Oh, great, it's another guy on a message board with a divisional alignment proposal. Feel free to click to the end for the "Summary" portion if you're interested, or the "Back" button if you don't care at all.
Ever since the discussion of the original Pac-16 in 2010, there has been considerable discussion about how to go about dividing it up into divisions. Although the Pac-16 briefly appeared to be dead in the water, and the Pac-12 began, it's appearing more and more likely that the era of the 16 team super conference is upon us. There really are two base models (two eight team divisions; four four team pods), with a seemingly infinite number of iterations of each.
The simpler of the two proposals divides the conference into two divisions: the old Pac-8, and everybody else. 7 divisional games, two rotating cross divisional games, with a standard Conference Championship Game. This would seem to make the most sense, but it is going to make some people (notably Colorado and the Arizona schools) unhappy. It also means that, barring meeting in a CCG, you're only going to have USC play Texas every four years, the same with Oregon and Oklahoma, etc. You do get Oklahoma vs. Texas and USC vs. Oregon every year, however. As a fan, you're only going to see each team from an opposite division in your stadium once every eight years. My personal belief is that this would have the effect of having two very distinct divisions, and would feel more like two separate conferences than one big one. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of opinion, I suppose.
The pod system is more complicated, but it does allow a team to play every other team more frequently, with rotating opponents pre-scheduled and determined. This way, Texas vs. USC and Oklahoma vs. Oregon occur more often, but USC wouldn't play Oregon, Washington, or Arizona as often. There's also the problem of "how do you determine which two pod winners go to the championship game?"
I think there's a solution that not only guarantees playing each opponent a minimum of every three years, it's more likely to produce more of the marquee matchups that are good for the conference and good for TV. It also effectively creates a four team conference championship tournament while staying within the constraints of the NCAA mandated maximum number of games.
See more after the jump.
The 16-Team Dilemma
So you've got sixteen teams, which you can divide into four pods. Let's assume, for the sake of simplicity, the Pac-16 picks up Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The exact teams don't matter much, this system could fit any 16 team conference. In this example, however, the pods are fairly obvious: Northwest (UO, OrSt, UW, WSU); California (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC); Mountain (UA, ASU, Colorado, Utah) and Oil (UT, TTU, Ok, OkSt).
So far none of this is anything different. Most of the pod proposals I have seen suggest you'll end up playing all three of your pod foes, and two of each of the other pods, rotating every other year. So you'll see every team at home during a four year period, and every team would get to the desirable southern California and Texas recruiting markets every other year.
There's a few issues with this, I think. Most notably, it's possible (although unlikely) that two teams in the same pod will have only three common conference foes; this can create a dramatic difference in strength of schedule. Imagine if Oregon has to play USC, Stanford, ASU, Utah, Texas and Oklahoma while Washington gets UCLA, Cal, UA, Colorado, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State. Hardly fair. The current model has six common opponents with anyone else in the conference, I think we can at least keep that consistent within pods.
You've also got the dilemma of how do you determine which two of the four pod champions go to the conference championship game. Is it the two with the best records? That, again, has the trouble for having some significant differences in strength of schedule. Is it always the better of the Northwest & Cal pods vs. the better of the Mountain & Oil pods? You've got the same issue there, and have the potential of having a long term discrepancy between the strengths of the two halves of the conference.
The Flex Model
Keeping nine conference games, the Flex Model would start off similarly enough, playing all of your pod opponents. However, I would then propose playing all four opponents from another pod, the "Partner" pod. This maintains a relatively consistent strength of schedule across the pods. This also guarantees that, in a four year college career, you'll play every other opponent at least once. These games would also be known years in advance.
For the eighth game, I want to take a page from the NFL scheduling book. I want each team to play one opponent from a third pod (the "Flex" pod) that finished in the same position that they did the previous season. So if Oregon wins their pod this year, next year they might play all of the California pod, and a team that finished first in the Oil pod as their eighth game. Home vs. road games would be established in advance, so you would know ahead of time that next year, you're hosting the team from the Mountain pod that finishes in the same position in the division you do.
What does this do? It makes it so that the first place teams are going to get an extra marquee opponent each year. It's going to increase competition without overly unbalancing strength of schedule, and going to create better marquee TV matchups. It's going to give the weaker teams on the bottom an opponent that they have a better chance of beating than a randomly generated opponent, potentially driving up their win total and pushing them towards bowl eligibility. I realize that this will create a little bit of a strength of schedule issue that I think is a huge flaw of the 3/2/2/2 model, but this is one game out of eight, and I see it as a self-correcting model, encouraging a return to the norm.
The ninth game is where it goes off the rails a bit. Through the first eight games, each team will have played all of the teams from two pods, and one team from a third. After the eighth game, the conference standings would determine which team (from the "Opposite" pod) you were playing for the ninth game. The ninth game would match each team up with the opponent who finished in the same position in the "Opposite" pod this season.
This would mean that the winners of the four pods would all be playing each other on Thanksgiving weekend. The winners of those two games would then play in the conference championship game the first weekend of December, effectively creating a 4-team tournament while still staying under the NCAA mandated maximum number of games.
