Conference Championship Game Deregulation and its Impact on College Football

According to a CBS Sports report, the regulations for conferences in FBS football who want to hold a championship game will be relaxed as of 2016. To refresh our memory, here are the two most important rules:

  1. Conferences must have 12 teams or more in order to hold a championship game.
  2. Conferences must separate those teams into divisions, the winner of each division advancing to the championship game.

According to this report, conferences would no longer be required to meet these two criteria starting in 2016 if the legislation passes. This means that, if the Big 12 finds itself in the same predicament it did last season, the two teams could play in a Big 12 championship game. The more important factor, however, is the requirement of having two divisions being gone. That means conferences with more than 12 teams (pretty much everybody but the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently) could decide to do away with strict divisions and increase their flexibility in scheduling.

A few years ago when talks of this regulation first started (and when conference expansion was in full swing), I wrote a bit about how this would affect the Big Ten. I originally wrote that post from the perspective of further expansion, but the concept still applies with 14 teams. Similar to that subdivision model, the Big Ten could go back to how it originally scheduled games, having a number of fixed teams play each other every year, then the rest of teams rotate year after year. For those who don’t remember how that looked like, here it is:

  • Ohio State played Michigan and Penn State every year.
  • Michigan played Ohio State and Michigan State every year.
  • Wisconsin played Iowa and Minnesota every year.
  • …and so on.

The benefits of this scheduling method were that teams played each other more regularly. If we were to apply this method to the current Big Ten, it could look like this:

New Big Ten Rotation schedule
Illinois Indiana Iowa Maryland Michigan Michigan State Minnesota
Northwestern Purdue Wisconsin Penn State Ohio State Michigan Wisconsin
Indiana Illinois Nebraska Rutgers Michigan State Maryland Iowa
Purdue Rutgers Minnesota Michigan State Minnesota Ohio State Michigan
Nebraska Northwestern Ohio State Penn State Purdue Rutgers Wisconsin
Wisconsin Illinois Michigan Ohio State Indiana Maryland Nebraska
Iowa Purdue Penn State Maryland Northwestern Penn State Iowa
Northwestern Nebraska Michigan State Rutgers Illinois Indiana Minnesota

Under this scenario, the Big Ten now has a 6-game rotation as opposed to 3, so you won’t again see a scenario where Iowa goes six years without playing Illinois or Nebraska not having played Indiana for just as long. Only teams with established rivalries play yearly, with a few exceptions. Since all teams end up playing more frequently, the change adds the indirect benefit of having the Big Ten’s biggest brands play more frequently, too.

Another, even more important benefit, is that the championship game is not locked into teams from opposing divisions. The two best teams will play in the championship game year after year. This avoids a scenario like 2012, where Wisconsin went to the Big Ten Championship game against Nebraska when both Michigan and Northwestern had better records, but were in the same division as Nebraska.

Lastly, this opens up the possibility of forgoing a championship game altogether in years where there is one clear champion/best team. For example, Ohio State had an 8 – 0 conference record last season. A championship game against Wisconsin was therefore unnecessary. Now, I do understand that given the current landscape this is mostly a pipe dream of mine, but the possibility is still there (and if I read the CBS report correctly, this is how the Big 12 is approaching the situation).

Relaxing the rules for a championship game between conferences could have a meaningful impact in the college football landscape. The benefits outlined above far outweigh any potential drawbacks of such a scenario. If this legislation does pass The Big Ten should implement a division-less structure immediately.

All of the Topics. All of the Time.