By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
It’s only a matter of time (and TV lapsing TV deals) before College Football morphs into a miniature NFL, only twice the size. A 64-team league, including four 16-team “Super Conferences” is seen by most as being pretty much inevitable sometime within the next decade.
If the number 64 sounds familiar, that’s because college basketball (and volleyball, baseball and softball) have utilized this nice round number for many years for making their post-season neat and clean. For example, after the preliminary “play-in” games of March Madness have narrowed the basketball bracket from 68 to a nice tight 64-team field, it’s easy to go to 32, then 16, then eight and finally, four. Works out perfectly on the court and on the diamonds, too.
It will also end up being the way college football determines future national champions while remaining super attractive for the ever broadening game broadcasting landscape. Four 16-team super conferences (and we already have three conferences with 14 teams, so it’s not much of a reach) will play the regular season to determining who gets into post season picture, where they’ll ultimately crown their conference champion… who will then advance to football’s Final Four, which can look much like the play-off we already have.
It’s simple, it’s clean, it’s argument free and it can rake in a lot of money. Therefore, it’s inevitable.
So now, the only thing left to be determined is who those ultimate 64 schools will be. As of right now, the five “Power Five” conferences include a total of…that’s right…64 teams between them. That’s NOT counting Notre Dame, perhaps the games most storied program. It also leaves out the other biggest name independent, BYU, along with a host of non-Power Five schools with higher aspirations, like Boise State, Houston, Colorado State, Cincinnati, Memphis, all three service academy programs, and more. Something has to give.
Notre Dame will be included, that’s a given, so at least one of the current P5 schools will get the heave ho…probably more. For any of these successful non-Power Five programs to earn inclusion, a few current P5 programs will get kicked to the curb. Who are the most likely candidates for soccer-style “relegation?”
Since everything starts on the east coast, it’s probable that Boston College would be sent to the minors. The Eagles are a very middling football AND basketball program these days, with a reluctance to step up and invest dollars into their program’s futures. And while the football programs at Wake Forest, Duke and Syracuse are down right now, their basketball programs are too good to cast aside. BC is the only ACC team that wouldn’t make the cut.
In the Southeastern Conference, a case can be made for Vanderbilt to be relegated to lesser status in football. The Commodores are a baseball powerhouse, but so is Coastal Carolina. That won’t matter. An outstanding academic institution, Vandy will never be a football factory. They’d be gone. Everybody else in the SEC is pretty safe.
The Big Ten recently expanded to include Rutgers, but while the Scarlet Knights bring an east coast audience to the Midwestern conference, they don’t cut it on the football field. Basketball can’t save them either. Rutgers goes bye-bye.
The 10-team Big 12 has several weak links on the gridiron, but those schools are also outstanding in basketball. So teams like Kansas and Iowa State are safe. Not so safe right at this moment is scandal-ridden Baylor. If that program comes out of their current legal mess in the same shape SMU did in the 1990’s, the Bears could be minor-league bound. Talk about a quick turnaround (in the wrong direction.)
Finally in the Pac 12, lowly Oregon State just can’t and won’t keep up with the rest of the thriving conference in football and basketball. This is another school with a great baseball program but one that is struggling mightily on the gridiron.
So if we anticipate “relegation” for these five downtrodden football (and basketball) programs, we’ll have Notre Dame and four more openings in the 64-team league. Best bets? Hard to see BYU, with its passionate and national fan base not being included. That leaves three. Suitors will include Houston, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Memphis, San Diego State, Boise State and the three service academies. A half-dozen will be left with very disappointed fan bases.
Based on facilities and resources, on-field and on-court success, market size and geography, an early guess is that the chosen three would include Boise State, Houston and Colorado State. Hard to see how San Diego State and Cincinnati especially don’t make the cut, but 64 means 64.
The placement of schools into the Far West, Mid West, South and East 16-team grids will be not be super easy, and will be sure to cause some bickering. But hey, we can’t have college football’s ultimate re-alignment without some sort of controversy, can we?