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Archive for the ‘Realignment’ Category

Updated NFL Relocation Proposals

In History, NFL, Realignment on January 30, 2016 at 7:33 PM

I don’t want to get right into it, because when you talk about this subject, it provokes a lot of gut reaction, so I’ll start with a little background.

Post-merger to 2002 Realignment

Beginning with the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there was a division known as the NFC West that included the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Atlanta Falcons.

Apart from the Saints, these teams had been in the Coastal Division with the Baltimore Colts, who I suppose were theoretically potential rivals to the Falcons, while the Saints were supposed to be potential rivals to the Cowboys.

Anyway, that all got scrambled with the merger, but it was decided Saints-Falcons was a better rivalry, partly because they joined the league only a year apart. The Cowboys were also a fairly new team but had already accelerated into a top team with one of the best hires ever, Tom Landry.

Of course, logically, one team was in the central United States and another was in the East. I guess it would have been more correct to call it the NFC West and South, but that would have been too wordy.

These four teams remained in this division until 2001, although tin 1995 it got even more ridiculous as the Rams moved to St. Louis and the expansion Panthers were added.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

In the 2002 realignment, the Rams and 49ers only retained one divisional opponent apiece, and the Cardinals and the Bucs retained none.

A couple notes on the last two. After playing in the AFC for its inaugural year, Tampa Bay had joined the NFC Central in 1977. Arizona had started in the NFC East when that franchise was in St. Louis, moving in 1988.

In 2002, the Seahawks changed conferences and of course didn’t retain any divisional opponents either.

In the AFC, the Titans and Jaguars retained only one divisional opponent apiece, and the Colts retained none.

Changes in 2002.  Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted.  The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

Changes in 2002. Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted. The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

The point of all of this is to disabuse people of the notion that new rivalries can’t be formed fairly quickly and that we should not place teams into logical divisions.

The Effect of the Rams and Relocation

My primary proposal last time had the Rams in kind of a mid-South division with the Titans, Panthers, and Chiefs, so of course that idea is now obsolete.

I had thought since there were exactly four West coast teams, it made sense to put them all together, but there is a problem with that in the TV markets since the 49ers and Raiders are in the same market.

So when you have more than four teams, I think it makes sense to respect the idea that there should only be one CBS team and one Fox team in a given market. I didn’t see any reporting about this, but I suspect TV might have been one of the factors many owners switched from the Raiders-Chargers proposal to the Rams one.

Had the Raiders-Chargers proposal gone through, there would have been about six weeks where one of the two would have had to play a night game because every other week, CBS is restricted to one game on Sunday during the day. (You can get it down to six given that each team has a bye week, the two teams would play each other twice, and both networks have a doubleheader in Week 17.)

Accordingly, I have one proposal for the Chargers staying in San Diego and another in the event they move to Los Angeles.

The West

I know it was ancient history to some younger fans; but before realignment (as indicated above), the Seahawks played in the AFC against the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. I would preferably bring that back.

Why? The two closest locations to San Diego are going to be Inglewood, CA, and Glendale, AZ. I don’t agree with the idea that the Chargers shouldn’t be in a conference with either of those just because before 1970, they were in the AFL instead of the NFL.

Arizona also is in a situation that doesn’t make any sense, as can be seen on the current map.

I’ll admit that in recent years, the best intra-state rivalry in California has been the Raiders and the Chargers. However, a big reason for that is the large group of Raiders fans extending from the Bay Area to Southern California. I think the Rams moving and the Raiders staying (or perhaps moving to another state) will completely change that dynamic anyway.

If the Chargers move, I would just keep the current alignment as is. Besides, I think I have enough ideas that will challenge the status quo.

There could be an all-California division and everyone else if the Chargers move, but two reasons I don’t think that’s a good idea: (1) it would require two pairs of teams switching conferences, and (2) even if one shared market can be accommodated, two is probably pushing it.

So this is my proposal for the Western teams if either the teams stay put or it’s decided that to allow two Los Angeles teams in the same conference.

West 1

Messing with Texas

The Cowboys’ and Texans’ divisions don’t make a bit of sense, and I have no qualms about removing them from those divisions.

When the Houston Oilers still existed, they played the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals. The Texans playing the Jags, Colts, and Titans is better, but not that much better. It was really a collection of mismatches. The cities that were least appropriate for the central were removed, and the city that was least appropriate for the East was removed, and they were all put together.

The Colts are close to enough other teams that there is no reason to share a division with anyone south of Nashville for sure.

The Jaguars’ closest divisional opponent is 600 miles away even though 5 non-divisional teams are closer.

I get that Tennessee and Indianapolis worked because they were both kind of leftover mismatches and aren’t that far from one another, but the triangular divisional configuration is ridiculous.
As for the Cowboys, I have yet to see a real argument as to why that’s not a misfit that needs to be corrected. Why is it better than the Oilers in the AFC Central, the Falcons in the NFC West, the Cardinals in the NFC East, or the Bucs in the NFC Central? They were all used to it as well.

The NFL was correct in the late 1960s when it saw two teams in bordering states, the Cowboys and the Saints, and put them in the same division. Adding in a Houston team in somewhat comfortable driving distance or sub-60-minute flying distance from both only makes more sense. The Falcons would be a bit more removed, but Falcons-Saints was one thing the NFL got right in 1970. It would make no sense to undo it. Texas isn’t as close to Atlanta as Carolina of course, but it’s better than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even St. Louis.

Given the Rams’ move back to Los Angeles, I can’t think of one alignment where I wouldn’t want this division.

Two Obvious Divisions

The first keeps together four teams that have been in the same division (which they shared with Tampa Bay years ago) since the merger: the NFC North (previously the NFC Central, or as Chris Berman calls it, the Norris Division), made up of Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit.

The second one is the current NFC East minus the Cowboys. Their replacement is perfectly obvious on the map, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is about 40 miles from Washington and about 100 miles from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is less than 100 miles from New York. I don’t think you can get a more ideal division than that.

It would mean Baltimore changing from the AFC to the NFC, but Baltimore was never an AFL city. Apart from some overlap with Steelers fans in rural Maryland, I think Baltimore fans encounter would-be rival NFC East fans a bit more often as well. This would also make it so that the rural Maryland/Northern West Virginia/Southern Pennsylvania/inland Northern Virginia area could have the Ravens on one network and the Steelers on another.

The More Traditional Approach

I used a different color scheme for these.

I used a different color scheme for these.

Obviously, the most traditional thing to do would be to leave everything the way it is, but one of the things I’m not in favor of is radical realignment. This would be blowing up all the existing divisions and conferences as if they never existed. When I talked about the western teams, I even talked about trying to limit the number of teams who change conferences.

I call it radical realignment because that was the name for the proposals in baseball after the strike when it was suggested that teams like the Mets and Yankees should be in the same league and no attention be paid to which franchises were traditionally in which league.

But anyway, I’ve said how I feel about the 8 western teams, the 4 teams of the current NFC North, the 4 teams of my proposed NFC South, and the 4 teams of my proposed NFC East.

I have mixed feelings about the other. The more traditional approach would start by leaving the current AFC East (Buffalo, New England, Jets, Miami) in tact.

That leaves Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. I would just make the teams north of the Ohio River the AFC North and those to the south the AFC South.

The More Geographic Approach

East 2

You can figure out which one of the AFC East is not like the others. Miami isn’t so close to New York, and it’s even farther from Buffalo and New England.

So why not start by putting all the Florida teams into one division instead? None of them currently have rivalries that make sense anyway.

But they need another team. While the Falcons would be ideal, I’ve put them in the NFC South already to keep their rivalry with the Saints.

