Football is all the rage these days. Teams are scrambling to find new conferences, and conferences are scrambling to find new teams.
If we were grand poobah of college football, how would we arrange it all? We prefer four 16-team conferences for football only. Other sports, including basketball, would be different.
Under our football system, the BCS conferences would have 64 teams, perfect for an eventual playoff system. That means a few schools with rich football traditions would be relegated to smaller, non-BCS conferences, just like many are now.
Maybe it could be worked out like European soccer, with last-place teams in big conferences each year dropped to small conferences, and first-place teams in small conferences moved up to big conferences.
For now, this is how we would set it up.
-- Sunbelt Division: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Miami, North Carolina State, South Carolina, USF
-- Old SEC Division: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee
It's a conference that features Florida's big four: Florida, FSU, Miami and USF, with three in one division. We would have loved to have put Florida in a division with the other three state schools, but we didn't want to take the Gators out of the division with traditional SEC teams, and thus lose rivalry games with Tennessee and Georgia. The Sunbelt Division, with a heavy ACC influence, would feature two big-time rivalry games: FSU-Miami and Clemson-South Carolina.
-- North Division: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, Wisconsin
-- Southwest Division: Arkansas, Houston, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU
Don't you just love reassembling much of the old Southwestern Conference, including Arkansas? Also, it keeps the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State and Oklahoma-Texas rivalries alive, as well as a slew of Texas intrastate games. Some might be surprised that Houston makes the 64-team cut, especially ahead of Baylor, but a city of Houston's size is too big to ignore. The North Division is made up of Big Ten schools plus Notre Dame. We really wanted to shift Notre Dame back east to play with Penn State, Pitt and Boston College, as well as rivals Michigan and Michigan State, but we couldn't work it geographically. That's okay. The Irish will still get to play Purdue and Northwestern.
-- Coastal Division: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC
-- Mountain Division: Boise State, BYU, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Utah, Washington
The emergence of Boise State in recent years lifts it into the 64-team field, perhaps at the expense of Washington State. Yes, we realize Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri are not in the mountains, but we dig the name of that division. As far as shifting those schools west? There aren't enough West Coast teams for a 16-team league, so a few schools had to be shifted. If they don't like it, we can move them to a lower conference; we're guessing Air Force, Washington State and a few other schools would gladly take their places. The Coastal Division looks a lot like the old Pac-10 with plenty of in-state rivalry games.
Big East Conference
-- Atlantic Division: Cincinnati, Louisville, Maryland, Connecticut, Rutgers, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina
-- Eastern 8 Division: Boston College, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia
Penn State has been in the Big Ten since 1990, but we still don't think of it as a Big Ten team as much as an Eastern team. This would allow the Nittany Lions to renew old rivalries with Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia. Because of geography (and to spruce up the competitiveness of the conference), we had to rob a few teams from the Midwest and South. The biggest name is Ohio State. You wouldn't want to separate Ohio State and Michigan. And you don't want to separate Michigan and Michigan State. Yes, it seems odd to break up the old Big Ten this way, but this is a new day in college football. Virginia Tech adds another heavyweight, and the Hokies could develop natural rivalry games with Virginia and Maryland. You might ask why Rutgers and Connecticut, teams with meek reputations in football, made the 64-team list. You have to think of media. Rutgers brings the New York City market, and UConn is in ESPN's back yard.
A few schools with long-standing football traditions were left out, such as Indiana, Duke, Iowa State, SMU, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt. They were kept off the 64-team list by their media-market size, lack of success over the past couple of decades or both.
The military academies -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- were left out. Their players work just as hard as any in the nation, but only 64 teams can make the list. The commitments of these military athletes extend far beyond the football field. Again, we're not eliminating these programs, just sending them to a non-BCS conference -- which is where they are now.