by John Furgele
College football has begun and for many, that it tremendous news. The usual suspects did their usual things and like every year, several Division 1-AA schools defeated their Division 1-A counterparts, or as the NCAA likes to say, the FCS beat the FBS.
This will soon change because the landscape of college football has to change and most importantly, will change. And, when it does Johnny Manziel, believe it or not, may be the catalyst for it.
The NCAA really does not oversee the games that are college football. Yes, they oversee eligibility, recruiting, and other issues, but the games and the structure of how the games are played are not controlled by the NCAA. If the NCAA did control the sport, there would have been a playoff many years ago. Divisions 1-AA, II and III have playoffs and the reason why is that the NCAA controls those levels.
Eventually, there will be four 18 team conferences, each divided into two nine team divisions. The ACC and the American Athletic will continue for other sports, but for football, those schools will have to find new homes.
The new football league will be called the ACF—the Alliance of College Football–and Saturday telecasts will say “ACF Football,” on your cable program guides. I prefer CFA—College Football Alliance—but those initials were used before and called the College Football Association. Even though 64 is the ideal number, 72 is most likely, because schools like Duke and Kansas, because they have been in and carry some clout, get to stay in. It might make sense to boot Kansas and Duke to the NCAA, but something tells me that lawsuits galore would envelope.
Division 1-AA (FCS) will be eliminated. Those schools will have the option of joining the non ACF schools and remaining in Division I, or they could drop down to the Division II level if they choose. My guess is that most would want to stay at the Division I level, but budgets, geography and other things may hamper that reality.
The non ACF schools can play under ACF rules, but they would not be voting members of full-time members of the ACF. They could be called associate members and they would get to be part of the ACF playoffs.
The ACF will have a 12 team playoff. With the four conferences, there would be four automatic bids to the ACF playoffs. The Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac 16 would send its championship game winners to the playoffs. There would be eight at-large selections for these playoffs and the non-ACF schools would get anywhere from two to four bids. My preference would be four, but they would be guaranteed two. Those two or four non-ACF schools would be seeded 9-12, or 11-12, no matter what their record. Remember, the 64 to ACF members are in charge; it’s their party and they are going to make the rules.
The top four seeds—not necessarily the championship game winners—would get a opening round bye while seeds 5 through 12 play. For the next round, seeds 1 through 4 get to play the other four remaining seeds. So far, so good. If 9-3 UCLA beats 12-0 Stanford in the PAC 16 title game, the Cardinal could still get a top four seed and an opening round bye.
The NCAA (non-ACF) schools would control the bowl games, if they even choose to have bowl games. The NCAA in turn, could invite ACF schools that don’t make the ACF playoffs to play in those bowl games. The advantage of the bowl system will enable schools to be rewarded for a good season and of course, it enables coaches to get more practices in in preparation for both a game and the next season. Obviously, the number of bowl games would be reduced, but inventory has become an important word in broadcasting. Sports networks want live programming and bowls would provide that. The appetite for football in the country is great and the ratings would be substantial enough to have bowl games. Finally, there is nothing wrong with two 9-3 teams hooking up in a football game.
The ACF because it is essentially breaking away from the NCAA will be able to legislate as it sees fit to. The Johnny Manziel case as stated, may turn out to be a landmark event for the ACF. The ACF could allow schools to pay their players stipends,something that we know the NCAA does not allow. One of the arguments against paying college football (and basketball) is that if you pay them, you would have to pay the other athletes in the other sports, like cross country and field hockey. Because the ACF offers just football, they could sidestep this completely. Title IX would not come into play because the institutions have already complied to those rules.
The ACF and the NCAA will all be Division 1 football and the scholarship rule would need to be altered. Currently, Division 1 schools allow for 85 scholarships while the 1-AA schools allows 63. That’s why you see 1-AA schools like North Dakota State beating Kansas State. The easy thing is to force those 1-AA schools to get to 85, but adding 22 more scholarships is not easy for any athletic budget. Assuming a scholarship is worth $40,000, just budgeting an extra $880,000 is not simple, and the accountants would not love it. The best thing to do is to have the scholarship limit set at 74, a meeting in the middle.