The Panthers are the logical choice here. They would maintain their series with the Bucs, but it would add a team in between in Jacksonville. I know the Jags haven’t had a good season in a while, but it could evolve into something like the Saints-Falcons rivalry with two franchises of a similar age in the same general part of the football landscape. This arrangement would have the added bonus of making it so the Florida television map doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock painting (see below).

florida pollock

This would require the AFC East to add a fourth team, and the remaining team closest to the coast is the Steelers, who seemingly could develop a natural rivalry with Buffalo and already have had a competitive rivalry with the Patriots, although not in the same division of course.

This would leave sort of a Ohio River division centered around Cincinnati, with the Titans to the South, the Browns to the Northeast, and the Colts to the Northwest.

Appendix

I’m done. I just wanted to post some television maps of Florida from last season if you didn’t get my Pollock remark and picture. They’re not even consistent. Sometimes West Palm Beach goes with Miami, sometimes it goes with the panhandle or the rest of the country. Sometimes Ft. Myers goes with Tampa, sometimes it goes with Miami.

florida tv 2

florida tv 3

florida tv 4

florida tv 5

florida tv 6

florida tv

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Correcting the NHL Divisional Alignment

In NHL, Realignment on December 26, 2014 at 4:56 PM

I’ll start out with a disclaimer that I’m not exactly an avid hockey fan, although I do enjoy the playoffs and I start following more intently around April. It’s just not a sport I grew up around or have attended much.

I was inspired to write this just because I happened to grab a sports page yesterday and look at the standings. I just never saw the point of getting excited about a sport 6 months before it crowned a champion. I mostly write the most about college football, and you might have noticed I don’t have all that much to say about even that in July.

I talked about some different possibilities before the realignment in 2011.

In the first two of these possibilities, I was considering the current format of two divisions per conference. What I’m about to suggest is very similar to the second of those. The only difference is I was anticipating the Eastern and Western Conferences would have equal numbers of teams, and that is not what happened. I’m just going to assume the conferences will keep the same respective numbers of teams they have now. It’s not really fair to those seeking wild cards, but on the other hand, it’s good that teams are on a somewhat level playing field (playing surface?) as the other division in a given conference.

When I discussed realignment possibilities for the NFL, a lot of people didn’t like the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being anywhere but the NFC East, even though Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are of course nowhere near Dallas. I find it really strange that so many people are perfectly fine with moving the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference even though they were always in the West and have a much longer tradition than the Cowboys, who are about 50 years old as a franchise. Also, Detroit is in the middle of two logical groups of teams geographically, so the more traditional alignment does not completely fly in the face of any geographic logic.

So one thing I would do is move them back. This would be my Central Division (or Midwest could be another name):
Chicago
Colorado
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Winnipeg

I’ll talk more about this below, but I think it’s good for Chicago to have another top franchise in their division. This isn’t the 1990s anymore, when Dallas and Colorado were among the top franchises. I understand Detroit would probably rather play more games in the Eastern Time Zone, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to play that many more games against other divisions within the conference as other divisions outside of the conference.

I think fans on the West Coast, for instance, are more excited to see teams like New York and Boston than Colorado and Dallas even though obviously Colorado and Dallas are a lot closer, so there really isn’t a good reason (other than reducing travel of course) to play non-divisional in-conference opponents more than non-conference opponents. I don’t think playing teams in the Central Time Zone is a big deal for Detroit (like it’s not a big deal for the Cowboys of the NFL to play against the Eastern Time Zone), but I am definitely sympathetic to the idea of avoiding a high number of games against the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. So if the scheduling followed this logic, it shouldn’t bother Detroit as much not to be in the Eastern Conference.

So moving Detroit back to the West creates an opening in the Atlantic Division. What strikes me is that along with the likes of Buffalo and Montreal, we have two teams from Florida. Let’s move those out as well. So now we have three spots. What collection of three teams makes the most sense together? How about the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Devils? The New York area also shares a state with Buffalo, and I get the impression from other sports you can establish some good rivalries between New York and Boston-area teams.

What’s left is essentially a revival of the Southeast Division except it’s going to go a little farther North and West. Philadelphia is fairly close to DC, and Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense as an in-state rival. Columbus is not too far from Pennsylvania either. It’s also not all that far from Nashville, which would have a natural rivalry with Carolina (another team that had been in the Southeast Division).

I wouldn’t do anything to alter the Pacific Division as currently constituted, so here are the two divisions of the Eastern Conference under my proposal:

Northeast
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
New York Is.
New York Ran.
New Jersey
Ottawa
Toronto
(I would also note that if a team were to move to Eastern Canada, you could then move New Jersey, so keep that in mind with the teams below as well. Also see the map below.)

Southeast
Carolina
Columbus
Florida
Nashville
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Washington

I’m putting this all on the map below. The Southeast Division is in Yellow, mostly corresponding to the current Metropolitan Division. The Northeast, which mostly corresponds to the current Atlantic Division, is in blue. The Central/Midwest is in green, and the Pacific is in red.

Each proposed division is a different color.  Uninhabited states/provinces are gray.  No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

Each proposed division is a different color. Uninhabited states/provinces are gray. No state or province has teams of multiple divisions.

This is the map of the current divisions. New York State is sort of a teal color since it has teams in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

Map of the current divisions

Map of the current divisions

I looked up the Stanley Cup Finalists since the lockout season, and I think I’ve done a reasonable job with competitive balance even though that wasn’t my primary objective. The four divisions have all either had 4 or 5 finalists in that time. The only division clearly more successful than the rest by this measure is the Pacific, which has won three Stanley Cups in that time and also had two runners-up.

My proposed Northeast Division also has had 5 finalists, but it has the fewest Stanley Cup Champions. Boston won in 2011, but the last team in that group to win before that was New Jersey in 2003.

The Southeast had 2 champions (Carolina and Pittsburgh) and 2 runners-up (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) in that time and also won the last Stanley Cup (Tampa Bay) before the lockout season.

The Central/Midwest had three champions in that time (Chicago twice and Detroit) and one runner-up (Detroit).

I’m open to additional information I might be overlooking, but this seems a lot more sensible than having Florida teams in the same division as Canadian teams and having another division that goes from Nashville to Denver.

How a New SEC Scheduling Format Might Look Part II

In College Football, History, Realignment, Rivalry on August 23, 2014 at 6:25 PM

So in Part I, I talked about the arguments and some reasons why the SEC could be moving to a nine-game schedule. My reason for coming up with scenarios is because I would hope that the additional games would be the most compelling and logical ones possible. This is why in this scenario I would want the SEC to move to two permanent opponents rather than one permanent opponent with two in rotation.

My first group of proposals is based upon the divisions as they are. I talked about potential realignment last May, so I don’t want to rehash all those arguments again, but I’ll add a few possibilities for match=ups in a realigned SEC at the end.

The first is what I believe to be the most traditional approach. Under each team is listed my two proposed permanent opponents. I relied on this site for most-common opponents: http://football.stassen.com/records/all-opponent.html. It doesn’t count all the turn of the (20th) century games, but that’s not really important to this analysis.

Anyway, bolded opponents are the most commonly-played interdivisional games; italicized opponents are the second-most commonly played. What is true for one team is not always true of the other. For instance, South Carolina rarely played any SEC West teams before joining the SEC. They played Alabama and LSU the most, but they’re nowhere near the top of most commonly-played SEC opponents of either LSU or Alabama.

There were a few spots, such as with the four newer teams (Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and South Carolina), where the match-up is based more on geography than history, but where I didn’t think the connection was obvious, I put a mark next to the team with a note below. Some people might have an easier time looking at the map.

