Saturday, October 14, 2006

Overhaul the NCAA

I was talking about fixing the college football championship, but I'd really like to completely change the organization of the NCAA. I just don't like the fact that a good football team like Boise State or Montana, or a good basketball team like Gonzaga, is stuck playing against poor-quality teams year after year.

And there are perennially bad teams, like Baylor, that play in the top conferences when they don't really deserve it.

So I suggest a system where the worst team of a region's top conference drops down to the secondary conference and the best team of the secondary conference rises up the next year to play in the top conference. This concept has worked quite well for a long time between the English soccer leagues.

This system could continue down through all the schools, and not just the top tiers. It could be set up to have vertical mobility from Division I-A all the way through Division III. Currently, the NCAA divisions are separated basically by how much the athletes are paid (in scholarships, etc.). While fair, I think it could also be fair to separate the teams based on performance.

A college could have a football team in a middling conference, a basketball team at the bottom, and a women's rugby team in a top tier. There would be no reason to rope all a college's different sports together in the same division. They could just float as performance dictates.

Since the current conferences don't have a one-to-one geographic relationship between top tier conferences, secondary conferences, tertiary, etc., the whole NCAA organization would have to be realigned based on regions.

I would propose dividing the country into six regions of 50 to 60 Division I schools. Divisions II and III are most common in the Midwest and East Coast, so those regions would have many more lower-tier conferences than the West. The top-tier conferences, however, would be equally strong from region to region. Or, at least, as close as we can make it. For example, the Northeast is strong in basketball, but weak in football, so they'd have more "undeserving" teams in the football top tier than other regions. But that's just the way it would have to be if we want it to work for all sports.

My regions are as follows: West, Central, North, Southeast, East, Northeast.

The top conferences in each region could be called Pacific, Central, Midwest, Southeast, Atlantic Coast, and East, just to confuse things. The secondary conferences could be called, um. . . , Western, Missouri Valley, Mid-America, Sunbelt, Mid-Eastern, and Atlantic. But the names don't really matter.

Each conference would have the same number of teams. This could be ten or twelve, but I think the best would be nine. That way, a football team could have eight conference games (which is how many the Big Ten currently has, for instance) and four non-conference games, and play all the teams in their conference. A basketball team could have sixteen conference games (which is how many the SEC currently has, for instance), and twelve or however many non-conference games, and play all the teams in their conference twice.

The West Region would have 126 teams, the Central 121, North 197, South 117, East 152, and Northeast 333.

The West Region would be divided into fourteen conferences in six tiers (grouped 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4). The Northeast Region, on the other hand, would be 34 conferences in seven tiers (grouped 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 8, 16). The first four tiers of each region would be equivilent to Division I. (Central would be 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4; North 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4, 8; South 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4; East 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 8.)

At the third tier, the region would be divided in half geographically into two equal-level conferences. The same would happen when those divide to 4, 8, or 16 in a region. For each pair with one "parent" conference, both champions would rise to the higher tier. The bottom two from the "parent" conference would be dropped down. If the teams from the "parent" conference happen to be from the same mini-region, the dividing line between the two mini-regions would shift to keep the conferences even. Potentially, a geographically middle college would switch back and forth between the mini-regions from year to year, but I think that's a minor drawback. They'd have marginal ties to either group, anyway.

The top-tier Pacific football conference, using the way things stand now, would include all the Pac-10 except Stanford. Colorado would also get bumped to the second-tier Western football conference. Those two would be playing against schools like Boise State, Idaho, Hawaii, Air Force, BYU, Utah, and Colorado State. I think Boise State would quickly rise up to the top-tier conference and not look back. Perhaps Arizona would fall down and stay awhile in the Western. And Idaho might just lose and go down to play with Montana or North Dakota.

The top-tier Pacific basketball conference, however, would not include Washington State or Arizona State, but would include Colorado. Gonzaga would start in the third-tier conference, just for tradition's sake, but they'd probably nose out Oregon State or someone for a permanent spot at the big kids' table.

So that's how it might look if this plan were inacted. But do I really think the schools would even consider this plan if I could get it in front of them? Not really. But I can dream, can't I?