OT: Are Divisions necessary?

Submitted by 2Blue4You on December 3rd, 2012 at 1:14 PM

With this weekend of epic college football excitement (sarcasm?) and championship week, it got me thinking about the eroding of tradition and quality matchups in college football.  I will be the first to admit that I do not read the playoff scenarios top to bottom and multiply out who plays who each year in a 10 vs. 12 vs. 14 team conference, but I thought I would pose a question that I had not seen in my novice MGoBlog reading.

Currently the B1G sits as a 12 team conference but will soon be a 14 team conference.  After watching a 6-6 Georgia Tech team play in their conference championship against FSU, a 7-5 Wisconsin team that backed their way in because of sanctions dimantle an ok Nebraska team, a decent Stanford team play a decent game against a decent UCLA team when we all know that Oregon was the best team, and finally an SEC championship game that was a great matchup, it made me wonder about the purpose of divisions.  It makes sense in full leagues where there are 30 teams or so and in college football, conferences make up the "divisions" for college football.  This move to super conferences, increases the need to break them up into divisions again which basically moves us back to our original conferences (20 team conferences breaks up into 2 ten team divisions or whatever).

Taking the existing system we have this year, if the conference championship games consisted of the two best teams from each conference facing off against eachother, I think the last games of the regular season would be much more meaningful and better matchups.  The SEC got it right this year but they are a loaded football conference top to bottom.  But we were forced to suffer through a Wisconsin Nebraska championship game where we are left feeling like Wisconsin is kind of the champion but not really.  Why not take the best two teams and play a game?  

This past weekend's lineup would have been FSU vs. Clemson, Nebraska vs. Michigan, Stanford vs. Oregon, Alabama vs. Georgia, and maybe we could see Kansas St. vs. Oklahoma.  This lineup is not perfect but seems to be a bit more intriguing and would yield a more better games and more convincing league champions.  With a 4 team playoff following this like we will have in a few years, it is like an 8 team playoff when you consider championship games.  

No system is perfect and conference realighnment will detrmine how the future will look, but why do we have these divisions that are divided up based on location, quality of teams, and/or basically arbitrarily.  



December 3rd, 2012 at 1:34 PM ^

1. I could be wrong, but I think the NCAA dictates that if you have a championship game, you need to have divisions.

2. Divisions are just one system for organizing the league and determining who plays in the championship game. Your suggestion is just another means of determining who plays without the additional organizational elements. Personally, I think the benefits of structuring a 12+ team conference into divisions outweigh the costs, provided the conference is split sensibly.


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:58 PM ^

(LINK) - Here is the link to rule of the NCAA Bylaws concerning exemptions to the 12-game maxmimum season. Paragraph (c) seems to lend credence to your point here:

"(c) Twelve-Member Conference Championship Game.  [FBS/FCS]   A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division"

There is also a link to the changes which will go into effect in August 2014, presumably to accommodate the playoff system.


December 3rd, 2012 at 4:53 PM ^

I get it and there is no perfect system.  I think a Stanford vs. Oregon matchup would be a more accurate conference championship matchup.  It would be similar to the Alabama LSU rematch from last year where the National championship was given to Bama even though they split on the year. 


December 3rd, 2012 at 6:07 PM ^

Which was an assy situation that nobody outside the ESS-EEE-CEE liked, and a lousy example to try and make your point with.  For my part I prefer to minimize the chances of seeing a rematch game for a championship.  Although in an ideal world there wouldn't be a championship game, either, so that you could get rid of the divisions and just declare a conference championship the old way.  It would go a long way toward fixing the idea of being in a conference and only playing other members of the conference once every billion years.


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:28 PM ^

I think divisions are the fairest and best way to do it if done correctly.  This year in the Big Ten is a bit of an abberation b/c of OSU's and PSU's problems.  If a division winner is decided only by intra-division games, then I believe that's better than just picking the teams with the best record out of a giant conference.  Imagine, for example, a future Big Ten in which two teams have the best two records because they both drew a still-down Illinois, a crippled PSU, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland.  That would be really unfair to those who didn't have such luck.

In addition to the above, divisions maintain the familiarity with one's opponents that conferences used to bring.  Divisions keep Michigan, for example, tied to Minnesota, NW, Iowa, etc., whereas Michigan would just play most teams every couple of years (save OSU or MSU, presumably) without divisions, thus watering down any sort of conference rivalry. 