SEC East SEC West
Missouri Auburn
Texas A&M Georgia
-Arkansas -South Carolina#
Arkansas Georgia
Auburn -Missouri
Tennessee% -Ole Miss&
Florida Texas A&M
LSU Missouri
-Miss. St.* -South Carolina^
South Carolina LSU
-Auburn# Florida
-Texas A&M^ Kentucky
Kentucky Alabama
LSU Tennessee
-Miss. St.~ Vanderbilt
Tennessee Miss. St.
Alabama Florida*
-Arkansas& -Kentucky~
Vanderbilt Ole Miss
Ole Miss Vanderbilt
Alabama -Georgia%

Notes
*Florida does have a longer series with Auburn, but Miss. St. is still a traditional series. The Gators have played Miss. St. more than they’ve played Vanderbilt, Tennessee, or South Carolina. Between 1955 and 1992 (when the SEC was first divided into two divisions), Florida actually played Mississippi St. more than it played LSU.
On the other side, Miss. St. has played no team of the SEC East more than it has played Florida.

#These two teams admittedly have not faced each other often. Before South Carolina joined the SEC, there were only 4 games played between the two.
Still, it makes a lot of sense geographically. This is better for South Carolina than either Mississippi St. or Arkansas, neither of whom have a reason to play the Gamecocks (other than recent custom).
LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama were the only teams the Gamecocks had historical series against before South Carolina joined the SEC, but the Gamecocks are #6 in the SEC East for all three teams, ahead of only Missouri.

&Other than South Carolina, which Arkansas was forced to play when both joined the SEC, Tennessee is Arkansas’s most-played opponent in the SEC East.
Tennessee is more accustomed to playing every other team in the SEC West, apart from Texas A&M, but again, this is a decent geographical pairing.

^There is no good reason for South Carolina to play Texas A&M other than the fact that they’re both in the Southern part of their respective divisions and both are among the four newest SEC teams.

~Mississippi St. has only played Kentucky two fewer times than Ole Miss has. Mississippi St. has also only played Tennessee four more times than it has played Kentucky, but it has played Kentucky more in the last 60 years.

%Ole Miss and Georgia are each third on the other’s list. Ole Miss’s second is Tennessee, and Georgia’s second is Alabama. Since 1955, Ole Miss has actually played Georgia 16 more times than Alabama has. In the same period, Ole Miss has played Georgia two more times than it has played Tennessee.

sec-conference-map traditional

I don’t have the energy to make another chart like the one above, and it’s after 10 on the east coast, so I’m just going to post two pictures for each arrangement below. One will be a screen-capped list similar to the above, and the other will be a map showing how the teams are matched.

The traditional proposal above does not try to take into account competitive balance. I have one more than also does not take into account competitive balance, but it works better for some teams and not as well for others:

Unbalanced
sec-conference-map unbalanced

The below was my first attempt to change some of the opponents so that it would try to have each two-team combination balance out competitively. For instance, in the last one I posted, I can see someone from Auburn being upset with having to play both Georgia and Florida every year while Alabama would be playing Tennessee and Vanderbilt instead (even though Vandy has had a couple good seasons lately).

balanced 1
sec-conference-map balanced 1

The fourth one I did was more of a hybrid. Teams would be a little less happy with it due to where these programs are right now; but on the other hand, it makes a little more sense historically than the one I just posted.

balanced 2sec-conference-map balanced 2

The below was the only series of match-ups that made sense if the simplest realignment takes place, which would be switching Missouri and Auburn. As I mentioned before, Auburn is clearly to the East of Vanderbilt of the SEC East as well as all the other SEC West teams. Auburn is nearly as far East as Knoxville (Tennessee) and Lexington (Kentucky). Obviously, we would want to have a permanent series with Alabama, but two other major series for Auburn are Georgia and Florida, which would both become intra-divisional series. Missouri of course is among the three westernmost teams in the entire SEC. Not coincidentally, three of the most logical opponents, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss, are all in the SEC West.

AU-MU realignedsec-conference-map AU-MU

The final maps are two variations of permanent opponents in a North/South alignment. The one that makes the most geographic sense is presented first, but I think there might be some griping especially by Florida and Auburn.

North South 1sec-conference-map north-south

The second proposal would make things difficult for both South Carolina and Georgia, but being that they could both be expected to be in the title race every year and we would take Florida out of the mix (by moving them to the new SEC South, made up mostly of the current SEC West), I don’t think they’d have too much right to complain. All four teams that have recently won BCS titles would be in the South.

North South 2sec-conference-map north-south 2

How a New SEC Scheduling Format Might Look Part I

In College Football, Realignment, Rivalry on August 20, 2014 at 6:56 PM

Watch-SEC-Football-Online-e1374758489890

IA) Why Nine Games and Why Talk about It Now

The main reason for writing this is discussion of who should play whom in the event the SEC does adopt a nine-game schedule, but I feel like I would be remiss if I did not have a full discussion of the issues involved in this. But in a fit of preseason enthusiasm, I wrote about some more global issues.

As a preview, I expect to release the second part sometime this weekend (as early as Friday), and sometime early next week (as early as Sunday), I will release my preseason rankings. I believe there is some kind of MAC game a week from today, and then there are some games of real interest next Thursday, so I definitely plan to post by then. I think I know what my top 25 will be, but I want to try to have a somewhat presentable introduction to the season.

I’ve read in some places that it’s inevitable that the SEC schedule will eventually move to 9 games. I’m not sure if that’s true though. That would mean an SEC champion who makes the national championship would play 10 games against SEC teams as well as two (additional) games against the top four teams in the country. With three additional games, that’s almost an NFL season. Others expect yet another game to be added since many anticipate it’s inevitable for the four-team playoff to expand to eight.

So that’s one argument against. Another is the SEC teams place a high premium (literally) on home games. That’s a lot of revenue lost if you take just one away. Teams like Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida have longstanding home and home series with in-state rivals. I suppose those could be made so that they’re home games in the years where there are 5 road SEC games, but some programs want to try to get eight home games.

Another part of the argument against five road games is those teams are at a distinct disadvantage. Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. have been less than intimidating at times in recent years, but I wouldn’t expect an easy win in either place anymore. Kentucky may be the closest thing to an easy win in the SEC now, but they seem to get good crowds that show up and influence the games in the seasons when the Wildcats are competitive.

There were good arguments against the SEC expanding to 14 teams though, and of course that happened anyway. So I wanted to consider some options the conference would have in that case.

The SEC has stated that a change if made will not take place until 2016, but the conversation should begin now about what to do in either scenario. Since adding Texas A&M and Missouri, this will be the first season where the intended rivalries will start taking place. For instance, it will be the first year Arkansas will play nearby Missouri rather than South Carolina, which never made any sense except to make Lou Holtz face his former team when Holtz coached the Gamecocks. The last two seasons maintained the existing rivalries and scheduled other game on an ad hoc basis.

I don’t feel this is appropriate for a number of reasons. One is teams should be able to schedule out-of-conference opponents in advance. Part of the problem with the number of games played against FCS and bottom-rung FBS opponents is the result of such contracts being cancelled at the last moment. So one school pays the other a cancellation fee, which is then payed to a third school to come in for usually just one game that season.

Competitive FBS teams are rarely willing to do this, and other teams expect to be paid for the expected humiliation (which doesn’t always pan out, of course, but they still get to keep the money). Sometimes the team that cancelled simply wanted to play another home game, so that might not result in a good match-up for them either. I think this is one of the reasons LSU started accepting these neutral-site games. Some recent last-minute attempts to land an opponent did not go well.

Another reason is recruiting. Let’s say an SEC East team is recruiting a player from Texas. He might want to know how many games his family can travel to, so he would want to know how many times in the next four or five years that team might play at Texas A&M, at LSU, and at Arkansas. In some cases, the parents might care even more than the player. They might want to go to a certain number of games regardless; but in deciding between schools, how much travel to expect is a valid question.

