My weathered old Webster's New World dictionary defines conference as the following-
But is a conference a conference if its members don't [see definition no. 2] "associate"?
- A formal meeting for discussion
- An association of schools, churches, etc.
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.