Promotion and Relegation for College Football

Let’s draw an odd parallel — the Bowl Championship Series and the Lebanese political system.

The Lebanese came up with an innovative way to allocate power fairly in its country — a triumvirate (if you will) based on the religious breakdown of the country.  Based on the 1932 census, the President must be a Christian, the Prime Minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament must be a Shia Muslim.  Furthermore, the deputy speaker of parliament must be a Greek Orthodox.  This inclusion of various religious groups and branches is important and embraces the religious history — namely the impact of Christianity in that part of Southwest Asia — of Lebanon.  It was great…well, at least in 1948.

Today, the demographics of Lebanon have dramatically changed.  Christians have a significant presence, but Muslims are the majority and many of those have pushed for changes in this triumvirate.  The balance of power in Lebanon has changed over the years and many in Lebanon — at least those who were once the minority based on the 1932 census — believe it is time for a change.  And while there has been change in terms of parliament, the pegging of the three religious groups to those top positions remain.

Sound familar?  It should.  The Bowl Championship Series is a system that has shaped top-tier college football in the United States.  While the BCS is primarily a post-season, exhibition system to determine a champion and participants in the most-lucrative bowls (and indirectly all bowls in general), it still has an impact on pre-BCS polls [both coaches and AP] because of what conferences (and teams) are included in the “BCS conferences.”  However, a lot has changed since the initial system was established.  Let’s examine this.

The antecedents to the current system started in 1992 with the so-called Bowl Coalition, which included the Big East, ACC, SEC, and now-defunct Southwest and Big 8 conferences [as well as Notre Dame]. Teams from outside this coalition were not allowed into the mix.  The purpose of the system was to allow the top two teams in the coalition to opt out of their bowl tie-in [SEC out of the Sugar Bowl, for example] in order to have a national championship game.  This was followed by the Bowl Alliance, which tweaked the Coalition system by rotating the championship game between three bowls — Fiesta, Orange and Sugar.  This included the same conferences [and ND] in 1995, but with the creation of the Big 12 out of the Big 8 and four members of the SWC the number of conferences involved dipped to four.  Now, notice that the Pac-10 and Big 10 were not included — both were contractually obligated to send their champs to the Rose Bowl.  Finally, in 1998, the Rose Bowl loosened up and those two conferences were incorporated into what became known as the BCS — eventually the system we have today.  The BCS did allow non-BCS conference teams into at least the lucrative bowls [Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar] as long as it is ranked high enough, but almost impossible to get into the BCS title game.  And that is where we are today.

However, the system — much like the Lebanese political setup — is no longer viable in its current form.  The Big East is a shell of its former self.  Gone are powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech [the former going through downtimes anyway], and Syracuse has struggled for quite some time now.  Yet, the Big East maintains its BCS privilege.  ACC has been mediocre and was really carried by Florida State during the 1990s.  Even with the additions of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the ACC continues to flounder.  Yet, maintains its “rights” to the BCS.  The Big Ten is 0-6 over the last three years in BCS games, and 8-11 overall.  But what would the BCS be without the Buckeyes getting blown out?

But the system is likely not changing anytime soon.  Teams from the Mountain West or Conference-USA are not going to get automatic bids along with the other “major” conferences.  But teams from the MWC get punished simply because of geography and their conference while teams from a weak ACC get reward.  Yes, perhaps Utah would not have gone undefeated in the SEC.  But the Utes certainly would have had a better record than Kentucky or Ole Miss or South Carolina.  A team goes 6-6 in the MWC, that team likely stays home.  A team goes 6-6 from the SEC, they go bowling.  And the “Utah [or Boise State] could not compete in the SEC or Big 12” is an illogical argument.  If those teams had the same television exposure, same recruiting pool, and same facilities as SEC schools, then the Utes and Broncos probably could compete annually.  Put Florida in the position of Idaho and watch what happens over time.

There is a way to, at the very least, create some justice out of the current system.  A playoff would be great, but even that has pitfalls.  The BCS and its corporate money can keep its wonderful system in place.  However, let’s unlock the conferences.  Why should the Big East enjoy the benefits of what happened over ten years ago with teams no longer in the conference?  Hell, Army used to be dominate as well — why not add them to the mix!?  There needs to be fluidity.  Enter the process of promotion and relegation!