To simplify matters, I’m going to explain three numbers for a scheduling format. The SEC currently operates a 6-1-1 format. This means there are six divisional games, one permanent interdivisional opponent, and one rotating interdivisional opponent. Under the current system, this means that for those opponents who are not permanent, they will only play a given team in the other division once every six years.

The Pac-12 has a nine-game schedule with fewer teams, so there are only two teams in the conference each year that a given team will not play. The format in the Pac-12, at least for the California teams, is 5-2-2. The format for the rest is 5-4, although due to the California teams all playing each other every year, this means that the four inland teams (Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah) will play one Northern California team and three Pacific Northwest teams each year. The four Pacific Northwest teams will play three inland teams and one Southern California team each year.

To give you a hint as to Part II of this blog, I’m going to suggest a 6-2-1 format for the SEC (in the event it goes to nine games), so if you want, you can let me know what your favorite inter-divisional match-ups are.

IB) “The Same Rules” and Alternative Approaches

The head coach of Stanford, David Shaw, criticized the SEC for playing cupcakes in November, presumably referring to the non-rivalry games played in SEC off-weeks. I don’t understand why that’s a problem and having a late bye week isn’t, but we don’t have to go into that now.

To be fair, his team has every right to play a tough schedule, but that’s the only reason Stanford would have belonged in the conversation for the top four last year. Their loss to Utah would have taken a lot more to overcome than Alabama’s loss to Auburn after time expired. So if the SEC played the same number of conference games as the Pac-12, particularly if they are compared to a team with a competitive non-conference schedule (Alabama didn’t really have one, apart from the opening game against Virginia Tech, but the Hokies were not very good last season), there goes Stanford’s argument. I doubt Shaw would see it as “the same rules” if he actually got what he wanted and as a result two SEC teams made it ahead of a Stanford team who won the conference despite a loss.

It also annoys me that not playing nine conference games is considered backing down now. It used to be that you played 10 games in the whole regular season. So if we still stuck to that, it would mean that a team that went to a conference championship would play 0 games outside of conference before a bowl. Historically (until about 1970), a normal amount of games against your conference was six.

Before the SEC became the first team to expand to two divisions in 1992, it still only had seven conference games per team. The Pac-12 (then the Pac-10 of course) had some teams with only seven conference games as recently as 1985. Some teams in the ACC played only six conference games as recently as 1987.

So a more traditional balance between in-conference (8 with a possible 9th is still a lot more than 6 or 7) and out-of-conference is “backing down” now.

I think it’s actually problematic to have fewer and fewer games that we can use to judge one conference against another, which can only fairly be done by looking at such games. Doing that, the SEC has typically done better than the Pac-12, including out-of-conference winning percentage overall, winning percentage against FCS teams, and winning percentage against BCS teams. This is including in years that were supposedly bad for the SEC but when the SEC had a lot of depth. I remember one year when Ed Oregon was the head coach of Ole Miss, the Rebels went undefeated out of conference and lost every game in conference.

Frankly, I would be happy if only the divisional games counted toward the race for the divisional title and six other games were at the discretion of the school. Maybe they should be encouraged to play at least two games against the other division, but if Florida were to play Florida St. and Miami in the same year, maybe even two additional SEC games wouldn’t be necessary. On the other hand, if the Gators wanted to play LSU and Auburn every single year, their two most traditional SEC West rivals, they could. They would not necessarily have to rotate in Arkansas and Texas A&M, and the Aggies and Hogs might be just fine with that.

Then a team like LSU would have less of a problem with playing Florida every year. As strong as both teams have been in the last decade or so, they have never made the SEC title in the same year. The same is true with Auburn and Georgia. More often than not, only the winner of the game has a decent chance to win their respective division.

It’s probably best LSU didn’t have to play Florida again in 2006, just because they probably would not have made the title game even if they had won the SEC, but it’s still a good example of what can happen. Arkansas lost one game in the division. LSU lost one game in the division. LSU beat Arkansas. Who made the title game? Arkansas. What? Well, that year, LSU had to play a Florida team that would go on to win the national championship, on the road I might add. Arkansas didn’t play any particularly good team from the SEC East, but it didn’t matter. One fewer conference loss meant the Hogs went.

For an example from the SEC East, I’ll go back to 1997, when LSU got its only victory against Spurrier when he was at Florida (the game was in Baton Rouge). LSU did not win the SEC West, but they lost to Auburn due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even though Florida beat Tennessee (which of course didn’t have to play LSU or Auburn) and Auburn for good measure, the Volunteers went to the SEC title game instead and narrowly defeated Auburn before losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Despite what should have been an SEC East (if not SEC) title and despite handing Florida St. its only loss of the season for the second year in a row, Florida was relegated to the dreaded Citrus Bowl.

How I Would Re-Align the NFL

In NFL, Realignment on November 19, 2013 at 8:11 PM

As most of you know, I usually talk about college football, so if that’s what you’re here for, feel free to check out the LSU/Texas A&M Rivalry blog.

I know most people don’t talk about NFL Realignment since the teams haven’t changed in a while, but I just think it would make sense. I think there are a lot of fans who end up watching weird games because many of the divisions don’t fit well on the map. I don’t think anyone will listen to me, but I thought it was nice to think about. Let me just start out with a map of how I think it should look, and I’ll have some discussion below.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Edit: I made a picture of the current divisions to show how silly it is by contrast: http://imgur.com/P0o616N

NFC South
New Orleans
Atlanta
Jacksonville
Tampa Bay

The Saints and Falcons, rivals since the Saints’ first season in 1967 (which was the Falcons’ second season), stay together. It makes a lot of sense to break up the current AFC South. A division stretching from Jacksonville to Houston to Indianapolis for the sake of keeping everyone in the same conference was silly. If it’s not immediately obvious, I’ll explain why the Dolphins were left out below, but I thought at least two of the Florida teams should stay together. Tampa Bay has already been playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans.

NFC East
Philadelphia
Washington
New York
Baltimore

I know the first three teams are used to playing the Cowboys, but I think they’ll get over it. It just makes too much sense in my opinion to have Baltimore playing Washington and Philadelphia in particular.

I can only really talk about my own experiences as a Saints fan in how I look at such changes. I did have a bit of nostalgia for the regular 49ers games over the weekend, but it just didn’t have much to it beyond football. Atlanta, on the other hand, goes a lot deeper. If you’re in New Orleans, you probably know people in Atlanta or from Atlanta. There is a lot of overlap of the two fan bases, not only in moving from one city to the other but also in places like Alabama. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, that instantly added a lot of fuel to the rivalry because even though it’s not as close as East Coast cities, St. Louis is still considered a nearby big city and there was a lot of interplay between Rams fans and Saints fans.

Anyway, you get over playing an opponent just because you’re used to it. I think with the logical passions that would develop in the actual geographic area, the Cowboys would be forgotten fairly easily.

As for the Ravens, I think the fact that Cleveland and Cincinnati were not natural rivals added to the intensity of the rivalry with the Steelers. But if you remember, that developed fairly quickly. It hasn’t even been 20 years since football returned to Baltimore.

The NFC North (Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit) should remain the same.

NFC West
Dallas
Denver
Arizona
Houston

A lot of people in Texas don’t seem to have noticed they have another team yet. Maybe by having the Texans play the Cowboys, people will realize this. I thought it was a really good fit to combine the two Texas teams with the two Mountain time zone teams. The Cardinals are technically in the Mountain time zone all year, but I do realize they’re two hours off for the first couple of months of the season since most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Other than habit, I don’t see how it makes sense to have two teams in Texas and insist they play in two different conferences and also to have two teams in Missouri and insist they play in two different conferences. Since Texas makes a lot more sense with Arizona, I decided to put that pair in this division.

AFC North
Pittsburgh
Cleveland
Cincinnati
Indianapolis

Basically, you have the two Ohio teams, and then you add a team from either side of the state. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati have been playing one another as long as I remember. I clearly remember the Houston Oilers being in that division. Other than trying to break up the AFC East or NFC North, there is no other place that makes sense for the Colts.

