College football needs a relegation system
College football is flawed. I think just about everyone out there can agree on this. What no one can agree about is just what is the biggest problem. Is it the BCS? Conferences? Recruiting? Bowls? Realignment?
And when you don’t know the problem, how do you fix it? Get rid of the BCS and replace it with a playoff, but does that fix the bowl problem? Fix the recruiting but does that change the realignment? Stop the realignment but what about the BCS or playoffs?
It’s time for a radical fix. One that will change and put a new twist on the realignment, get rid of the BCS, dramatically alter the recruiting landscape, even out the distribution of television and make the bowl process simplified. The best part about all of this is that it’s not new. It’s decades old, in fact, and has been proven to work on the grandest scale. It’s time for a relegation system in college football.
Soccer fans are well aware of the relegation system. It is in use across Europe and the rest of the globe. The worst drop down a division while the best in the lower division come up. It provides intrigue and drama for not only the best, but the worst. It encourages the mid-majors a chance to truly become more than a “BCS Buster” and instead become a top tier power.
To begin with, let’s outline just how many teams would be in the top tier. In traditional soccer leagues in Europe there are 20 teams. However, in college football we are more familiar with a top-25 and then some. I would propose instead of 20 in the top tier, turn it into a tier of 40 teams. The second tier would have 40 teams and the third would also have 40+. This totals out at 120+ teams, more than what is present now leaving room for growth. (It could also have a trickle down effect into the FCS level and they could tier as well, but that’s too much for now).
The tiers will work like this. The 40 (or 45) teams will be organized into four simple geographic regions: Mid-American, South, Central and Pacific. Those will be the teams you play during the regular season. They will be the only teams, which means no more cupcake games. From there the top 2 teams from each tier will enter a month playoff to see who is the best of that tier. Not only that, the worst teams in each tier will be automatically relegated into the next lowest tier (Tier 1 to Tier 2). The teams second-worst will play in a playoff against each other to see who does not get relegated. This will always mean seven teams “go down” and seven teams “come up” and are promoted.
The idea of promotion and relegation are what spurs the competitiveness. Financially speaking, the most money is in the upper tier. If the rights to broadcast the Tier 1 rights are at $470 million (the amount ESPN just paid for the rights to the playoff) that would mean each team gets an average of $10 million. However, you would want the placing of the teams to be incentive-based so maybe each teams gets a base of $4 million of that $470 million. The last place team that is not relegated gets $4 million where the first place team gets $19.5 million. That’s just for the regular season. In all likelihood, there would also be contracts for the postseason tournaments as well – which would mean more money.
In the lower tiers, there would be different contracts. Say ESPN won the bid for Tier 1 for $470 million. Fox wins the bid for Tier 2 for $350 million. NBCSports wins the bid for Tier 3 for $300 million. Those totals are split the same way. If you’re smart, though, you notice something. CBS is left out. The fact that there are only three tiers and four major networks drives up the bidding for these contracts, both regular and postseason. Higher contracts = bigger end of year payouts.
As far as the bowl season goes, it’s simple: everyone with a winning record plays in a bowl game. If you’re 6-4 you play a team in another region in one of the traditional bowl games. If there are bowl slots to fill, the open slots go to the best teams in the next tier that are not still in the playoff promotion hunt. Bowl games will be played on the weekend of the semi-final rounds of the championships. Each bowl is allowed to negotiate it’s own television contract generating more competition and money.
Now how does all this fix recruiting? Simple, it levels the playing fields. Suddenly all programs can be seen on TV, not just the big schools. Suddenly, smaller schools have the money to go out and recruit more states than just what surrounds them. Now smaller schools can promise the chance not just play against the big boys, but a fair shot to beat them. High schoolers would have the chance to realize that you can play for a championship at any school, not just a select five or six. It seems oversimplified, but maybe that’s exactly what’s needed.
Bowl games – check. Playoff – check. Hope for small schools – check. Chance for continued dominance for traditional powerhouses – check. Recruiting fix – check. How will all the tiers be filled in. I would suggest using the previous year’s records. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend this will happen next season. First teams in will be the conference champions, no matter the conference. After that will we pick the teams in the final top 25. Just using conference champions and top 25 there are 28 slots filled automatically. From there the teams with the best remaining records get in with conference record being the tiebreaker. If another tiebreaker is needed, strength of conference is used.
Bowling Green St*
San Jose State
San Diego State*
|Notre Dame Northern Illinois
A lot of mid major schools got in at the record stage but, if their records deserved it, why shouldn’t they get in. And if they truly don’t belong, the relegation system is in place to flush them out. The most difficult thing, year after year, will always be aligning the regions to fit only 10 teams. One year Arkansas State may be in the Central and it could be in the Southeast the next.
Tier 2 would be started with the teams with winning records that didn’t get into the upper tier. From there it would be filled out with teams that finished the year .500 overall, then teams that had a winning record in conference play, then that had a .500 record in conference play. After placing just teams .500 or better into Tier 2 there are only 10 places open.
North Carolina St
In all reality, Tier 2 is a solid level with lots of traditional powers who will work hard to move up into the top tier. Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Mississippi State, Miami, USC, Utah, Michigan State, and Virginia Tech are all former or current powers who would be great drama to see who can rise up into the top tier. That’s not counting Houston, Nevada, BYU and Ohio who have all threatened to bust the BCS in the past.
Tier 3 is very simple to set up. It’s everyone else. The trick will only be making sure there isn’t fewer than 10 teams in any region.
UT – El Paso
New Mexico State
Tier 3 does not have the most firepower which makes it look like it could be the worst of the three levels and, therefore, the one lacking the money the most. But look closely and not only do you see Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas but you also see fairly large media markets. Boston, DC, Miami, Nashville and Chicago are big markets and the fan bases of Illinois, Boston College, Connecticut, Washington State and Army will command an audience.
Is Auburn, Arkansas or Tennessee a lower tier team? Not at all. But do they have to build up like everyone else? Yep. Is Bowling Green State a top-tier team? Probably not. But do they get a chance to be one? Yep. Is this a perfect system? Of course not. Is this the type of system, however, that could eventually be accepted and drive passionate fans even further? Yes, without a doubt.
Imagine a packed Cowboys Stadium on a Friday night to watch Massachusetts take on Arkansas to see who moves up. Massachusetts has had the season of their lives. Who outside the state of Arkansas would not be rooting for Massachusetts? Earlier that night is a game between Alabama and Penn State. Both teams have been decimated by injuries and have had to call on freshmen signal callers to prevent relegation to the second tier. Passionate fans push their teams for the pride not to go down. Who does not tune into that game? Saturday night’s game has USC and Michigan State squaring off to see who gets to move back up to their rightful place in the world of college football.
The final game of the weekend is the crown jewel of the weekend. Oregon faces off against Louisiana Tech. Two high-powered offenses who have simply outscored anyone and everyone to fight for the place of champions.
Could it happen in today’s landscape of college football? Nope. Could it happen in a land of relegation football? You bet.