Want to fix the glaring inequality in college football scheduling?
Though there are a thousand ways to complicate the issue, the answer is simple: Make everybody play by the same rules.
To illustrate, let’s compare Baylor’s 2015 slate with that of Georgia Tech and Arizona State, all three teams that will likely be featured in the preseason Top 25 rankings.
Baylor will play nine Big 12 games and three opponents out of conference. The non-league slate is at SMU, FCS Lamar, and Rice. The Big 12 schedule is Texas Tech (in Arlington), at Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, at K-State, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU and Texas.
Georgia Tech is set to play six ACC Coastal games, two cross-division ACC Atlantic games, three games out of conference and then a match with quasi-ACC member Notre Dame. Non-conference: FCS Alcorn State, Tulane, and Georgia. ACC Coastal: at Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, and at Miami (Fla.). ACC Atlantic: at Clemson, and Florida State. Other: at Notre Dame.
Arizona State will play five Pac-12 South games, four cross-division Pac-12 North games and three games out of conference. Non-conference: Texas A&M (in Houston), FCS Cal Poly, and New Mexico. Pac-12 South: USC, at UCLA, Colorado, at Utah, and Arizona. Pac-12 North: Oregon, at Washington State, Washington, and at Cal.
Here are a few top-line observations:
- Baylor won’t play a non-conference game vs. a Power-Five team while Georgia Tech plays Georgia and Notre Dame and Arizona State plays Texas A&M.
- While Baylor and Arizona State will both play nine conference games, the Bears will play every other Big 12 team while the Sun Devils will play everybody in the Pac-12 except for Stanford and Oregon State.
- Georgia Tech plays only eight ACC games, leaving Boston College, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest off the table.
- While Arizona State draws Oregon, Washington State, Washington, and Cal from the Pac-12 North, fellow South member USC also gets the Ducks, Huskies, and Golden Bears but adds Stanford in place of Washington State.
- While Georgia Tech draws Clemson and Florida State from the ACC Atlantic, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech gets NC State and Boston College.
You get the picture: Comparing schedules is messy. And we’re only looking at three teams from three Power conferences.
Here’s the simplified solution:
Everybody Plays the Same Number of Conference Games
First things first, every team should be playing the same number of league opponents. If not, teams that play eight have an advantage over those teams that play nine.
Think about it, if Ohio State plays eight Big Ten games then it has four non-conference games to play with. In 2015 that means Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan.
Compare that to Oklahoma, which will play nine Big 12 games, leaving only three non-league games: Akron, Tennessee, and Tulsa.
So while both clubs have Power-Five opponents out of conference, the Buckeyes gain an extra win with the additional, built-in non-power game. The Sooners, on the other hand, have a better chance of picking up an additional loss vs. a power team from its own league.
Ideally, the number of conference games should be nine, across the board. This also means that every team would be required to play three non-conference games.
Everybody Plays the Same Level of Non-Conference Games
The next logical move is to regulate who the three non-league games are played against.
First, it’s time to drop the practice of scheduling FCS opponents. With 128 FBS members, 63 that aren’t Power-Five teams, it’s unnecessary. Plus, it creates an unfair advantage for those teams that have an FCS program on their schedule annually.
Next, require all Power teams play at least one non-league game against a Power-Five team. It’s a rule that’s already on the books in the SEC and ACC, now it’s time for the rest of the country to fall in line.
That leaves the remaining two non-conference games open for non-Power opponents from the American, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC or Sun Belt or, an additional Power-Five foe.
In reality, this is the part of the schedule that can’t ever truly be equalized.
First, there is no way to regulate the strength of an opponent being scheduled (think Kansas vs. Michigan State), because Power Fives must be treated as apples vs. apples. Next, programs can’t control how good, or bad, an opponent is once the game finally rolls around. In other words, if Virginia Tech is on the schedule five years from now, who knows how good the Hokies will be by then?
Lastly, there are similar issues with scheduling non-Power teams: Programs can choose to play high-achieving non-Power teams like Boise State or Cincinnati, or instead opt for the San Jose State’s or Tulane’s—programs that aren’t “not good” but instead overmatched and out-funded.
Everybody Plays Everybody Else in the Division/Conference
This is the one piece of the puzzle that the shrunken-down Big 12 has inadvertently gotten right: To make things fair every team in a conference or division must play every other team.
It means that either the number of teams in a league should be limited to where this can happen, or a division should be grown until it can field an entire conference schedule.
This makes the question of whether to have one division, two divisions or no divisions mute. It also erases the inequality caused by cross-division scheduling and permanent cross-division rivals.
In other words, LSU doesn’t get screwed by having to play Florida each-and-every year, while Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt.
For this to work, given the nine-league game requirement, each conference, or division would need to consist of 10 members. This way, the entire league schedule would be made up by games with every other member. Cross-division games would go away completely.
The net effect would be the two ACC divisions adding three members each, the Big Ten three each, the Pac-12 four each and the SEC three each.
As for the Big 12, it could stay the same or face super-expansion.
Getting there would mean either melding a couple of the Power conferences together, eliminating one all together and sharing its members, or pulling teams up from non-Power leagues. Either way, it’s a win-win for those upper-crust programs that don’t have a Power-conference home.
What’s most logical is the creation of four Power leagues with 20 members each. This would increase Power membership from 65 to 80 teams, a group that could make up the new “highest” level of college football.
This scheme would not only give 15 additional teams access to the Playoff bracket, it would simplify the selection process: Four champions to automatically fill four Playoff slots. The committee just decides who plays who in the semifinal games.
The potential cost is sacrificing significant rivalry games that are protected by the permanent cross-division rivalry scheme. The solution is simple: Shuffle the divisions until the teams are aligned to protect the rivalries.
It’s worth it.
Everybody Plays a Conference Championship Game
To eliminate last season’s Playoff bracket conundrum, “Is the winner of a conference championship game more worthy of a spot than a team that won its league by playing every other member?” every league must be required to host a title game.
If the conference has no divisions, the two best teams meet again at the end of the season for what becomes an uncontested title.
If the conference has two divisions, the best team from each faction plays for all the marbles. Under the new regime, with two huge divisions, now it’s the only way the two division winners could ever possibly meet in the regular season.
That is, unless a cross-division game was played under the auspices of a non-conference game. It’s a scenario that already has precedent via a future Wake Forest-North Carolina game being classified as a non-ACC game.
The looming question with this requirement is what to do with the independent teams. Though this extends to BYU and Army, Notre Dame is always the primary concern.
The simple answer is: No more independent teams. Notre Dame joins the ACC as a full-football member, BYU finds a Power-Five home and Army, well, it joins a conference that will welcome it and its storied history.
It comes down to equality trumping tradition, meaning no one team is more important than the others.
Somehow, we’ve been bamboozled into believing that if Notre Dame wins 11-12 games, it, because it is Notre Dame, doesn’t have to win a conference, or play a regulated schedule to compete for a national championship.
It’s wrong, plain and simple. And that’s true whether you love the Irish, or hate them.
Enforcing the Changes
How do we get teams to buy in to the new scheme?
Again, it’s simple, if not harsh: Limit CFB Playoff slots to teams from conferences that abide by the amended “Scheduling Code.”
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.