AFC Central
St. Louis
Tennessee
Kansas City
Carolina

I just mentioned the old AFC Central (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston), but I couldn’t think of a better name for this one. St. Louis and Kansas City are naturals, and Tennessee and Carolina are more leftovers, but that could be a good rivalry too. Tennessee does border North Carolina. I also toyed with trying to put everyone but Kansas City in some kind of Southern division, but ultimately either the AFC North or one of the Eastern divisions was going to need a Southeastern team, so I went with the Dolphins since they’re already in the AFC East. They’re all in the in-between zone between the North/Midwest and the Deep South.

AFC East
New England
New York
Buffalo
Miami

Like the NFC North, this one remains the same. I already explained why I decided to leave Miami here. It’s the only spot on the map that doesn’t make any sense, but I couldn’t see any logical way to change this.

AFC Pacific
Seattle
San Francisco
San Diego
Oakland

The 49ers preceded the AFL by only about 10 years, and the rest were all AFL teams. I know the 49ers have been in the NFC the whole time, but Seattle would be back where they belong, in my opinion. The 49ers and Seahawks are already familiar with each other from recent years, and I think it would be fun seeing the rivalry between the Seahawks and Raiders renewed. Chargers/Seahawks won’t get anyone excited, but San Diego will still be playing Oakland, and San Francisco would be an added bonus. I think that would make up for the loss of Denver (a good ways away from San Diego anyway), and Kansas City was never the best fit with the West Coast teams.

Based on the discussion in the comments, I have a compromise map. I don’t think it works as well, but I would also favor it over the current divisional alignment.

NFLTeamsMap

Thoughts on Pac-12 expansion

In College Football, Realignment on November 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM
Logos in white boxes represent potential additions.  The red areas are the current South Division, and the blue areas are the current North Division.

Logos in white boxes represent potential additions. The red areas are the current South Division, and the blue areas are the current North Division.

With BYU’s success as an independent team (despite losses to Virginia and Utah, the latter a recent Pac-12 addition), I still think the Cougars would be a good fit for the Pac-12. That’s the real rival for Utah–not Colorado, who doesn’t have a real rival in the Pac-12.

I know the conference is expressing reluctance to expand, but it wasn’t too long ago that it was talking about 16 teams. Also, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that the Pac-10 and Big Ten didn’t want to expand, didn’t want a championship game, and didn’t even want to be involved in the BCS. Both wanted their champion to play in the Rose Bowl and for that to be the end of it. A few conferences seemed happy at 12 but have expanded/are expanding anyway.

I still don’t understand why public “research universities” is such a priority for Pac-12 admission, but people always bring it up. I had never heard much about Utah or Arizona St. (or a couple of the more long-standing Pac-8/10/12 schools) being academic powerhouses. Anyway, I do know BYU is a good school (without so much research maybe), and since they’re unaffiliated and there are two schools in the Rockies unconnected with the rest of the conference, it seems it would fit.

Although I don’t know anything about its standing among other schools academically (promotional materials seem to make their research sound impressive: http://www.depts.ttu.edu/vpr/), Texas Tech would be a good way to expand into the pool of Texas talent since it is in Western Texas, actually not very far to the East (although significantly to the South) of Boulder, Colorado. It was one of those potential additions to the Pac-12 when the Big XII nearly fell into pieces.

How to align the divisions would be a challenge, although I do have an idea of how that could be done. Basically, take the 7 rivalry pairs and put all the more sophisticated schools in one division and the other schools in another. Washington St. and Oregon St. seem a little grittier than Washington and Oregon, the latter two being rivals of one other anyway. Stanford/Cal, USC/UCLA, and BYU/Utah are fairly obvious since the first one of each pair is private and the second public. I don’t think I have to elaborate on why Texas Tech is more rough-around-the-edges than Colorado. Just imagine Boulder, then imagine Lubbock. By reputation, Arizona seems a little more buttoned-down than Arizona St., but I’m not sure that matters either way.

Colorado could have an even better rival in Air Force, although that doesn’t really expand the recruiting base. It may add to fan interest though. The service academies have fans scattered all over. Of course, Air Force also regularly played BYU and Utah when all three were in the Mountain West and WAC. The team right now is pretty bad though. You don’t always want to focus on the short term, but I think that would be a meaningful concern. The Pac-12 doesn’t want another doormat.

Boise St. doesn’t have much of an academic profile, but that would seem to make for an easy transition. The Broncos already have the talent and interest to compete, and it would be natural to add them to the Pac-12 North and BYU to the Pac-12 South. I still think teams in Colorado and Utah being in the South seems a little off, but my understanding is everyone not in California wants to play in California at least once a year.

Fresno St., UNLV, San Diego St., and San Jose St. could be other possibilities if academics aren’t a priority. UNLV and San Diego are big unexploited media markets for major college football (and in the case of UNLV, there are no major professional sports in the area either). I’m not sure how much San Jose St. and Fresno St. would add, so they’re probably least likely, but they make obvious geographical sense. There are half a million people in Fresno and no major sports in the surrounding area, where arguably another half a million people or more live. San Jose St. isn’t very far from Stanford, but not everyone is a Stanford person.

Another possibility I thought of was Hawaii, which apparently does have some research credentials, but that program has crashed and burned since June Jones and Colt Brennan left the islands, so it has some of the same problems as Air Force, except I think Air Force has better road fans. Logistics aren’t very favorable for Hawaii either, of course.

Nebraska is a long-shot, but I thought it worth mentioning. I don’t think the Big Ten is quite what the Huskers signed up for. If they have to play a 9-game conference schedule and travel to one of the coasts, why not the Pacific Coast instead? With Colorado, at least they would get one of their traditional rivals back. Maybe if they joined along with Texas Tech, that would be the best way of including new teams in a more logical way.

As to how the divisional alignment would work, Utah could just be switched to the North and keep playing Colorado as a permanent opponent (or “protected series”, as the Big Ten calls it). Berkeley is about the same distance away as Tempe (Arizona St. is the second-closest Pac-12 South opponent for the Utes) is anyway. Nebraska would also help out the competitive balance in the long-run. I’m sure that would be a really expensive proposition though.

Realignment Revisited (Again)

In College Basketball, College Football, Realignment on August 31, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I’ve written about this a few times, but as the college football landscape keeps changing, that will change what realignment solutions make sense. Some of the conference additions and subtractions do make a bit of sense, and there is no reason to cause new problems unnecessarily.

One of the more noticeable things about the alignment going into next season is the number of new independents. Before BYU left the Mountain West to become independent, there were only three independent programs: Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.

The independents swell to 7 programs this season. Idaho and New Mexico St. were left without conferences when the WAC folded and no one picked them up, and Old Dominion joined the FBS as a transitional team. (Fewer than half of its games this season will take place against other FBS teams.)

Old Dominion is scheduled to join Conference USA (and I believe this is the move that makes the most sense anyway), but the CUSA will have an uneven number of teams next season as it awaits the development of UNC-Charlotte’s football team.

I mentioned last year that the absence of the WAC left a bit of a vacuum out West, and I believe this is still true despite SMU and Houston joining the former Big East (now AAC) and despite Mountain West expansion.

The only change I would make to the Mountain West is I would replace New Mexico with Idaho. New Mexico is admittedly a more traditional team to be playing Air Force and Colorado St., but I don’t think that’s the natural place for them. Idaho is a better fit with the rest of the Mountain division: Boise St., Utah St., and Wyoming. New Mexico also fits a lot better into my proposed Big West/Sunbelt/WAC conference:
Rice (currently CUSA)
Texas El Paso (currently CUSA)
Texas San Antonio (currently CUSA)
Texas St.
New Mexico
New Mexico St.
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech (currently CUSA)

So that’s 4 Texas schools, 2 New Mexico schools (one of which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Texas), and 3 Louisiana schools. That’s why it’s so much more fitting for New Mexico than it is for Idaho. Also, it would be much more conceivable for New Mexico to finish with a winning record.

