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Submission Corner
« Overseas? | Main | Think »

I agree

Bifurcation: bad.

Round-robin: good.

My weathered old Webster's New World dictionary defines conference as the following-

  1. A formal meeting for discussion
  2. An association of schools, churches, etc.
But is a conference a conference if its members don't [see definition no. 2] "associate"?

Apparently not.  Here are three teams from each of the big 12-team conferences, the ACC, the SEC and the Big 12.  Notice who is missing on their schedules?

  • Georgia Tech (7-4), ACC: Florida State, Boston College, Maryland
  • Iowa State (7-4), Big 12: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma
  • Georgia (10-2), SEC: Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and would not have played LSU if not for the SEC title game.

How, exactly, are these conferences associating?

At 7-4, Georgia Tech and Iowa State were very close to being ineligible for bowl games, needing a minimum of six wins.  Georgia benefited from a softening of its schedule to play its way into a BCS game.  The math behind the larger conferences has won out to where their institutions enjoy far greater benefits than those who elected not to play along in this clever but nefarious game.

What ends up happening is that a lot of teams have inflated records.  Aggregate enough teams with inflated records, and suddenly a conference is raking in a lot more attention for its institutions, as well as bowl appearances.  For example, the Pac-10 was unable to fulfill its allotment of bowl teams this year.  The conference doesn't play this scheduling game like its brethren elsewhere, and it cost them in terms of psychological conference prestige and the monetary rewards of bowl appearance money---money that went to other teams who claimed some of its vacant bowl slots.  I should note that the Big 10 has abstained from the two-division/12-team setup.  However, it has eleven members and is thus unable to create a true round-robin as will happen next year in the Pac-10.

The benefit to the round-robin is that it's far less confusing for fans and eliminates the "what if" aspect at the end of the year.  Imagine if Auburn and Oklahoma had played their entire conference last year?  What if one of them had lost?  The benefits are potentially tremendous in that we can get more information on these teams and have a better idea of their relative strength when doing rankings.  I'm a strong advocate for good faith scheduling, and it's important right now because we're seeing a great many more record disputes than ever before, and it's a fair argument to say a lot of that traces back to the creation of the larger conferences and the greater emphasis on soft out of conference scheduling that has been discussed ad nauseum on here.

I hope you understand my intent isn't to slam a particular conference here, or elevate another.  However, I do feel honest scheduling is important and reduces a lot of the end-year confusion and bitterness if properly implemented.  Until everyone's held to a more uniform standard these debates won't end.

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Reader Comments (13)

You might want to check UGA's schedule again. They play Auburn every year. Also, I wouldn't call not having to play Ole Miss as a potential stumbling block that they missed out on.

I will admit that this year having Miss. St. and Arkansas as our other 2 Western opponents was easier than years past. At the same time, 2 years ago we played LSU, Alabama, and Auburn from the West and we still made the Championship Game. That will come around again for us in a few years. The schedule goes in cycles and you must beat who is placed in front of you. A championship game leaves no uncertainty about who the Champion is. If you win your games you will be in the Championship game and playing the best of the best who did their job as well. By not having a championship game you leave doubt as to who the Champion is. Take the Big Ten a few years ago. Iowa and Ohio State both went thru the league undefeated. If they play for the true champion of the league then OSU might prove they were not the best in the league and not have even gotten a shot in the National Championship Game.

This is yet another thing that is unfair in college football. I think either every conference should have the champ. game or none of them should have it. It cost Tenn. a shot at the title in 2001 when they lost to LSU. IT helped LSU get in the title game over USC in 2003. So having the game can both help or hurt a team. It just makes sense to have it when so much good (money, conference exposure, true Championship Sat.,etc.) can come from it!

Just my opinion of course but I enjoy your blog and always look forward to seeing the way other people perceive all that pertains to college football.

Go Dawgs!!!
December 19, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDirty South Dawg
You, sir, are correct. I watched that game, lol---4th & 19 how can I forget. I can't believe that went right by me. I'll correct that.

The larger issue obviously remains.
December 19, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR
RA, you've writtem a lot of BULLSHIT in the past but, this might be the biggest pile to date.
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
"I think either every conference should have the champ. game or none of them should have it."

I agree. If you've got 10 teams, a round robin sounds perfect. If we (the SEC) could kick out Arkansas and Vandy, I'd love to play every other team every year. I'd probably prefer that. On the other hand, the Pac-10 could add Fresno St. and Boise St., and you'd find that conference championship games are wildly exciting.

