Forget realignment, how about relegation?

college football

Press box chitchat is normally pretty standard fare (unless you’re lucky enough to get the ear of an actual scout who can educate you), but now and again you stumble on to a good idea. Colleague and former MHSR host Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post may have done just that.

Like me, Kiszla is a frustrated college football fan. Living in the home of the 24/7/365 Broncos news cycle, some of us miss being in a place where college football really matters. So, as we discussed the endless and overly emotional “CSU to the Big 12” stuff that still lingers in the Twitterverse and on the back pages of his sports section, Kiz came up with an idea. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. He hasn’t written about it yet (and maybe he thinks it’s too crazy and never will) but he definitely could be on to something here.

To begin with, I’ve yet to speak to one single serious college football observer who believes Colorado State is ready, right this minute, on the field or off, for full-scale membership in a Power Five football conference. Those of us who follow college football closely on a national basis can see the significant gap that still exists between CSU and even most of the bottom feeders in the Power Five conferences. Let’s not forget that my Rams lost to a last-place 4-9 Colorado Buffaloes team last season.

I don’t own any green and gold glasses, but I do believe with all my heart that CSU can someday in the not-too-distant future reach the point – as TCU and Utah did, and as Boise State and BYU are on the cusp of doing – of being able to compete in a Power Five conference. However, if you put the Rams in the Big 12 in 2016, they’d likely not win more than one or maybe two conference games.

Which brings us to Kiszla’s idea. I’m no soccer guy, but as Kiz pointed out, European soccer has a terrific feature that could remedy this entire Power Five/Group of Five dilemma for the NCAA. It’s called “relegation.”

Relegation basically means that you take underperforming teams at the upper level and swap them out for championship performing teams from the lower level. Pretty much like promoting a minor league pitcher who’s dominating at Triple-A while sending down the big league hurler who’s struggling to get guys out. Only this full team demotion lasts for at least a full year. According to Wikipedia, “Promotion and relegation have the effect of allowing the maintenance of a hierarchy of leagues and divisions, according to the relative strength of their teams. They also maintain the importance of games played by many low-ranked teams near the end of the season, which may be at risk of relegation. In contrast, a low-ranked U.S. or Canadian team’s final games serve little purpose, and in fact losing may be beneficial to such teams, yielding a better position in the next year’s draft.”

So why could this not work in college football? Think about it: After their performance on the field last season, which school truly deserves a spot in the Big 12 next season, Kansas or Houston? BYU could have replaced Oregon State in the Pac 12, while Navy could have been more competitive in the ACC than Boston College was.

There are currently 65 teams in the Power Five conferences. The best starting number is 70, meaning there would be five conferences with 14 teams each. Getting to that point would require some immediate adjustments. The Pac 12 would need to add two teams and the Big 12 another four. The ACC will need to make their arrangement with Notre Dame permanent and then subtract one more school, perhaps Boston College, to remain at 14.

Based not on hope, conjecture or emotion, but instead strictly on last season’s results on the field, the Pac 12 would be adding BYU and San Diego State, while the Big 12 would bring up probably Houston, Memphis, Toledo and Navy. After that initial adjustment, the best way to proceed two years later would be to have all five conferences add and subtract two teams each, meaning 10 spots would change place every two years.

After two seasons, each conference would relegate its two weakest teams, based on conference and overall record, while calling up two teams from remaining Group of Five. Every two years, the process gets repeated. There would be no campaigning or complaining. No emotion involved. Promotions and demotions determined strictly by performance. And the pressure to produce would never let up. Getting there would be great; staying there would be even more of a challenge. For CSU fans, this would mean that if the Rams played at a championship level during the first year in their new stadium in 2017, they’d be automatically called up to the Big 12 or Pac 12 for the following two seasons. They’d have to continue to perform to remain there.

Sure, there’s something strange sounding about having Toledo playing even temporarily in the Big 12. But is it any weirder than having Central Florida become a full-time member of the conference? Isn’t the idea of having your team have to earn their spot year after year exciting for fans? Wouldn’t it be great for all the Group of Five schools to have a shot at the big time every couple of seasons?

Realistically, this couldn’t be put into action before the 2018 season, so all the teams the 10 conferences would have ample time to ramp it up. Over the next two seasons, the current Group of Five schools – including Colorado State – would have the chance to prove they belong in a Power Five conference by either winning their conference and a promotion outright, or by being one of the top five wild card contenders.

What about the TV contracts – the engine that is driving all this conference expansion and realignment stuff? Not knowing for certain which TV markets will be part of each conferences TV package two years from now might be difficult for some TV execs to get their arms around. Then again, having late-season games between Purdue and Rutgers that has one school’s very survival on the line has its pluses, too. There would be more than one “Relegation Bowl” being played each November. That could be must see TV.

This plan could put an end to all the overly emotional chatter about which schools should be promoted, even if they haven’t earned it on the field yet (like CSU.) Plus these smaller schools would be spared from paying the enormous expansion entry fees that could set them back years. They could earn their shot at the big time without having to mortgage their future for the privilege.

Kiszla is on to something. It. Could. Work.

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