This is what Conference USA would look like in 2015:

Eastern Division Western Division
Florida Atlantic Alabama Birmingham
Florida International South Alabama*
Georgia St.* Troy*
Marshall Southern Mississippi
Middle Tennessee Arkansas St.*
NC-Charlotte North Texas
Old Dominion Western Kentucky**

*currently Sun Belt
**Western Kentucky is playing in its last season in the Sun Belt and will already join CUSA next season.

If you think I missed a few Sun Belt teams, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International are all playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA right now. UT-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are also playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA, but I think the give and take might work out if it’s something like what I presented. I know the conference big wigs aren’t going to read this and change everything tomorrow, but moving toward something like this would be a viable long-term plan for the respective schools and conferences. I’m not sure how all the legalities work, but whatever the new conference is called could conceivably be a successor to the Sun Belt.

The major conferences may be fairly set for right now, as moves have been made to secure programs’ television rights even if they join new conferences in the future, but I think there may be some changes where two conferences can simply work it out and the TV requirements could be waived for the right price. Maybe there will be some trades like what I’m suggesting above for the more minor conferences.

Apart from SEC scheduling, the main thing that doesn’t make sense to me in the major conferences right now is we still have a 10-team Big XII and not too far from Morgantown, West Virginia, (which is not anywhere near other Big XII campuses) there are two schools you may have heard of called Cincinnati and Louisville. Cincinnati may be relatively easy to recruit since it’s in the AAC (the former Big East) rather than in the process of joining the ACC like Louisville is. But it would seem to me that Connecticut (another AAC school) would be a better fit in the ACC anyway. They’re a natural rival with Boston College and Syracuse and at least a historical rival with Pittsburgh (if you’re out of the loop, Syracuse and Pitt are also joining the ACC). I would also hope the ACC would consider a more logical approach to their divisional alignment.

I know Louisville won the national championship in basketball, but I can’t imagine that Connecticut wouldn’t be just as good of a long-term possibility in that sport (with multiple championships in recent years). Connecticut only recently started having a major football team, but that program could be just as good as Louisville’s also. There is also the matter of Connecticut possibly driving TV revenue in the New York area. I can’t imagine that the ACC would require too much money in order to go along with something of this nature.

Solving the SEC Scheduling Dilemma

In College Football, General LSU, History, Realignment, Rivalry on May 30, 2013 at 11:47 AM

We are now more than halfway through the college football off-season. I hope everyone hasn’t forgotten about me.

I’ve had a few minor things in other sports I wanted to write about in isolation, but I might do a bigger blog about other sports in the next few weeks.

To make the blog friendly to people who aren’t avid college sports fans (or at least might not have been for the last 20+ years to the same extent I have been), I think some background is in order. Before 1992, the SEC was 10 teams and had been that way for nearly 30 years (after Tulane and Georgia Tech had departed in the 1960s). There were not formal divisions, but there were teams that traditionally played one another and other teams that did not.

I know more about LSU, so I’ll use them as an example. LSU has played Florida every year since the early 1970s, but fans would drive (or fly) past Auburn (who very rarely appeared on LSU’s schedule) on the way there. The two teams of Tigers rarely met before the division system was implemented. (The division system entails playing every team in your division every year, and LSU and Auburn were placed in the same division, so they began playing annually at that time.) LSU has remained a permanent opponent of Florida despite being in another division, but since there is only one permanent inter-divisional opponent, LSU stopped playing Kentucky yearly, and Florida stopped playing Auburn yearly.

Until Missouri and Texas A&M joined within the last year, everyone seemed content with the system, which had been on a set rotation for about 10 years. The previous 10 years were operated with two permanent inter-divisional opponents, but this meant large stretches without playing any given teams of the four other teams in the opposite division. None of the teams seemed too traumatized by losing their #2 inter-divisional opponent, and I thought it was more exciting as a fan to play the other teams on a more regular basis.

The makeshift schedule that operated last year and will operate next year–and perhaps years into the future–is a “6-1-1” format. This means 6 divisional opponents (each division expanded to 7 teams when Missouri and Texas A&M were added), one permanent opponent, with the other 6 conference teams rotating to round out the schedule. This reintroduces the problem that existed under the 1992 to 2002 format with a number of teams rotating around one spot, except that now it’s 6 teams instead of 4.

There is a proposal favored by LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina that the SEC forget about the permanent inter-divisional opponents entirely and simply move to a 6-2 format, six in your own division, two from the other division on a constant rotation. The Advocate newspaper reports that “several” SEC coaches have said that the teams are split over whether to go that route or maintain the same format that is being used now (or perhaps a slightly modified version). I would think Florida probably leans toward 6-2 as well, given that the Gators probably place the same priority on playing LSU every years as LSU does on playing Florida every year, which is to say, they don’t find it important at all. At least not as compared to a more equitable schedule. Missouri may also prefer it, but perhaps not as long as Missouri is in the SEC East. Missouri is not a natural match-up for Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, but it may make up for it a bit if Missouri can begin an annual series with Arkansas. (This has not been implemented yet under the current temporary format. Arkansas is still playing South Carolina, and Missouri is playing Texas A&M.) Texas A&M and South Carolina don’t want to be forced to play one another every year as left-overs. South Carolina had been playing Arkansas, which didn’t make sense historically or geographically either.

There is a third major option that no one apart from Alabama (specifically Nick Saban) favors, which is to move to a 9-game schedule, with two rotating inter-divisional opponents and one permanent one. There are a few problems with this, even though it seems to be where most of the other major conferences are going. It creates an imbalance where some teams will have 4 conference road games and others will have 5. It would also make it more difficult to schedule out of conference. It would also likely reduce the chances of an SEC team winning the national championship due to difficulties in remaining undefeated after playing 10 games against SEC teams (including the championship game) and due to the fact that the SEC as a whole (if not the individual team) may lack other quality opponents that establish how good the SEC is. A home game is not easily parted with in the SEC, given that football helps fund the other sports and in some cases even helps fund other university expenses. 100,000 seats, even if there is a weak opponent, can command a tidy sum of money.

The biggest problems with going to a 6-2 format would be that Auburn-Georgia (“The Oldest Rivalry in the South”, played at least 108 times and annually since 1944 [1902 if you take out 1943, which was not a full season for most teams]) and Tennessee-Alabama (played at least 94 times and every year since 1944 [since 1928 with the exception of the 1943 season]) would no longer be annual games.

So I think what would make a number content with the 6-2 format if they’re currently either opposed or on the fence would be to change the divisions, which should be done anyway. Put Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia all in the same division. Add the two teams to the South and East (Florida and South Carolina) and the other team in the state of Tennessee, Vanderbilt.

I put this all on a map (at the bottom), so maybe it will make more sense that way. One problem with this is that in recent years, three teams in the proposed SEC East have won a total of 6 national championships in football, compared to only one team winning two recent national championships in the West.

But these are the annual series that are lost, and I don’t think it’s a bad list:
LSU-Auburn
LSU-Alabama
Miss. St.-Alabama
Ole Miss-Alabama
Tennessee-Kentucky
Ole Miss-Vandy
LSU-Florida

Don’t forget that the 6-2 format makes this less dramatic since these games will still be played every few years on average.

Missouri wouldn’t miss anything by moving West, except that LSU is not a customary or logical opponent, and maybe Vanderbilt is.