The playoff format will start at 12 teams. It can always be expanded to 16, 20, 24 or even 32 teams someday. That, of course, would be up to the ACF and how many they would want to invite. Ohio State could still schedule Buffalo in its season opener. They could also schedule North Dakota State without fear of losing to a lower division school. They may be a lower conference school, but they would still be a Division 1 school, just not a ACF school.
How would the ACF/NCAA leagues look. I say pretty good.
Big Ten (18): Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, Rutgers, Nebraska, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Boston College
PAC 16 (18): Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Stanford, California, UCLA, USC, Utah, Arizona State, Colorado, Arizona, Boise State, Brigham Young, Houston, Central Florida, South Florida, San Diego State
Big 12 (18): Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina State
SEC(18): Missouri, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech.
The PAC 18 is the one conference that is troubling. It makes sense for Boise State and Brigham Young to join, but putting South Florida and Central Florida in there is a bit of a stretch, but remember, this is for football only. Once football is over, those schools can go back to the American Athletic Conference for basketball and the other sports. The time zone is also a challenge,but good schedule making might solve some of that.
There it is, a 72 member ACF. The other schools may feel slighted, but remember, they are guaranteed at least two playoff spots and could climb the mountain and win an ACF championship. With nine teams in each division, scheduling actually becomes easier. You would play your division foes for a total of eight games. That leaves four non-conference games to schedule. I could see where some conferences would make a team schedule a team from the other division for a total of nine conference games, but that might mean a home and home, and Ohio State, rather than schedule Michigan State home and away might want to go Buffalo, Temple for just an example.
The division configuration would be up to the conferences. There would have to be shuffling around. One could see the Big Ten putting Ohio State and Michigan in the same division to guarantee that they play each other each season. I’m not a fan of the two in two week potential. I’d rather have Ohio State and Michigan play for the division title the last week of the regular season rather than play the last week, then play again the next week for the Big Ten title. No matter what people say, the regular season game’s importance is lessened if they have to play again the next week.
Notre Dame will have its hand forced. No more clinging to independence, or clinging to a pseudo-conference membership like they are doing with the ACC. If you want to be part of the ACF and its billions, you have to join, play and actually compete for a conference title. Notre Dame can continue to have its TV contract with NBC and their inclusion is the best reason for an eight game conference schedule. That would allow Notre Dame to play USC, Navy and two other worthy and longstanding rivalries. But, like life, they will have to make some changes. And, at the end of the day the money will be there.
The ACF has the potential to rival the Super Bowl for revenue and ratings. That may be a bit over the top, but college football continues to be sport on the rise. It used to be that college football had one dominant day of the week, Saturday. Now, there’s games on from Tuesday through Saturday with daily college football shows on all the sports networks. It continues to get more and more attention because the fans have an appetite for it. National Signing Day may never rival the NFL Draft, but it gets plenty of attention and in places like Texas, Alabama and Louisiana, it takes up weeks on talk radio.
The ACF will be more than a boon for college football. The chance for corruption is high, but corruption has always been a part of the sport and the NCAA simply can’t control the sport anymore. They acted quickly on Manziel because Johnny Football makes the association millions of dollars, yet, it’s investigated the Miami program for three years and still hasn’t announced any conclusions.
The good will outweigh the bad. Some will lament the breakup of conferences. The ACC will not be happy that its members have been absorbed by the others and the AAC, sorry, you’re nothing more than Conference USA with a bit more juice, but not much. But, Conference USA would get stronger, and the AAC, if they wish, could carry on as an NCAA member.
There is precedent here. College hockey operates under different conferences. There is no Big 12 hockey conference, and until 2013-2014, there was no Big Ten hockey conference. They have figured it out under monikers like Hockey East, Atlantic Hockey and ECAC, so football will not have any major problems with its implementation.
It’s time for change and this time, the change will be good.