Promotion and relegation is common in soccer leagues throughout the world.  Anyone who follows the English Premier League knows about this, however it happens in just about every soccer league throughout the world.  Basically, the bottom couple of teams are relegated down to the next lower division while the top two teams from the second-tier move up to the top level.  Sometimes, there is a “playoff” between the bottom-feeders of the top tier and the top squads in the second tier.  It is a simply idea that works well overall.

Now, I’ve had this conversation before with my colleague concerning professional sports in the United States, as well as major college football.  The idea then, though, was promoting say Appalachian State while demoting Duke.  Both are Division I programs [only football has the extra classification] so it would not impact other sports.  However, there are differences in stadium size and scholarship athletes between the two .  But the idea is feasible within the Football Bowl Subdivision.  Promote and relegate FBS conferences in and out of the BCS!

It is that simple.  This probably does not have to be every year — perhaps every two years.  If a conference has a poor overall record against other BCS conference teams including bowl games, then that conference should be relegated.  Then, another conference could move in and take the place of the demoted conference.  So this year perhaps the Mountain West could have been promoted while the Big East could be demoted.  And certainly the demoted team could work its way back in, but it needs to prove it belongs again.  It is a simple concept that could easily work with the current system.

It is beneficial in a couple of ways.  First off, assuming the scenario in the previous paragraph, the MWC would like send two teams to BCS schools — Utah to the BCS title game and TCU to another BCS bowl game.  Additionally, given that the MWC would have an automatic bid, a team like Utah could lose a came adn still go.  That is huge!  Next, fair or not, being a “BCS conference” does carry with it an added bonus in the eyes of pollsters.  There will still be human bias, but now Utah would be competing in a BCS-quality conference.  So those wins over TCU and Colorado State matter.  Finally, it rewards teams and conferences that stay consistently on top for a longer period of time.  Hawai’i was awesome last year, but it was more like a one-and-done.  Utah, Boise State and TCU have been strong for quite some time now and therefore are beneficial to the league.

It could work!  And, it keeps the current system in place, which should make AllState and Nokia and Citi and Tostidos happy.  And it gives “smaller” conferences and school a fair chance while at the same time punish those conferences that do not meet expectations [look at you ACC].

Times are different now than they were ever ten years ago.  Bowl games go beyond New Year’s Day; there are televised college football games on Monday…and Tuesday…and Wednesday…and Thursday…and Friday.  And sometimes even on <gasp!> Sunday!!!  Certainly the NCAA and the corporate suits associated with the BCS can tweak the system.  If we are not going to have a playoff [which is also missing in the Premiership], then perhaps this is the most equitable way to give other conference.  Yes, the promotion/relegation system does have flaws — potential widening of the gap between the top teams/conferences and the promoted teams and conference; conferences promoted on the basis of one great team [WAC?]; or great teams punished for having a conference that is down [Big 10?].  But, why not?  If we are going to crown arbitrary champions, then we might as well keep dreaming.

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3 thoughts on “Promotion and Relegation for College Football

  1. Being a brit I up until this season had only seen the NFL on TV.With the demise of Setanta I am now able to get ESPN America and have been watching the college football.I am not sure how the conference and divisions work.I realize that the match ups are governed by distance and finances,but I am sure some of the”minor” colleges would relish the opportunity to be able to play against the big boys.As far as I can see they will never be able to do this in the format there is now.Surely there could be a revision of the conferences and divisions into a more uniform competition.We have a pyramid system in our soccer leagues and in the past smaller teams on smaller budgets have risen to the top echelons of soccer and mixed it with the big boys and been very successful
    I know the US is much much bigger than the UK and in these uncertain economic times money is a problem something could surely be worked out for a promotion and relegation format

  2. Pingback: Random Observations from the First Three Weeks of Football « UNCLE POPOV's Drunken Sports Rant

  3. Pingback: Revisiting Promotion and Relegation in College Football « UNCLE POPOV's Drunken Sports Rant

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