The only sensible alternative to make it more balanced would be to trade Kentucky and Florida. I’ll give a list of series that would be broken up, but first I wanted to note a couple of series that would not happen that I think would be good ones. Kentucky-Missouri makes a lot of sense, because that’s one of the closest teams to Missouri geographically, and there would probably be some carry-over from basketball. LSU-Kentucky would be brought back under the first proposal but not the alternative, it’s not geographically logical, but it is historical. Also, Florida-Auburn would be brought back under the first proposal but not the alternative. Here are the current annual series that would be lost under the alternative proposal:
Florida-Georgia
Florida-Tennessee
LSU-Auburn
LSU-Alabama
Ole Miss-Vandy
Miss. St.-Alabama
Ole Miss-Alabama

This also would also require Florida to play Missouri every year, which does not make sense at all. That’s one of the reasons to move Missouri to the West in the first place.

My understanding is the teams who want the traditional rivals aren’t focused on short-term schedule balance anyway, so I think given all the variables, my first proposal is much stronger. It may be favorable to LSU in the short term, but LSU has had its fair share of difficult scheduling over the last few years. Auburn may not be a good team again for some time, and I don’t know how permanent a fixture South Carolina is near the top of the SEC. Also, Texas A&M in the West has really taken off and could compete for national championships over the next few years. That’s not to mention Ole Miss’s recruiting of late. So LSU may not even have much of a breather anyway.

So here’s a map of the first option I mentioned. Knoxville is very close to the North Carolina border, so apologies if I made it look like it is actually in North Carolina, but you get the idea of where it is relative to the other SEC locations anyway. Obviously, even though the map classifies Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina as in the Southeast, they don’t have SEC teams. Missouri and Texas are classified as parts of other regions and do have SEC teams. I erased the other state and regional names to avoid potential confusion.

southe1

Bring Back the Big West

In Bowls, College Football, Realignment on December 8, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Even though this could have been the promising first year of a reorganized respectable second-tier conference, the WAC as we used to know it seems pretty much dead. All the football members have left or are leaving apart from Idaho and New Mexico St.

As recently as 1995, the top three WAC teams of this year, Louisiana Tech, Utah St., and San Jose St., all competed in the Big West. Nevada, UNLV, and New Mexico St. were also in that conference, and Boise St. joined (along with Idaho) in 1996.

Which got me thinking… since there won’t be a WAC, why can’t there be a Big West in football again? I can’t think of a good reason. In football, the Big East is doing so much expanding from the area near the Mississippi River all the way to Boise and San Diego, so that can incorporate these teams while the rest of the conference can keep operating as it is already, with some possible quality expansion in other sports.

These were the teams in the WAC in 1995:
Air Force
BYU
Colorado St.
Fresno St.
Hawaii
New Mexico
San Diego St.
Utah
UTEP
Wyoming

Boise St. and San Diego St. are actually going to be in the Big West in other sports, and Hawaii is already there. I imagine Utah St. and San Jose St. (which appear to be headed to the Mountain West) could be brought back with just the foundation I’ve mentioned so far. BYU left the Mountain West to become independent in football (WCC in other sports, which makes less sense than the Big West would), but no currently AQ-conference has offered them a spot, and they’re naturals to be playing the likes of Boise St. and Utah St., both of which they’ve played this season.

The East-West alliance along the lines of the previously-discussed MWC-CUSA idea didn’t work out because of all the existing obligations (essentially schools could then leave without buyout fees and without paying the conference shares of post-season revenue), but all those problems aren’t here since administratively, it would still really be the Big East.

Louisiana Tech is a definite for the Conference USA, but that’s fine because they were too far to the East for the WAC anyway. The Big West football conference did extend into Arkansas and Louisiana briefly (inlcluding Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana). There is a bit of a central region in the Big East as well that could provide the anticipated mega-conference some flexibility, so they’re not completely out of the question later.

The Big East has already announced plans to include Memphis, Tulane, SMU, and Houston. With the quality Western teams available, I would think Memphis and Tulane would be playing in the true Big East (by which I mean teams that would be in the Big East in other sports and in the Eastern division in football), but SMU and Houston would be good opponents for them as well. If only one of the four goes out West (in the even both Cincinnati and Connecticut find other conferences), then SMU and Houston could still be permanent opponents.

The only teams left from a couple of years ago (to make up the core of the true Big East) will be Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida.

So this is what I’m thinking as a possible alignment…

Big East Big West
Central Florida Boise St.
Cincinnati BYU
Connecticut Hawaii
East Carolina Houston
Memphis Nevada
South Florida San Diego St.
Temple SMU
Tulane UNLV
Future possibilities Future possibilities
Army Air Force
Louisiana Tech San Jose St.
Navy* Utah St.

*-Navy is already set to join in 2015.

Apart from Navy, the Western future possibilities are more likely in the event of more shuffling of the Eastern teams. The ACC or Big Ten could take teams from the East if they want to go to 16. If the SEC goes to 16, they would likely come from the ACC, which will probably want to replace those two. So if two teams are lost from the Eastern division, they could be replaced by SMU and Houston, whose spots in the Western division could be taken by San Jose St. and Utah St. I could also see SMU and Houston joining the Big XII to make it… wait for it, 12 teams. Then you could simply replace them with San Jose St. and Utah St. Air Force (who could of course be a permanent opponent of Navy) seems like another reasonable possibility

To balance out possible unfairness from permanent opponents, I would be in favor of only counting divisional play toward picking the contestants for the championship game, but this would not rule out one or two games against teams from the other side during the season. If Air Force and Navy were in different divisions, they would still need to play one another. I don’ t know if Army is a possibility, but just for instance, it might be that if all the Commander-in-Chief teams are in this conference, two permanent opponents would be needed. That can’t really be done if it counts as an equal conference game. Other programs may not prefer to play any inter-divisional games.

Also, if circumstances change (which seems to happen every couple of months), maybe there could be too much interest in the East and not enough in the West. Then, you could easily have Memphis and/or Tulane move to the West.

I guess we can expect the Mountain West to have a number of members suitable for a round-robin format, which is sort of why it was created around the turn of the 21st century. So in addition to the three programs mentioned as future possibilities for the Big West, the Mountain West membership includes Wyoming, Colorado St., Fresno St., and New Mexico. I started this off by mentioning Idaho and New Mexico St. They could fit right in if some of the defections take place. Another possibility would be UTEP, which is less than an hour away from New Mexico St. West Texas might be a place to make recruiting inroads. Of course, the Big East is already going to be in East Texas.

Idaho isn’t quite as great of a fit for either conference, but another possibility for Idaho is to go back to the Big Sky, which may also house future FBS programs, by the way.

Anyway, there are definitely suitable teams for an 8-10-team Mountain West as well as an 8-team Big West to be part of the football Big East.

The bowl policies are interesting here. The Fiesta Bowl currently is the Big XII champion’s default destination, but that is going to be the Sugar under the SEC-Big XII contract, so that will open up. Maybe the winner of the football Big East could play there, even if the winner were from the East. An Eastern team might be good enough for the Orange Bowl in some years, but nothing would rule out a Pac-12 or Big XII #2 team playing the MWC champions in the Fiesta Bowl if it worked out that way. I don’t think the MWC under what I’m envisioning would be a fixture in the major bowls, but there may be some years where that would be appropriate. The Cotton Bowl also seems to be taking on increasing importance, but one would think that would be a common location of the SEC-Big XII bowl in the years where the Sugar is a semifinal bowl. In other years, the football Big East might be a good fit as well, regardless of which division the winner comes from.

The Big East doesn’t have to be an unmitigated coast-to-coast disaster, but I’m afraid that is a possibility without the kind of clear direction I would like to see it have with the Western teams. Funny that just a could years ago, many (myself included) were thinking the solution might just be to make the MWC an AQ in lieu of the Big East or simply to remove the Big East from AQ status to make room for more MWC or WAC teams. Now I’m talking about a lot of the teams in question being in the same conference somehow.

