Solving College Football’s Conference Problem

Ten days ago I watched my alma mater commit two penalties while trying to stop a three-man rush on the final play of a one-score game.

The Virginia Tech turkeys won 31-24.

Instead of anger, there was a sort of melancholy after the game, not because West Virginia lost to a historic rival, but because we don’t play our rivals anymore.

This was the first game between the teams, a pair of schools separated by four hours and 250 miles, since 2005. Tech bolted for the ACC more than a decade ago, fleeing with Miami and Boston College and leaving the Big East a lot worse for wear. We won three BCS bowl games in the following seven years, but conflict with the basketball schools ultimately sunk that ship for good, resulting in our misfit jump to the Big 12.

We don’t play Tech, we don’t play Pitt, and we stopped getting our ass kicked by Penn State back in 1992.

Some of those games are coming back around in non-conference scheduling, which creates great interest for me while also refreshing the original distaste I had for this most recent cycle of realignment.

Let’s be honest; college football is a lot better when regional and historic rivals are squaring off each and every year.

This is what I’d rather see:

 

“Eastern Football Conference” (or an equally generic and shitty name)

Pittsburgh, Penn State, Maryland, West Virginia, Rutgers, Boston College, Connecticut, Temple, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

I think there’s a cross-section of Penn State fans who view their school as “above” eastern football based on size and academics. I don’t know how large that number is, but I’ve spoken to a lot of alumni who feel like they should be playing Ohio State and Michigan instead of Pitt and Rutgers.

That’s understandable, and PSU is once again a top-tier program, but if you look back at the golden years of Nittany Lion football, you find schedules that were filled with games against eastern teams.

Joe Paterno was a proponent of an eastern football league and tried to make it a reality a few decades ago. The story is watered down these days, but it didn’t work out for several reasons and Penn State ended up in the Big 10 while the other schools went elsewhere.

Of course, none of this solves the issue that destroyed the Big East in the first place.

What happens to Villanova, Seton Hall, and the other schools that don’t play D1 football?

I don’t know what the answer is right now, but I don’t see why eastern basketball and eastern football have to be linked. Basketball realignment doesn’t matter nearly as much because there are more games and more opportunities to play meaningful rivals even after inexplicably putting programs like Georgetown and Syracuse in different conferences.

This is what it would look like to travel from Penn State, to Pitt, to West Virginia, to Tech, to blah blah blah you get it.

Would you rather do these road trips, or hop a plane to Nebraska?

Atlantic Coast Conference

Louisville, Clemson, NC State, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Navy, Wake Forest, Miami, Florida State, South Florida, Georgia Tech

It looks like a weaker ACC, but Clemson and FSU are perennial top-five types, then you’ve got the likes of Louisville, Miami, GT, and North Carolina hanging around the top 25.

You’re also improving the conference by cutting out the Boston College traitors and Orange underachievers, then bringing in USF for another Florida team and moving Navy out of independent status and putting them in a geographically feasible conference.

Reminder:

Big 12 (expanded to 14 teams)

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M, Houston, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Colorado

The lack of a title game screwed the Big 12 more than once since the playoff system was established a few years back.

I like the idea of a north/south split, but it’s unbalanced in quality if you group the Texas and Oklahoma teams. A solid Nebraska and Missouri would have to keep the north afloat, because Kansas and Iowa State sure ain’t doing it.

It’s been fun to see teams like the Longhorns and Sooners in Morgantown, but we just don’t belong in the Big 12. This is where we’re located compared to our conference foes:

Big 10 (with 12 teams)

Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Western Michigan, Notre Dame

Don’t laugh at the Western Michigan inclusion. That program is solid and would immediately compete with teams like Purdue and Minnesota.

Any conference with Ohio State, the Michigans, and Wisconsin is already elite, so reshuffling geographically and forcing the coddled Irish into a conference would make for a lot of intriguing games.

The issue with Notre Dame, at least for me, has always been their penchant for stealing bowl bids from more deserving teams. I clearly remember a year where a 7-5 Notre Dame jumped a 9-3 West Virginia when it came time for selection.

Special preference?

Maybe, but I do understand that their massive traveling fan base is much more ideal for a mid-tier game like the Sun or Gator Bowl. I’d probably make the same decision if I was a corporate money grubber, merit be damned.

That said, I think the Irish belong in the Big 10, and you can still play those historic games against Southern Cal and Stanford in the non-conference schedule.

Pac 12 (expanded to 14)

North – Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, California, Boise State

South – Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, San Diego State, BYU

Things are more clear out west because there are fewer D1 programs clustered in smaller regions. The distance is what it is.

I’m removing Colorado and sending them back to the Big 12. I like adding Boise State and BYU to the conference, then smoothing out the south with San Diego State, a program that has had a couple of good seasons while also giving us this guy:

 

SEC (now with 12 teams)

East – Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida

West – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State

No huge changes here; I’m just booting Aggy and Missouri back to the Big 12 where they belong.

A 12-team SEC (instead of 14) gives us more of those interesting cross-division matchups, like Georgia/Auburn and Florida/LSU.

The thing with the SEC is that a lot of regional programs are far away from making the leap into one of the country’s best conferences. Even with a couple of underrated Sunbelt and Conference USA programs vying for “BCS” status, I don’t see any that are ready for the SEC.

I used to live in Georgia and loved every minute of SEC insanity, like these folks who call up Paul Finebaum’s radio show.

Independent / Leftovers

Army (indy), UMass (indy), Western Kentucky, Tulsa, UCF, Air Force, Appalachian State, Cincinnati, ECU

You could make an argument for those seven leftover programs to be in “BCS” conferences. Is App State good enough to play in the ACC? I dunno, but they’re a good program. East Carolina had a bit of a surge before trailing off in the past few seasons. UCF is another large school in a good location. Cincinnati had some great years in the new Big East before Brian Kelly bolted for South Bend.

You just can’t fit everybody in.

And I get it; it’s all about money at the end of the day, but college football is better when geographic and historic rivals are playing each other.

What do you think?

Create a clever nickname, something like “Paul Jolovitz fan club president,” then leave a message in the comments section.

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