theknightswhosay

Pac-12 Gets It Wrong

In College Football on June 27, 2011 at 5:44 AM

I somehow missed this back in November—or I was paying too much attention to current games to care—but I’ve been looking at the divisional alignments and schedules, and I disagree with putting Colorado and Utah in the South.

There is a wrinkle to this that makes it more digestible to the California teams, since with Colorado in Utah in the South, Cal and Stanford were placed in the North. That wrinkle is that both USC and UCLA will continue to play Cal and Stanford annually.

By the way, the scheduling format chosen continues the 9-game Pac-10 schedule, so of course every team in a division plays one another (5 divisional games per team), and every team also plays 4 non-divisional opponents. So for the California teams, it will be the divisional opponents, two non-divisional California opponents, and two other non-divisional opponents. I’ll call this the California rule.

To get some grumbling out of the way, I really don’t think this approach is fair because not only does 9 games mean some teams will get an extra home game, but there is greater potential disparity between non-divisional schedules this way. Consider this scenario. Team A and Team B are in the North, which is relatively weak. Team A beats every team in the North, including Team B. But Team A loses twice against the South, possibly against the two best teams in the conference and possibly against teams that Team B does not have to face. Despite the loss to Team A, Team B would still win the division by being undefeated outside of the division. Of course, a similar scenario can take place with an 8-game schedule, but it’s less likely that one team in this scenario would be 1-2 and the other 3-0 against the other division. That’s 33% versus 100% in the 8-game schedule rather than 50% versus 100% in the 9-game schedule.

But apparently the teams want a 9-game schedule. It has served the Pac-10 well with schedule ratings (not always easy to schedule an opponent of a quality conference when they’re all so far away…and now there are two fewer non-conference options in the West), so I can’t say it’s a bad thing for the conference, although the unfairness will continue to bother me. Anyway, my proposal assumes that there will be a 9-game schedule. I don’t think there is much point in talking about what would or should happen under an 8-game schedule.

You might say, “Why bother arguing about it at all? This is the way it is.” The SEC saw after a few years that its initial approach (which was two permanent rivals, meaning 7/8 of the schedule was the same teams every year) didn’t work very well, so it changed the scheduling rules. It did not change the divisional alignment, but in this case, the divisional change if done within a few years would not be that traumatic, since the California teams will all play each other, so that wouldn’t be a problem, and the Mountain teams are new to the conference anyway. There isn’t an alignment that just jumps out as inherently logical here, as there is in the SEC and as there was in the Big XII. The ACC, whose alignment I can’t remember, could still realign, and I don’t think it would upset many people.

I understand the respect for tradition underlying the California rule, but it will cause some problems. This would mean that there would be more games between the Arizona teams (shorthand for Arizona and Arizona St.) and the Northwest teams (shorthand for Oregon, Oregon St., Washington, and Washington St.). One of the benefits of expansion is that there will be fewer such games. Either way there will be fewer Arizona—Northwest games than there were before, but enough travel has necessarily been included due to the selection of Utah and Colorado (I’ll call them the Mountain teams) that the Arizona—Northwest trips should be minimized. I don’t think the Northwest teams even need to play an Arizona team every year, but that was the only way I could see how to get my overall scheme to work, and you have to fill out nine games somehow.

Of course, my suggestion is not that we leave the divisional alignment alone and eliminate the California rule. That would probably expose further weaknesses in the chosen alignment. It’s a choice between having the four California teams play one another as an exception to the rule (causing the adverse consequences mentioned) or as part of the rule.

USC will only play two Northwest teams to go with the two Northern California teams (Cal and Stanford). UCLA will also play two. Since there are four Northwest teams, that means there will be an average of one game per year played by the Northwest teams against an L.A. team (being USC or UCLA). So the Northwest teams will each have to play a combined three games against the Mountain and Arizona teams every year. I can’t see how that could be desirable.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
So this is the current format:

Divisions—
North
Washington
Washington St.
Oregon
Oregon St.
Cal
Stanford

South
Colorado
Utah
USC
UCLA
Arizona
Arizona St.

