule now, is that we’re doing away with the traditional out-of-conference scheduling in favor of a more NFL-style round-robin approach.
The schedule is broken down into three categories of games: inter-division games, intra-division games and intra-conference games.
The first category is inter-division play. Each team plays the eight other teams from their division to determine the winner of that division every year.
The second category is intra-division play. This means that each year, a team from Division A of the West, say the University of Washington Huskies, plays two teams from Division B of the West on a rotating schedule that goes as follows:
Year 1 – Washington (West-Division A) plays Utah (West-Division B) and BYU (West-Division B)
Year 2 – Washington (West-Division A) plays Arizona State (West-Division B) and Arizona (West-Division B)
Year 3 – Washington (West-Division A) plays Colorado (West-Division B) and Nebraska (West-Division B)
This continues until they’ve played each team from the other division, and this loops every five years, with the fifth year being Washington playing Missouri (West-Division B) and Utah again.
The third category is intra-conference play. Again this is a pair of games where a team from one conference plays teams from two other conferences, like so:
Year 1 – Washington plays Minnesota (Central) and West Virginia (East)
Year 2 – Washington plays Louisville (East) and Florida State (South)
Year 3 – Washington plays Baylor (South) and Cincinnati (Central)
Year 4 – Washington plays Wisconsin (Central) and Tennessee (East).
This goes on until they’ve played each team from each other conference and continues to loop.
The intra-division and intra-conference play acts as the four out-of-conference games you might see on a typical schedule, offering a chance to see varying opponents from all over the country.
The locations of these games are broken down evenly: six home games and six away games each season with four inter-division home games, one intra-division home game and one intra-conference home game each year, and the same for away games.
When it comes to inter-division games, since you play all the teams in your division each year, it acts as a home-and-away series, as it does in conference play now.
At the end of the 12 game season, the winners of each division play each other in their conference championship game.
Divisional winners are determined by best record in division. If there is a tie, then it moves to head-to-head result.
In the Big 12 during the 2014-15 season, Baylor beat TCU in head-to-head play, but the Horned Frogs beat West Virginia, who beat Baylor. Each team had an identical conference record, and in the end, the Big 12 decided they were co-champions.
Well, that’s just stupid. It may seem short-sighted, but I don’t believe in going through a long string of tie-breakers. It may create some issues, but pleasing everyone is hard, and in the case of the 2014-15 season, it can be argued the Big 12 missed out of the College Football Playoff because of lack of commitment to one champion.
So, the winners of each division, under these criteria, play each other in the conference championship, which has big implications. The winner of the conference championship game for each conference earns an automatic bid into the college football playoff.
While that might seem like a divisive issue for some fans, I believe automatic bids reward conference champions the best, and expanding the playoffs to eight teams still allows for some strong one or two-loss teams to play for a national championship.
Next week, we’ll dive into the expanded eight-team playoff system and look at what a hypothetical playoff would look like using rankings for the 2015-16 season.