Conference consistency simply will never happen, much like determining a true champion without a playoff (with the exception of this year, of course).
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterThe General
I think your definition of association is a little too narrow. Just by agreeing to play by the same rules, and putting their names together they are associated.
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered Commenternobrainer
Also, the "bifurcation" strategy does involve round robins, just on a smaller scale within the 6-team divisions. There can never be division co-champions who didn't play each other. Then the best of one division plays the best of the other.

Your argument that "UGA wouldn't have played LSU but for the SECCG" falls flat. You can't compare ways of determining a champion and ignore the game that determines the champion. Would it be better if LSU and UGA had played twice? They did play twice in 2003 with the same result both times.

Like I said above, I love the idea of a full round-robin, but it really only works if you have 10 teams. With 12, a championship game is the correct way.

Finally, why do people say "2005 ACC Champs FSU" is a joke, but "1983 NCAA Champs NC State" or "1985 NCAA Champs Villanova" is legendary and magical?
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterThe General
The General,

I tend to enjoy conference championship games, but I don't think they're appropriate for the game.

Round-robin is possible if a few conferences can agree to decrease their numbers. Within a 10-team conference it is now possible to do so, and we get most games played within the Big 10 (11). That's the ideal, in CFR's mind.

Why can't the Big 12 go back to eight, maybe make the ACC 10 teams, and the SEC 10, and those spinoff teams could latch onto another conference or the other non-BCS conferences could also broker with the free agents, make their own 8-10 team conferences, and go about a process whereby conferences can play round-robin regular seasons, and member institutions annually play.

I think conference consistency can happen, it simply takes leadership.
December 20, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR

You are correct in that association can more loosely be defined as any connection or agreement.

However, the Big Ten and Pac-10, in that context, are also associates, playing in the Rose Bowl whenever the BCS doesn't intercede.

But in the context of conferences, it has long been established that conferences are set up to create ANNUAL games played between their institutions.

I can't think of a single NCAA sport where all conference members have not played each other except football. Why is that? It used to be that way, but then several conferences got greedy and expanded, forcing everyone to follow, so now we're at a point where these conferences, by your definition, are merely associations.

It's done damage to the game, regardless.
December 20, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR
The General,

Answering your question about "2005 ACC Champion Florida State", it's because FSU didn't go through a playoff to win their crown, as did Villanova etc. They were selected based on record to play in a final game against someone else also selected by record.

I'm not a playoff advocate and think the championship game is a bastardization of the regular season scheduling rules.

You make my point for me when saying the Round Robin isn't possible with 12 teams. That's why we need smaller conferences that don't have this two-division/bifurcation setup. The schedule is too short for 12-team conferences to be considered legit "conferences".

Six teams is probably too small, but if we want to be fair, the two divisions should maybe become their own conferences, and only play under the label of that split they belong to.

Why should Florida State fly the ACC champion flag when in reality they're the ACC Atlantic Division champions who also won a game against 3 teams from the ACC Coastal Division and a game against the Coastal Division champs. That's what they really are, not the ACC champs.

But what happens is the prestige of the conference lifts up members who haven't necessarily played everyone within it, which sometimes gives them a bloated record that doesn't really reflect their accomplishments or lack thereof.

Why create confusion? Just play it straight.
December 20, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR
Here's the one problem with a round robin style conference system: it doesn't ensure an undisputed champion of the conference any more than a conference where teams don't always play each other.

Example: USC beats UCLA, loses to Oregon. UCLA beats Oregon, loses to USC. Oregon beats USC, loses to UCLA. Everyone wins the rest of their games. Who wins the conference and plays in the Rose Bowl?

The argument relies, above all other things, that a conference championship is somehow "wrong". Why is a conference championship outside of the regular season OK in basketball, or baseball, or just about every other sport, but not in football?

I agree with the premise that college football's disparate sized conferences make it difficult to compare teams. And as someone who likes the idea of elite teams playing one another late in the year with everything on the line, I prefer the bifurcated, championship game system. I suppose I could make an argument somehow that says unless you have a conference title game, it's not legit, or something, but it's not needed.

Y'see, the argument boils down to "I like my thing better than yours." It's opinion, not a semantic discussion of "what is a conference?". And your opinion is surely valid, as much as anyone's.

That said, I think I'd be in favor of a complete realignment of Division 1-A with 9 12 team conferences, each with 6 team divisions and conference title games. Get rid of 11 teams (or actually enforce the D-1A rules and require the directional schools to actually fill the seats with people, not athletic department-purchased tickets). Then everyone would have the same situation, same rules. (Then, if I'm dreaming this up, take the 9 title winners and the next best 7 teams and have a playoff).
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLD
The flaw with your proposal is that we still don't have everyone playing everyone within the conference within the 12-team alignment. There's still confusion.