This would still be a regular season game for most practical purposes. Home/road would be determined by division, ahead of time, so teams would know if they had a home game or a road game; they just wouldn't know who was coming to your stadium, or where they were going. This would create additional marquee matchups for TV purposes, and create competitive matchups for the weaker teams. It's also sure to add excitement and ratings to the Thanksgiving weekend games. Washington vs. Utah might not seem that big a game until it becomes a playoff game.
There are certainly some drawbacks to the Flex Model, but I think they are outweighed by the positives:
- Moving the geographic rival games off Thanksgiving weekend means they will no longer be the last game of the year for any team. I think that was already kind of done with the Pac-10 championship game, though. And plenty of teams have had non-traditional rival games the last weekend of the season in recent years.
- Not knowing the destination of a game until a week before it happens makes it harder for visiting fans to travel to. It potentially creates the same problem two weeks in a row. Are Oregon fans going to want to scramble to make travel arrangements to Austin one week for a "final" game, then follow it up with making travel arrangements to Los Angeles the next week? Followed by perhaps a return trip to LA for the Rose Bowl a month later?
- You're not guaranteed to host a team every four years, which you would be in the 3/2/2/2 model. However, you are going to have more marquee games, and more competitive games. Plus, you have a four team playoff. Which, to me, sounds like $$$$$.
- You aren't guaranteed a road game in Southern California and Texas every other year, but you are guaranteed 5 road games in 6 years in California (which would occur in 3 different seasons), and 5 road games in 6 years in Texas/Oklahoma.
- There is some difficulty with having teams make travel arrangements within a week. This is already true with the championship game, however, so it's certainly doable. I understand that preliminary arrangements might need to be made, but it would be an unusual situation where the number of possible final week destinations is more than two, and truly rare to see four possibilities. This could be complicated with the fact that some teams like to play on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I don't know how much of an issue this would be, but I doubt it would be insurmountable.
- A 8-0 team could be forced to go on the road to beat a 4-4 or worse team in the semifinal in order to get to the conference championship game. I don't know how this would be much different than an elite Big 12 South team having to get past a mediocre Big 12 North team in Kansas City in order to get to a BCS game, or the Saints losing to the Seahawks in Seattle in the first round of the playoffs last year.
- This would effectively force a BCS title game contender to go through two very good teams in back-to-back weeks to make it to the championship game, making it tougher for them to get there. However, in all likelihood, this won't be the only 16 team conference around; others may have a similar issue. Furthermore, an 11-1 team from the Pac-16 would be strongly considered as a national title contender, in the same way that one loss SEC teams benefit from their conference's perceived strengths now.
- Losing a guaranteed game every other year in southern California and Texas. This may be the hardest one to swallow. All teams would still have a minimum of 2 games in 6 years in those markets, with the possibility of up to 4, depending on how the Flex and Opposite games ended up. I would think that three games in six years in those markets would be most common.
Each team would play 9 conference games every year, although only eight would matter in the standings.
- 3 games every year against the teams in your own pod
- 4 games every year against each team in another rotating pod ("Partner" pod)
- 1 game every year against a team that finished in the same position you did the previous year from a third pod ("Flex" pod). This is similar to how the NFL determines cross-divisional opponents.
- 1 final game every year against a team that finished in same position you did THIS year from the last pod (the "Opposite" pod). The two winners of the first place games would play in the conference championship game. This effectively creates a four team conference championship tournament, consisting of the winners of each of the four pods.
This would be a six year repeating cycle, shorter than the eight year cycle the Pac-12 has now. During each cycle, each team would:
- Have three home and three road games against every other team in their pod.
- Have a minimum of one home and one road game against every other team in the conference (games separated by three years).
- Have one home and one road Flex game against each other division.
- Have one home and one road Opposite game against each other division.
- The pod that is the "Play" pod in year one would rotate to the "Flex" pod in year two, and then to the "Opposite" pod in year three. It would repeat the process, just with opposite home and road games the next three years. Going from "Opposite" to "Flex" would guarantee the same teams would play two years in a row.
- Personally, I would arrange the schedule with Oregon/Washington and Oklahoma/Texas so that a team who had the Northwest or the Oil division wouldn't have either of the above pairs of schools as both home or both road games. You could do the same thing with the Cal and/or Mountain pods if you wanted, but it doesn't seem quite as needed there, at least from a historical perspective.
- The divisions that are scheduled to host the "Flex" games would be scheduled to have "Opposite" games on the road, and vice versa. This would mean that every team would be guaranteed 4 or 5 conference home games each year, depending on whether or not they had their geographic rival at home or not.
- It's also possible there's some obscure rule in the NCAA bylaws that prohibits this, even though the teams are still only playing 12 games before the conference championship game.
- Since the Partner, the Flex and the Opposite teams all come from different pods, you don't have to worry about playing a team twice unless they get to the conference championship game, which is identical to how it is now.
I know there are a zillion ideas out there, but I think I've brought some unique ideas to the table that I haven't seen elsewhere. I feel this model combines the flexibility of the pod scheduling, the added potential for marquee TV matchups, and adds the excitement of a four team college football playoff to determine the Pac-10 champion, which would be something unique and exciting.
I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about this proposal the last few days, I would welcome all feedback, positive or constructive.