In which I realign the NCAA in a pleasing, symmetrical fashion

The entire world is exploding.

Now that I've summed up the tenor of the latest NCAA expansion rumors (Jesus to the Big 10! Santa Claus to the Pac-10! Dan Beebe to the Unemployment League!), it's time to start really getting serious about this stuff. UConn appears destined to a) stay with the corpse of the Big East or b) jump ship to an expanded ACC or c) disappear into the ether. Either way, UConn isn't going to be the one who sets the dominoes in motion, so all we can do is wait for someone else to hit the proverbial cue ball.

That being said, if there's one redeeming quality to the idea of the rearranging of the entire college sports landscape as we know it, it's that this subject is amazingly fun to talk and think about. Witness the invaluable work of Frank The Tank, who has been well ahead of the curve on expansion news, and whose site has turned into one of the livelier discussion places this side of the Worldwide Leader.

Here then, is my effort to start some conversation: what SHOULD the Division I of 2012 look like?

The inspiration for this post, unquestionably, is Andy Staples' bold proposal earlier this year for a breakaway 64-team, four-division money-driven conglomerate of big-time athletic programs. So it's certainly not an original idea to imagine the dawn of the era of college athletics superconferences (which seems inevitable now).

But while Staples calls for a revolution in the way college sports work, I merely am trying to create symmetry - competitive and geographic - to make the existing structure run a tad smoother. If I were to suddenly be named NCAA President and President of the United States concurrently and given dictatorial powers over every school that competes in intercollegiate athletics, this is what I would do. My proposal is merely fantasy, a quixotic quest to make sense of the rapid changes that loom in big-time college athletics.

That being said, it makes a whole lot of sense to me (probably because I won't gain or lose millions of dollars either way, unlike some of the schools I've moved around), and that's what's really important.

Check it out below the jump:

Now, I should mention that this has become kind of an obsession for me...I've tried to come up with an interesting, workable proposal on several different occasions since this whole expansion hullabaloo started. By trial and error, I figured out that logistically, the FBS puzzle fit together with 16-team leagues, while the others worked best with 12-team leagues.

Schedule-wise, I think 12-team leagues are just about perfect. True, it's impossible to play a round robin in football with more than 10 teams, but I do enjoy the symmetry of each football team playing its entire division and exaclty half the other division for a tidy eight-game schedule. It gets a little trickier with 16-team leagues (seven games against division opponents, and...then what?), but I try to solve that below.

Here are the ground rules I operated by, again, seeing as I have somehow achieved unlimited power over the NCAA:

  1. Conferences competing in football on the FBS level will all be forced to expand to 16 teams
  2. All other Division I conferences will include 12 teams (with a few exceptions that I couldn't avoid)
  3. Minimize the number of football teams without an FBS/FCS conference affiliation
  4. Try to keep every league in a relatively compact geographic footprint. Sorry, NJIT, no more Great West Conference for you
  5. Preserve rivalries whenever possible
  6. No independent teams
  7. The Ivy League gets to stay at eight teams, because they are smarter than I am

In the end, here's what I came up with:

  • 26 Division I leagues (down from 32), broken down into
  • 8 FBS conferences of 16 teams each (128 teams)
  • 7 FCS conferences of 12 teams each + 1 FCS conference of 14 teams + 1 FCS conference of 8 teams (106 teams)
  • 4 non-football conferences of 16 teams each (64 teams) + 4 non-football conferences of 12 teams each (48 teams); of those 112 teams, 10 play football

For football, here's how the season would break down (since I'm in favor of a playoff, AND I'm the NCAA version of Castro in this scenario, we're doing a playoff. Deal, or be sent to a wall in a slum in Havana):

  • Every team plays nine conference games (seven in-division, two vs. the other division) and three non-conference games. We can keep the "you get an extra game if you travel to Hawaii" rule in effect, I suppose.
  • Every conference plays a conference championship game
  • The eight conference champions advance automatically to a 16-team playoff; we then pick eight at-large teams to fill out the field. Everyone who doesn't make the playoff can play in the 25 or so surviving bowl games, which retain both their usefulness (Yay, free trip to Florida to play in the MicronPC Bowl!) and uselessness (Hey, uh, cool, we won the MicronPC Bowl, I guess).

And now, finally, the league breakdown (at least the FBS version):

ACC

  • North: Boston College, Connecticut, Louisville, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • South: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, South Florida, North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest
  • Comments: The Eastern seaboard is locked up thanks to a merger of the Big East and ACC teams that aren't poached by the Big 10/SEC juggernauts, and my goodness, what a basketball league this would be. For purposes of this blog, UConn has three hated rivals on its football schedule every year, plus a slew of potential great league opponents for Coach Cal to dismantle. I love this league in every way, and if this happened in real life, I would throw a party.