Inter-divisional Scheduling—

L.A. teams: Both Northern California teams annually, two rotating Northwest teams
Northern California teams: Both L.A. teams annually, one rotating game against Mountain teams, one rotating game against Arizona teams.
Mountain/Arizona teams: three rotating games against Northwest teams, one rotating game against Northern California teams
Northwest teams: three rotating games against Mountain/Arizona teams, one rotating game against L.A. teams
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is my proposed format:

Divisions—

North
Washington
Washington St.
Oregon
Oregon St.
Colorado
Utah

South

Cal
Stanford
USC
UCLA
Arizona
Arizona St.

Inter-divisional Scheduling—

All California teams: One rotating Mountain team, three rotating Northwest teams
Mountain teams: Both Arizona teams annually, two rotating California teams
Arizona teams: Both Mountain teams annually, two rotating Northwest teams
Northwest teams: three rotating games against California teams, one rotating game against Arizona teams
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Admittedly, moving the Mountain teams to the North would mean that each Northwest team would play both Mountain teams every year, but under my proposal, they would only EVER play one Arizona team per year. That seems more logical than sometimes playing two Arizona teams and one Mountain team. The two Mountain teams aren’t ideal, but someone has to play them.

By the way, Salt Lake City and Boulder are to North of Stanford/Palo Alto and Berkeley. People don’t always realize this, but there is geographically a lot of California between the Bay Area and the Oregon border, and then it’s a decent trip to get to Eugene or Corvallis from there.

Granted, a little bit would be lost from the Northern California—Northwest rivalries, but there would still be three games a year between Northwest teams and California teams. I don’t think it’s a catastrophe if the Northwest teams play the Northern California teams three years out of four (there were also such breaks in series with the L.A. teams before the 9-game schedule began), plus it’s an added bonus that they will also play the Southern California teams three years out of four. I think playing all California teams most of the time (which was same basic frequency before the implementation of the 9-game schedule) is more acceptable than playing the Northern California teams all the time and the L.A. teams rarely. If someone with an understanding of the Northwest disagrees, let me know, but watching the coverage and talking to people around here, it’s certainly the impression I get from this end that there is strong feeling by L.A. teams and their fans about playing the Northwest teams.

The Mountain teams would only play one L.A. team per year instead of two, but my proposal would still ensure they play two Arizona teams per year. I think it makes more sense for the Northwest teams to each L.A. team more routinely than the Mountain teams would.

Also, from the perspective of the Arizona teams, I think they’d rather play two Northwest teams per year than three.

I also prefer the idea of playing a home and home and then taking a break in the series, to playing (for instance) Cal one year, Stanford the next year, and having a return trip against Cal the third year.

Those are my abstract arguments. My more concrete arguments relate to how far the various teams are from one another geographically.

I’ve spent a lot of time crunching the numbers to determine what the average road trip is for a visiting team. Under the current format, it is 740 miles, and under my proposal, it would be 731 miles. But the average isn’t really that important anyway. I think it’s more important to consider what a reasonable trip might be.

Ideally, you would want the trip to be under 400 miles. That’s the kind of game that you can get excited about generally anyway, because if you’re a local fan, you may know someone who has something to do with that team, or it wouldn’t be unusual to live closer to the other team that you live to your team. Teams of that closeness tend to have better rivalries than those significantly farther apart. Also, I personally would generally choose to drive that distance, even if there weren’t a difference in price. That way, I would be comfortable leaving when I wanted, stopping to eat, etc. Same thing with going back.

I also looked at trips of 600 miles and below. That’s too much for one day for sure, but if you want to take a long weekend or something of that nature, even that might be something you would consider driving, and if you did fly, it would be around an hour. Even if you missed your flight, you could probably still get there without great expense or inconvenience on another flight. That’s not too far for a bit of a rivalry to develop either. Of course, Notre Dame and USC is a rivalry, but regional rivalries are more common and seem to develop quickly if they’re not already there. I anticipate that very soon, assuming a couple of competitive games at least, Utah and Colorado will have a rivalry despite being over 500 miles apart.