Conferences and LSU Update

In College Football, General LSU, Realignment on August 25, 2012 at 9:28 PM

I had a lot of thoughts about what the conferences should do moving forward, but there were a couple of LSU issues I wanted to cover first, this being the last non-game week.

Mettenberger seems to be dong extremely well. In the final scrimmage, he completed 26 passes on 36 attempts for 336 yards. There was an indeterminate number of TD passes, but I’m not sure how relevant that is anyway. According to the stats given, he didn’t fare nearly as well in the first two scrimmages, with only 15 completions each time.

Kenny Hilliard seems to be at or near the top of the RB depth chart, so I’m excited to see him this year.

There are a couple of linemen who are “a little nicked,” according to Les, but I’m still feeling fairly positive about the offense.

Defense is a little more up in the air. There is only one real returning starter in the secondary, and there has already been an injury. FS Eric Reid is the only returning starter from that unit. The defense as a whole returns 4, although Tharold Simon had a lot of impact in more limited playing time last year. There is a lot of talent, but talent alone doesn’t stop tackles from being broken/evaded and passes from being completed by the other team.

In recruiting news, LSU has two good incoming quarterbacks, Rivals’ #4 pro-style QB and another product of the state of Georgia (as was Mettenberger), Anthony Jennings, whom Rivals ranks as the #12 dual-threat QB. It will be interesting to see how much LSU goes for the dual-threat options in the future. LSU is now ranked #5 in overall recruiting class by Rivals.

Moving from the future to the distant past, I thought this was a nice tribute to a former LSU player turned NFL Hall of Famer: http://bleacherreport.com/tb/d8jlB?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=lsu-football

Onto the conferences, I know I like to talk about this topic a lot, but the regional rivalries and series histories are important to me.

First off, I’m hoping the ACC and SEC stay at 14. The only way I would support a 16-team conference would be if 7 or maybe 8 games counted toward the conference title. With 9 games, you could have one team with two extreme lightweights from the other division as well as an extra home game, and that team could end up ahead (either by a single game or due to a head-to-head tiebreaker) a team who had an extra road game and played two of the best teams in the other division. I can countenance 8 games because there may be a natural rival in the other division anyway, and it could be used to even out the home/away situation mentioned. One game is less likely to be determinative than two. Such an arrangement might work in the ACC if it continues to poach the Big East but I don’t think it would work well in the SEC.

I did have one specific thought about the SEC. I think it would make more sense if West Virginia were in the SEC and Missouri went back to the Big XII. They’re losing a lot of good Big 8 rivalries, and except for Arkansas, I don’t know if anyone is very excited about Missouri joining, particularly not in their division, the East.

I calculated the travel times for the SEC. The benefits for the Big XII are too blatantly obvious to elaborate upon. I think most people aren’t going to drive in a car for 800 miles, so the 300-mile difference in the trip to Baton Rouge, for instance, might not be that significant, but if there are 5 divisional teams less than 600 miles apart, that’s better than the 2 divisional teams (Kentucky and Vanderbilt) that close to Missouri. If you draw the line at 550, it’s 4-2; at 500, it’s still 3-2. (Georgia is between 550 and 600 from WVU, while Vanderbilt is between 500 and 550 from WVU.)

As referenced, Missouri does provide something good in that it’s closer to Arkansas than any other team and as Arkansas had no logical interdivisional rival before (it had been South Carolina), that was a marriage made in heaven. WVU, however, does not have a logical interdivisional rival. Since the two Alabama teams are seemingly off-limits (can’t break up Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia), the one that made the most sense was Mississippi St., whose currently “rival” is Kentucky, which in turn could be paired with Arkansas as two of the more Northern teams. This still would add significant travel times to the interdivisional rivalries for the other teams.

With an 8-game schedule, the average travel time is almost exactly the same, around 740 miles (the interdivisional games make almost a negligible difference since only one would be played per year). If a 9-game schedule were adopted, WVU would involve an average travel distance of 877 miles to Missouri’s average travel distance of 851 miles. This was calculated by only counting the non-annual distances for 1/3 since only two of the 6 leftovers would be played every year. But restricting it to permanent rivalries (including divisional rivalries), WVU is only an average of 590 miles to Missouri’s 632. And strictly looking at divisional rivalries, it’s 525 for WVU to 685 for Missouri. There is a thought out there that maybe with 14 teams, not every team should have the permanent interdivisional rival, although you would at least want to keep a few of them. The two involving Alabama teams especially, but Ole Miss-Vandy is a good tradition too, even though it’s not usually two of the better teams of course. LSU has played Florida for 40 years in a row, but this has only really meant a whole lot for the last 15 years. No one (except Lou Holtz) is going to miss Arkansas-South Carolina, and few would miss Miss. St.-Kentucky.

Boise St. should forget about the Big East and instead join the Big XII. TCU came to its senses and gave up the Big East for the Big XII before playing a down in the Big East. A coast-to-coast, Canada-to-Mexico-to-Cuba (Tampa isn’t Miami but still isn’t far) league is completely ridiculous. Of course BYU would seemingly want to join the Big XII, and this would actually make sense to give Boise a more natural rival. San Diego St. would be another possibility, but let them and the Big East be stupid together, basically the same sentiment I have regarding WVU and the Big XII.

I know that still isn’t as regional as I typically argue for, but Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas make up 8 teams. So it would still mostly be regional except with teams to the Northwest (2), North, and Northeast–enough to be a presence in those other regions without destroying the natural rivalries. And the schools in question don’t have better offers anyway.

I don’t know how Tulsa doesn’t get involved in all the changes being made, but maybe that’s because it’s not a big school (fewer than 3000 undergrads). Plus, it’s going to be a team within some reasonable distance of Louisiana Tech, which has been a misplaced member of the WAC for years. In 2005, several Texas teams bolted for the CUSA when it expanded, but Louisiana Tech (in Northeastern Louisiana) was left out, with its closest opponent all the way in southern New Mexico. Now this will finally be remedied. Tech will have Tulsa to the Northwest, North Texas to the due West (only requiring one interstate highway really), UTSA and Rice to the Southwest, and Tulane and Southern Mississippi to the Southeast. It would have had Memphis to the Northeast, but that’s another seemingly misplaced future Big East member.

The Big East still has the two NYC-area teams, and it still has the two Ohio Valley teams, but it’s not extending into the rust/coal belt in what used to be the west of the conference, and it’s not going North of the NYC area to Boston or Syracuse. Why not build on that and become a regional conference again as it should be, only this time more Southern? There are a few CUSA teams that could rejoin Cincinnati and Louisville. East Carolina and Central Florida might be good, for instance. Maybe Villanova could be convinced to make the leap to FBS. Temple is already moving back to the Big East.

But instead it’s on a ridiculous quest to become some hybrid of the original Sun Belt conference (which went from Moscow, Idaho, to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Miami) and the 16-team WAC (Hawaii to Wyoming to Fort Worth, Texas). Hopefully, it will be a similarly temporary arrangement. Maybe the Big West can become more of an FBS conference again and they can draw the line of separation at the Mississippi River at least. Or perhaps several members can be the football WAC and perhaps in other conferences in other sports. It does not seem the current WAC will have enough teams for football in 2013.

I wonder if the BCS could have avoided some of this by kicking the Big East sooner and replacing it with the Mountain West. At least the MWC would have stayed together longer.

I’m unclear on why the MAC decided it needed 13 teams and replaced Temple with UMass. I fail to see how 13 is convenient, fair, or logical. Perhaps Youngstown St. can become an FBS team and they can make it an even 14. That’s another thing I wonder. We have 4 new FBS teams this season; will the new and upcoming conference shifts result in increased pressure from FBS conferences to tempt the FCS members?