Big Ten

  • East: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh
  • West: Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
  • Comments: OK, I guess I should just come out and say it right now: the Big 12 and Big East cease to exist under my regime. Their loss is the Big 10's gain, as they finally pull Notre Dame, kicking and screaming, into their true home. The league also gains a nice trio in Missouri, Pittsburgh and Nebraska, the latter two especially having the kind of historical football cache that Midwesterners seem to love. Also, they get Iowa State. Congratulations.

Pac-16

  • East: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
  • West: California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State
  • Comments: I respect Larry Scott's audacity. The Pac-10 president turned this whole landscape upside down when he confirmed several different expansion scenarios for his league. One of those scenarios included the utter destruction of the Big 12 by inviting its South Division to join his league. Simple and ingenious. Also, Texas or Oklahoma would play USC every year in the Pac-10 title game, and that makes me feel giddy inside.

SEC

  • East: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami (FL), South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
  • West: Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Kansas, Kansas State, Mississippi, Mississippi State
  • Comments: Kaboom. The nation's best football conference gets slightly deeper with the additions of Miami and West Virginia, and an irrelevant basketball conference instantly becomes the nation's second or third best with the additions of the Mountaineers and Kansas (not to mention Kansas State and their terrifying coach.)

Mountain West

  • North: Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Utah State
  • South: Fresno State, Hawaii, New Mexico, New Mexico State, San Diego State, San Jose State, TCU, UNLV
  • Comments: This is basically the WAC from that weird period where it was a 16-team, two-division behemoth in the late 90's. The league lasted about two years in that alignment before half the teams split off and formed the original Mountain West Conference, theoretically proving the unwieldiness of 16-team leagues, thus rendering this superconference expansion (and this already-fruitless exercise) moot. But we'll leave that for MWC commissioner Craig Thompson's 2018 book, "Hey, Remember 20 Years Ago When I Was Right? Yeah, Suck It: How Craig Thompson Was Right, by Craig Thompson" (Random House, $19.95).

Conference USA

  • East: Central Florida, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulane, UAB
  • West: Baylor, Houston, Louisiana Tech, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, Wyoming

Comments: In C-USA I've placed the two biggest losers of my expansion shuffle - Cincinnati and Baylor. It probably works out better for both teams competition wise in the long run, and the basketball league looks a hell of a lot better with those two teams, Temple and Memphis. But unfortunately, there were 66 BCS teams and only 64 would get to join one of the big four leagues. No hard feelings.

MAC

  • East: Akron, Army, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Miami (OH), Navy, Ohio
  • West: Ball State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Illinois State, Marshall, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan
  • Comments: MAC teams will still continue to provide easy wins for the Big 10 in the future, so rest easy. The only twists here are the inclusion of Army and Navy (the only real place I could fit them in), and the return of Marshall, whose football team outgrew the league when Randy Moss and Chad Pennington played there, only to de-bigulate back into a MAC-level team.

Sun Belt

  • North: Eastern Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Murray State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Western Kentucky, Youngstown State
  • South: Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, South Alabama, Troy, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe
  • Comments: South Alabama is starting up a football program this year with the intention of joining the Sun Belt football league soon, so they get the bid. As for the inclusion of all the I-AA teams, this would finally answer a longstanding question of mine: is the Missouri Valley Football Conference a better league than the Sun Belt?

That wraps up the FBS teams. The only other league I want to go into is the new non-football league where several of our Big East brethren would end up: (If anyone really wants to see the rest of Division I, please don't hesitate to ask. The genius of it all is burning a hole in my hard drive.)

  • Catholic/Jesuit/Justice League
  • East: Georgetown, George Washington, Holy Cross, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, St. Joseph's, Villanova
  • West: Butler, Dayton, DePaul, La Salle, Marquette, St. Louis, Valparaiso, Xavier
  • Comments: First of all, shut up. I know La Salle is in the same city as St. Joseph's and Villanova. If you have alternate suggestions, feel free. Second of all, this would be a solid, if top-heavy, basketball league right off the bat, even with some dregs at the bottom of the league (La Salle, St. Louis, Valpo, Holy Cross, Providence). Even if this league isn't the Big East, but it's probably the best non-BCS league out of the gate (8 teams in the NCAAs or NIT last year), especially if Butler isn't a one-year fluke. All kinds of existing rivalries here, especially in that East Division, and some good regional matchups. If Notre Dame weren't obligated by my rules to be in a conference, I'd stick them here in place of Valparaiso to make it even better.

There you have it. This is my plan. It is, I think, a good plan, if not one that considers the most important thing in college sports: the spirit of the game money. It's also a plan that will be rendered moot by, like, Friday, when Arizona joins the Big East and the SEC extends an invite to whoever wins the World Cup. So there's that, too.

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