In divisional series, there would be 4 more trips a year of under 400 miles than there will be under the current format. There would be 1 more trip of under 600 miles.

There aren’t many relevant inter-divisional games, but of course under the current format, there will be the in-state California games (all of under 400 miles). Under my proposal, there will be the games between the Oregon teams and the Northern California teams (the farthest of those trips is Stanford—Oregon St., which is almost exactly 600 miles) but no inter-divisional games of under 400 miles.

Obviously, the way it’s set up, the California teams get the best deal of all because of the “California rule” I mentioned, but that wouldn’t even be the case every year. For instance, USC plays Oregon, Stanford, Cal, and Washington this year. Some years they might play Oregon, Oregon St., Washington, and Utah, and that would actually be less travel in the overall conference schedule. Regardless, I think my proposal is a good arrangement for the California teams and even if it’s USC making an extra trip to Seattle instead of to Salt Lake City, I think a lot of fans would rather have the former series.

Also, I don’t think the Arizona teams really want to play three Northwest teams per year instead of the two that I propose.

Any way I look at it, my proposal seems to make more sense overall.

My only guess as to why it came out this way was they said Washington and Oregon teams had to be in the North, L.A. and Arizona teams had to be in the South (a logical first step of course). Northern California teams are closer to Oregon, and Mountain teams are closer to Arizona. And then they said, “Wait a minute, what about the in-state California rivalries? Let’s fix that.” They should have started with, “Let’s try to keep the California teams together and make the divisions from there.” There may also have been other political considerations to which I am not privy.

This press release (http://www.pac-10.org/portals/7/images/Football/WklyRel/2011Pac-12FootballScheduleRelease3.pdf) details how the Pac-12 will work and includes a chart in case my explanation was too hard to visualize.

I’ve made a chart for my proposal, but I don’t know how to make the fancy Adobe link, so I’ll just post it the best I can here. I’m just doing the inter-divisional games. I included a total of 8 years for USC and showed which ones would be away games, assuming two inter-division road games and two inter-division home games every year (which seems like the fairest approach). The only reason I chose USC was because that was the first real schedule I came across, and I had looked at relative differences in distance, as mentioned above. The rest are by alphabetical order in the respective divisions. The abbreviations shouldn’t be too hard to understand.

South

USC
@OR OSU WA @CO
OR @OSU @WS CO
@OR @WA WS UT
OSU WA @WS @UT
@OSU @WA OR CO
OSU WS @OR @CO
WA @WS OR @UT
@WA WS @OSU UT
(They could also make it “@Colorado, Utah, Colorado, @Utah”; but I’d rather play the same team two years in a row.)

Arizona
CO UT WA OR
CO UT WA OR
CO UT WS OSU
CO UT WS OSU

Arizona St.
CO UT WS OSU
CO UT WS OSU
CO UT WA OR
CO UT WA OR

Cal-Berkeley

WA WS OR CO
WA WS OSU CO
WA OR OSU UT
WS OR OSU UT

Stanford
OSU WA WS UT
OSU WA OR UT
OSU WS OR CO
WA WS OR CO

UCLA
WS OR OSU UT
WS OR WA UT
WS OSU WA CO
OR OSU WA CO

North

Colorado
AZ AS CB USC
AZ AS CB USC
AZ AS SN UCLA
AZ AS SN UCLA

Oregon
USC UCLA CB AZ
USC UCLA SN AZ
USC CB SN AS
UCLA CB SN AS

Oregon St.
SN USC UCLA AS
SN USC CB AS
SN UCLA CB AZ
USC UCLA CB AZ

Utah
AZ AS SN UCLA
AZ AS SN UCLA
AZ AS CB USC
AZ AS CB USC

Washington

CB SN USC AZ
CB SN UCLA AZ
CB USC UCLA AS
SN USC UCLA AS

Washington St.
UCLA CB SN AS
UCLA CB USC AS
UCLA SN USC AZ
CB SN USC AZ

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