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Nine Conference Games Isn’t Enough

A Thought Experiment

I Wanna Go Fast
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

There are no interesting things to say about SEC Media Days AKA BAMMERCON AKA Art Basel For The Most Boring Performance Art Ever. That said, both Gus Malzahn and Nicholas Lou Saban, Jr. had the same answer to a somewhat controversial question. When asked about adding a conference game to the schedule, at the expense of a non-conference opponent, Malzahn said, “I’ve changed my tune. I think Nick has been the only one for it. But nine, I’m to that point now. Nine I think is best for us moving forward to make the schedules more equal across the conference.”

With all due respect, why stop at nine?

Outside of the facade of amateurism, college football’s biggest problem is its inability to lean into its already existing class structure. Does anyone really think the American Conference champ and the SEC champ are somehow comparable? Does anyone really think a Sunbelt champ deserves a place in the playoff? Does anyone really want to see Auburn play Southern Miss this season?

Let me propose a thought experiment. By that, I mean let’s get crazy. I just had an espresso-tonic and I think I can smell colors now.

What if we eliminated non-conference games completely? Let’s have Auburn play 13 regular season games next year and only play the other members of the SEC. Every conference does the same thing, and the teams who win the most games in the regular season are the conference champions—eliminating both conference championship games and idiotic neutral site games. The Big 12, PAC 12, and ACC would have to adjust to get their conferences to 14, which should be easy with how many Group of 5 schools would be dying to get into the Power 5 after this change is implemented.

Imagine ESPN and CBS getting to televise 70 more SEC conference games this year instead of the nearly 70 games in which an SEC team plays an outmatched non-conference opponent. This system would make the networks more money than they already make, meaning the TV deals with the conferences and member teams would have to get renegotiated to make everyone more money.

But wait, Crow, how does the Playoff work?

Glad you ask. The conference champs from each Power 5 conferences is automatically in. Additionally, in a nod to the UEFA Champions League, the previous year’s conference bowl records are used to decide which conference gets the three remaining at-large bids to fill out an 8 team college football playoff. Last season the B1G went 7-1, the ACC 4-6, the Big 12 5-3, the SEC 4-5, and the PAC-12 1-8. This means the B1G, SEC, and Big 12 would be getting those extra spots. In this system the bowl games become, you know, meaningful.

But it gets better!

But wait, Crow, what about the Group of Five?

Stinks to be you. Just kidding. Because this system would otherwise lock out so many teams from a chance to experience college football glory, a system of promotion and relegation would have to be implemented. (Bill Connelly has a great explanation of one way this could work) Each Group of Five conference would get partnered with a Power 5 conference. The SEC and SunBelt, the ACC and American, the Big 12 and Conference USA, the PAC 12 and MWC, and the B1G would partner with the MAC. If your team finished last in the Power 5 conference, it is relegated to the G5 conference. If your team finished first in the G5 conference, it is promoted to Power 5 status, and therefore gets a place at the table for a playoff chance the following season. If your team finishes second to last in the Power 5 conference, it plays the second to the best team in the G5 conference in a winner-take-all game for a place in the Power 5 the following season. Tell me you wouldn’t have watched Arkansas play App State at the end of last season knowing the winner got to be in the SEC. It’s not like Arkansas had a bowl game to prepare for instead, and it isn’t like App State wouldn’t pass up a bowl game for a chance to make SEC money the following season.

But Crow, wouldn’t fans quit watching if their team got relegated?

You think this guy is going to quit watching?

NCAA Football: Texas State at Arkansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Also, it isn’t like there are a lot of fans at Vandy or Kentucky games anyway. We could relegate both of them and their fans might not notice.

I know, I’m a genius right? You want whatever I’m on?

So what do you think? Is this crazy? Or is it so sane I just blew your mind? Imagine a senior class at Auburn that actually got to play Florida (current seniors will graduate this year having never played the Gators yet having played Clemson 90 times)! Imagine being rewarded for winning more conference games than your rival! Imagine Tennessee having to face Troy for a shot at not having to play at Jonesboro the following season! Every Game Matters has been the mantra for college football, but this system would actually make that a reality.