With conference governing bodies as diverse and varied as college football itself, there’s no reason league structures should all follow the same rules. Finally, the powers that be have come to an agreement.
The NCAA Division I board voted on Wednesday to, paving the way for conferences to decide for themselves how to determine a champion. This will allow them to get creative with planning and choosing a champion, and they should take full advantage of it.
Literally minutes after the NCAA Board rubber stamp, the Pac-12 did just that by announcing that it would beselecting its top two teams based on conference winning percentage. The Big 12 has long lobbied for conferences with fewer than 12 members to stage a title game, inspiring this same No. 1 vs. No. 2 pattern. A few conferences may follow. Others might go in another direction.
At the heart of the conference planning structure is the accomplishment of a specific goal: to put the best teams in a position to win as many quality games as possible. With five major conferences entering very different realities, their strategies should take this into account.
For conferences like the Big 12 and the Pac-12, creating a meaningful 13th data point remains the top priority. The Big 12 missed two of the first three college football playoff pitches, and Baylor and TCU infamously split the vote to finish No. 5 and 6 in 2014. Meanwhile, Oklahoma made three straight playoffs after the Big 12 brought their championship game back in 2017. The Pac-12 haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, but their overhaul of their title game should give contenders like Oregon, USC and Utah a clear trail to return. Maximizing the chances of quality wins helps.
However, not all conferences would benefit equally. Before missing the 2021 ACC Championship Game, Clemson won its previous three title games by a combined 112 points. In a conference with no real peers, the Tigers’ pursuit was simply perfection. Beating Virginia in the 2019 ACC title would have accomplished the same thing as beating Florida State in 2013.
Perhaps most importantly, the system opens the door to creative regular season programming. The ACC has already announced that it is considering a 3-5-5 system with three permanent opponents and five more that rotate each year. The SEC will likely look into similar pod programming, with the league growing to 16 by 2025. Perhaps expanded non-conference partnerships or intra-conference tournaments could enter the fray.
If administrators need a guide to understanding the power of flexibility, look no further than college basketball. The West Coast Conference tournament draw had seeded Gonzaga all the way through the semifinals to start. The Bulldogs had to win less than half as many games as the No. 7 to No. 10 seeds to win the tournament. If you are the WCC, why make Gonzaga’s path more difficult than necessary?
Intermediate lectures are also clever with timings. In an attempt to get the NCAA’s attention, Conference USA created a seeding-based scheduling format that grouped the conference’s top five teams into a round-robin pool for the final segment of the regular season. . This way, all five teams would get a major increase in RPI with quality winning opportunities in hopes of becoming a two-bid league.
As college football continues to evolve, the math could change. If the college football playoffs expand, the SEC could choose to steer scheduling to protect multiple competing teams. If a competitor is not coming out of the ACC, providing a showcase might prove more valuable. A best-of-five conference could grow to the point of having a limit team in the playoffs each season.
In the end, that’s the point. The NCAA Board’s decision to eliminate conference championship mandates allows college football’s major conferences to make decisions for the right reason. This allows them to decide what is best for the game.