We know the Pac-10 and Big 10 champions based on their conference rules. The champion isn't so important anyway as finding a way to accurately rank the teams. The closer we have to round-robin, the more perfect information we can get on these teams, how they face up against the various offenses, defenses, talent levels and styles of play within their conferences.

As far as conference championships outside the regular season, I think they're horrific. I'm very not in favor of those conference championship tournaments in NCAA basketball, either FOR NCAA Basketball or NCAA Football.

Getting back to your "everyone plays within a 12-team conference" proposal: that still doesn't solve, really the best team question. It isn't a true playoff but a 1-game championship appointed by best record within a division. It cannot account for division imbalances and its completely dishonest and inaccurate to crown an "ACC Champion" or "Big 12 Champion" etc. when in fact that team didn't even play everyone (or as close to everyone) as possible within the conference.

12 teams is simply too many, given the amount of games NCAA teams play. The brilliance of the season is that it is so short and competitive. To have an accurate and representative season within the 12-team format we'd basically have to create something akin to the NFL season, upwards of 16 games and 18 overall weeks.
December 20, 2005 | Registered CommenterCFR
First things first, I think what the Pac 10 is doing next season kicks ass.

That said, I think you are nitpicking here, RA. I think of it this way--in the SEC (e.g.), what the teams are doing is trying to win notsomuch their conference, but their division. To this end, every team plays every team in its own division, and then the two division winners left standing at the end of the season play off for the title.

Did Georgia play Alabama this season? No, but to be conference champ they had to beat LSU, who had beaten both 'Bama and Auburn to earn the SEC West division title. Essentially, the regular season separated the wheat from the chaff, and LSU was left standing. The bottom line is that Georgia didn't need to play 'Bama, because over the course of the season LSU proved itself stronger and a more worthy representative for the division in the title game.

There a lot of people claiming that Auburn is the strongest team in the SEC, but you'd be hard pressed to make the case that on the season's evidence Auburn deserved the spot opposite Georgia in the SEC Championship instead of LSU.

In truth, the conference that is really running the risk of having a shit champion is the Big 10. Purdue turned out to be a joke this season, but they had the setup--avoid the two best teams (i.e., what were perceived to be the two best teams in the preseason), go 8-0, hope the good teams lose a game along the way. In fact, Wisconsin pulled this off a few years ago (1998), winning the conference after going 7-1, losing to Michigan but avoiding Ohio State--they were nowhere near the best team in the conference, but represented it in the Rose Bowl. If they had played either OSU or Michigan in a title game, they'd have been stuffed.

(One last thing, regarding FSU's "illegitimate" title--there are two teams that are perceived as 'title-worthy' (i.e., legitimate) in the ACC, and FSU beat them both. Sure, they had a lot of shit losses and, really, aren't all that great, but they did what they had to do, and to bitch about the title as somehow tainted is a bit misplaced--bitch about how bad VT or Miami are instead.)
December 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSolon
I also think that the Pac 10 is doing something good in forcing all teams to play one another, but take note that there could be a side effect: while the rest of the country is playing at least 4 OOC games, the Pac 10 will only play 3. That will remove several opportunities to play those all-important (according to many people) inter-sectional road games (every other year, each Pac 10 team will play 5 conference road games, limiting the potential for OOC road games if these teams want to keep pace in fundraising by having at least 6-7 home games each year). The question I pose is this: will those who criticize schedules of other conferences train their same guns on teams who fail to schedule good opponents or road games?

For example (and I'm speaking hypothetically and in the future, not referencing specific schedules already in place), take Cal. They'll likely be renovating or rebuilding a stadium in the coming years, and will need revenues to pay for it. If every other year they already have 5 away games scheduled by the conference, and they need 7 home games worth or revenues to pay the notes on the construction loans, will the Bears schedule a road game against Oklahoma, or would they instead schedule Portland State and Sacramento State at home?

Another example: USC plays a home and home against Notre Dame. Assuming the game at ND coincides with USC having 5 home conference games, they'd have to schedule two other OOC home games to get to 7, and again couldn't travel. USC (with whose schedule I have no problems) would then be subject to a much more restrictive schedule - and might be forced into bringing weaker opponents because it can't guarantee home and homes with quality opponents.

And if these teams do schedule weaker opponents because of the new scheduling restrictions, will they then receive the criticism directed toward other conferences by many West Coast bloggers? Or will the critics all revert to the "we play an extra conference game so we're limited in what we can do" excuse? It might indeed be a valid excuse, just like how scheduling restrictions placed on other teams provide a valid excuse (which is rarely accepted by those same critics, though). It'll be interesting to see how it pans out. Just something to think about and watch for.
December 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLD

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