With the first domino toppled, America is heading toward some pretty drastic changes in the college sports landscape. When the dust settles we may find that entire conferences will be wiped off the map and dozens of schools find themselves with new friends to play on a regular basis. The momentum seems to be behind some magic number of sixteen team conferences, and while I don't personally get it that decision is not mine to make. However if the 4x16 scenario must happen it has to happen in a way that can legitimately spawn a playoff. It may or may not have been thought about by the gentlemen concocting these plans, but a real sixteen team conference simply cannot crown a champion in less than thirteen games. Taking up thirteen games to find those four champions leaves no room for a legitimate playoff that involves not just the 64 "chosen" teams but all teams in Division I. That is why something a little more outside the box needs to be imagined, because while I don't doubt the NCAA is incompetent I hope they are competent enough to not have a sport where half of its members have no chance at a title.
In order for everything to work, numbers need to be even on all sides. Sixteen actually is a good number, in a bit of a macro sense. But instead of viewing what will unfold as sixteen team conferences we should look at them as two eight team conferences that are tied to each other. What I mean by this is you take a group of sixteen teams and separate them into eight team divisions and play a 7 game round robin with three non-con games. At the end of that ten game regular season the champions of each eight team division play each other in what becomes the first round of a playoff. Every single year these two divisions play each other in the first round, but there isn't any cross division games. This allows the regular season to be shortened while still legitimately determining who should play in the postseason, which is the only way a real playoff is going to happen.
Now that the rough framework is established, it's time to plug some teams in. Before we even get started I must put out the disclaimer that there is no way to fit 66 current AQ conference teams into 64 slots. Put Notre Dame and TCU into the equation and we will be left with four teams out of the top tier that currently are there. I don't like it but there mathematically is no way of avoiding it.
Now, the first issue to tackle relates a bit to the seemingly imminent collapse of the Big 12. Not only do I personally hate to see the Big 12 go away, but it unnecessarily leaves the entire center of the country with only half a conference to represent it. Shoehorning the Big 12 remnants into coastal based conferences hasn't made sense to me since this all started and this plan addresses that issue. With this 4x16/8x8 proposal the top tier of 64 teams is divided into regions moreso than conferences. Interestingly enough these regions are very strongly based on pre-existing conferences so as to preserve as many rivalries as possible, so I won't go off on a dissertation on how they will be composed. Instead you can look here or check it out in text form below. Divisions 1 and 2 mean nothing within the tiers, it's just a generic placeholder.
East Tier 1, Division 1: BC, Rutgers, Syracuse, Maryland, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, UConn
East Tier 1, Division 2: Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State
Southeast Tier 1, Division 1: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Southeast Tier 1, Division 2: Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Louisville, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Baylor
Midwest Tier 1, Division 1: Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Iowa, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Midwest Tier 1, Division 2: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana
West Tier 1, Division 1: Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, UCLA, USC
West Tier 1, Division 2: Arizona, Arizona State, Texas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
As was mentioned before, each division above plays the other seven schools in a round robin format with the winner squaring off against the winner of the opposite division of their region. These matchups would rotate between divisions every year so everybody knows before the season starts where that game will be. This exact same setup will happen on a second tier, but expanding Tier 2 to 64 teams will require adding about ten current I-AA teams. However, without keeping everybody in Division I-A on the same schedule a playoff can't happen, and that is the entire point of all of this isn't it?
East Tier 2, Division 1: East Carolina, Marshall, UCF, Southern Miss, UAB, Memphis, Army, Navy
East Tier 2, Division 2: Kent State, Toledo, Buffalo, Akron, Bowling Green, Temple, UMass, Villanova
Southeast Tier 2, Division 1: North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, James Madison
Southeast Tier 2, Division 2: FAU, FIU, South Florida, Mississippi State, Troy, Jacksonville State, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern
Midwest Tier 2, Division 1: Ball State, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami (OH), Ohio, Youngstown State
Midwest Tier 2, Division 2: Tulsa, Tulane, UTEP, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Iowa State
West Tier 2, Division 1: Fresno State, Hawaii, San Diego State, San Jose State, Nevada, Idaho, Boise, Montana
West Tier 2, Division 2: BYU, Air Force, Colorado State, UNLV, Wyoming, Utah State, New Mexico, New Mexico State
Obvious standouts there are Iowa State, South Florida, and Mississippi State who currently occupy spots in BCS AQ conferences along with TCU who is slated to join the Big East next year. As was said before, there's no way to fit 68 teams into 64 spots and somebody has to get bumped. Just because South Florida and Mississippi State are current members of a conference that may still be around they get to keep their spot while a good chunk of the Big 12 is left in limbo - victims of simple geography. To me no school should be off the chopping block when it comes to dropping down into Tier 2, so these four missed the cut. Youngstown State, Villanova, James Madison, Jacksonville State, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Montana all get the call up from I-AA to join the big boys, albeit in Tier 2.
Now that we have our 128 team Division I-A, it's time to revisit just how the season will play out every year. In weeks 1-11, teams play a ten game regular season consisting of seven conference round-robin games and three nonconference games. Once the winner of each regional division is determined, they will match up with the winner of their other regional division of appropriate tier in week 12. This matchup will be hosted on a rotation basis between regional division winners. The Tier 1 winners then face the Tier 2 winners of their respective regions in a quarterfinal game hosted at the campus of the Tier 1 winner two weeks after the week 12 first round. This weekend is the final weekend of our current season with conference championship games and final conference matchups for those that don't have a championship game. After this week, without adding any time to the current schedule we are down to a final four. The national semifinals are bid upon (before the season) and held at neutral sites and won't take place for two weeks after the quarterfinal round - for a couple of reasons. First, it allows fans of teams to make travel arrangements if need be. With a set bracket teams will know before the season which location they could possibly play at, but many fans will likely wait and there may be a team in the semifinal that is a complete surprise. The second reason for the two week delay is so that finals can take place without a final four game lingering on the weekend. Not every university has finals at the same time, but nearly all of them will have finals during that two week period. The national semifinals take place then typically the week before Christmas, and the national championship game is somewhere around New Years Day, give or take a couple of days (but not a week and a half, that's ridiculous).
If you're a bit confused, or just want to see everything in visual form, again feel free to check out the team listings as well as a sample playoff bracket here.
What is about to happen to college football will not come easily. There will be flaws in any plan (only 5 home games are you crazy?) and the ultimate result will certainly be flawed. This plan even has its flaws as well. However, the ball seems to be rolling downhill too quickly to stop at this point. All we can hope for is that whoever is in charge of it all picks a plan that makes sense without screwing up this game that we all love so much. However, I can't say I have much faith at all that this is going to turn out that well.
I welcome any and all comments.