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What Would College Football Conferences Be Without Gerrymandering?

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Another example of me blatantly stealing ideas from someone else and applying them to my interests.

Yesterday, Navy officially joined the American Athletic Conference. The Charlotte 49ers joined the FBS ranks in Conference USA and, in the Sun Belt, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern became bowl elligible after their moves up from the FCS.

These were some of the last aftershocks of the great conference quake from five years ago. You know, the one that gave us Texas A&M and Missouri in the SEC. The one that sent Colorado and Utah to the PAC-12 and sent Nebraska to the B1G. The one that moved Big East teams Louisville and West Virginia into other  top conferences, but left Cincinnati and Connecticut behind.

And now there are rumors that the Big12 wants to expand so it can, well, have 12 teams again.

Oh, and the Supreme Court just voted to allow Arizona to use an independent commission to draw district lines, a blow against gerrymandering.

If you're thinking that came out of left field, look at these college football teams and their conferences. The strange borders, the reaching tenticles, all tell-tale signs of gerrymandering. I couldn't even find a way to draw the borders of all ten conferences on one map!

Power5Gerrymandering

Group5Gerrymandering

So, even though conference realignment is drawing to a close, who's to say it won't happen again? How can we fight this? How can we prevent this?

Simple. Use the shortest split line algorthm to remove the gerrymandering and make 16 eight-team conferences based solely on geography. This has been done by the Center for Range Voting to show what the United States would look like if gerrymandering was removed from congressional districts.

What's the split line method? From vox.com:

Basically, they used the shortest possible line to cut a state into two halves with roughly equal populations. Then they did so again, and again, and again, until they had the proper number of overall districts.

With the (possibly temporary) loss of UAB and the addition of Charlotte, college football still has 128 teams at the FBS level. So we can use the shortest line possible to split the whole map of the United States in two, each side with 64 teams. Then split those regions into groups of 32 and so on, until we have 16 groups of eight. The shortest line ensures that the splitting was done based on geography and not based on someone's whims or prejudices.

And it looks like this.

CFB without Gerrymandering

Are you wondering which teams are in which regions? Here's a table.

South California
Hawaii Stanford San Jose State Fresno State
UNLV USC UCLA San Diego State
Northwest
California Nevada Boise State Oregon
Oregon State Washington Washington State Idaho
Big Empty
Utah State Utah Minnesota Wyoming
Colorado State Colorado Nebraska Kansas State
Old West
BYU Air Force Arizona State Arizona
New Mexico New Mexico State UTEP Texas Tech
WIMI
Wisconsin Iowa State Iowa Northern Illinois
Northwestern Kansas Missouri Illinois
Ozarks
Oklahoma Oklahoma State Tulsa Arkansas
Arkansas State Memphis Ole Miss Mississippi State
Central Texas
North Texas TCU SMU Baylor
Texas A&M Texas Texas State UTSA
Loutexassippi
Rice Houston Louisiana Tech UL-Monroe
UL-Lafayette LSU Tulane Southern Miss
Michigan and more
Central Michigan Michigan State Notre Dame Western Michigan
Michigan Eastern Michigan Toledo Bowling Green
Ohiana
Purdue Ball State Indiana Miami (Ohio)
Cincinnati Ohio State Ohio Marshall
Tenntucky
Louisville Kentucky Western Kentucky Vanderbilt
Middle Tennessee Tennessee Appalachian State Clemson
Georgabama
Alabama Auburn Georgia Tech Georgia State
Georgia Troy South Alabama Florida State
Northeast
Buffalo Syracuse Temple Rutgers
Army UMass UConn Boston College
Mid-Atlantic
Akron Kent State Pittsburgh Penn State
West Virginia Virginia Maryland Navy
Virgolina
Virginia Tech Old Dominion Wake Forest Charlotte
North Carolina Duke NC State East Carolina
Florida-Georgia DO NOT SAY LINE
South Carolina Georgia Southern Florida Central Florida
South Florida Florida Atlantic Florida International Miami

And here's a map!

This does some great things for the sport we love. For one, Texas and Texas A&M are back together after all this time pretending they don't like each other! Boise State gets regular shots to prove its worth against Oregon and, well, that's it. Ohio State might finally fall to another team from Ohio for the first time since 1921 since it's forced to play three of them each year. In fact, lots of small schools will get plenty of chances to take down the big programs within their states.

Of course there would be drawbacks, too. Historical rivalries like Florida State-Miami, Michigan-Ohio State, Cal-Stanford and others are no longer paired together. Conference championships may or may not continue to exist. One purpose of redrawing the conference lines would be to prevent the purposeful separation of haves and have-nots (as the gerrymandering has clearly done), but this algorthm doesn't necessarily prevent it from happening accidentally. It also does nothing to ensure the new conferences are competitive. Using Bill Connelly's advanced stats projections for 2015, the Ozarks group and the Georgabama group are much, much better than everyone else, while the Northeast group is really, really bad.

Region Name Avg Proj S&P+ rk
Ozarks 6.750 1
Georgabama 6.450 2
Tenntucky 1.925 3
Big Empty 1.363 4
Northwest 1.313 5
Mid-Atlantic 0.638 6
WIMI 0.450 7
Florida-Georgia DO NOT SAY LINE -0.313 8
Michigan and more -0.475 9
South California -0.650 10
Ohiana -1.038 11
Central Texas -1.375 12
Old West -2.225 13
Virgolina -2.463 14
Loutexassippi -3.888 15
Northeast -8.575 16

So, yeah, it's not perfect. It doesn't fix everything and it has some unintended consequences. But you know what it does do? Give us something to talk about in July. Remove the conniving human element.

Auburn Specifics

Georgabama
Alabama Auburn Georgia Tech Georgia State
Georgia Troy South Alabama Florida State

First, Auburn has never played Georgia State, South Alabama, or Troy, so that gets remedied. Second, Auburn gets to keep its two main rivals in Alabama and Georgia, regain a long lost rival in Georgia Tech, and build on one with Florida State. By the way, that's five teams in the projected S&P+ top 20, a number matched only by the Ozarks group.

Read more

If you want to read more about gerrymandering in the real world, here is the website for the Center for Range Voting.

And here's is vox.com's Gerrymandering Explainer.