Mr Miggle

December 3rd, 2012 at 4:22 PM ^

having division winners picked by only intra division games. Nobody does that. We have had uneven scheduling pretty much forever in football and typically in other sports as well. Ignoring a significant part of the conference schedule strikes me as too great a cost for fairness. Note too, that counting 5 games out of 8 leads to a disparity in home and away games .


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:37 PM ^

That should be a Diary.

The divisions do split up the conferences, and the more teams we have the less frequently we'll play divisoinal opponents. However the divisional championship, and conference championship is a better method for determining the actual conference champion than a round robin guessing game, or teams voting, or taking turns going to bowl games as we've done in the past.



December 3rd, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

Teams A, B, and C are all 7-1 in conference play.

Team A beat team B, didn't play C, lost to....eh, let's say Northwestern (who isn't A, B, or C)

Team B lost to team A, beat team C

Team C lost to team B, didn't play A (and beat Northwestern)

Who goes to the Championship game?

Answer: Divisions


December 3rd, 2012 at 3:09 PM ^

And the likelihood (if you've made your divisions with competitive balance in mind) is that all of these teams won't be in the same division, making the decision process quite simple.

Remember the SEC in 2011? Undefeated LSU, 7-1 Georgia and Alabama, who didn't play one another. Who gets to go? Divisions solve the awkward selection process.


December 3rd, 2012 at 11:09 PM ^

No championship game that year then.  A gets crowned the champ.  C is out because of the head to head loss against their tied-with first place team.  And A already beat B head to head, so they take the cake.  Sorry, C didn't get a chance to play A; it'll happen, but they shouldn't have lost to B.  The NW loss by A doesn't matter because NW isn't a factor atop the standings.

IMO, Championship Games shouldn't be a must.  They should be played only when needed.  Let's say C also didn't play B above (and lost to someone else).  Then a CG game could be played between A and C, as they are both atop the standings even if they may or may not have lost to the same team.

Obviously, I say no to the Divisions as well.


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:30 PM ^

Divisions have their problems, but once conferences become too big to have a complete head-to-head, they're better than the alternative. With 11 teams, a single table set up barely worked in the Big 10, there were lots of seasons where the conference winner was partially determined by who teams didn't face, rather than who they beat. 

You need some way to create a fair comparative evaluation within conferences too large to allow complete head-to-heads. Divisions functionally create a series of shared games between intradivision teams, allowing a fairer evaluation than a system in which conference games are chosen at random. The current setup is not ideal, from a competitive equity standpoint. By guaranteeing fixed interdivision rivals, the league has created a system in which some teams will have more difficult conference schedules across time than others (UM playing OSU, vs. MSU playing Indiana). But the division setup does create a process for determining conference champions that is not entirely capricious.

This year's Big 10 matchup would have looked better had Ohio State not been on probation. Georgia Tech (and Georgia for that matter) raise the problem of divisions. But they seem the least bad solution to the large conference problem.


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:36 PM ^


Look at conference record over the last 10 years (For the new comers, use their conference record from previous conference).  Create a balanced schedule where each team plays 4 games against the top half, 4 games against the bottom half.  When picking from each bucket, always pick the teams that have gone the most years without facing each other.  Each team can have two "protected" games.  If your two protected teams are in, say, the top half, you then only play two other top half teams.

It's a bit messy, but could likely be done if, say, you are a conference that makes half a BILLION dollars a year and should be able to do something like creating a balanced schedule.

You'd have to release the schedule in 2 year chunks to ensure home-and-home stuff and guarantee each school gets enough home games, but that shouldn't be a deal breaker.  If they followed something like that and today released the 2014-2015 schedule, that'd be great.

Of course, I think this thing is headed toward a 16 team conference, in which case I'd like to see 4 divisions of 4 with a 4 team conference playoff.  Go NFL style where you round robin pair divisions against each other so that you can accurately determine division champs.  Keep a protected game or two.  If that protected game happens to be against a team in a third division, it can't count towards division standings since not all teams in the division share that opponent.

As much as I hate conference realignment, the theory crafting around how to do it right is kinda fun.  Of course, we know that none of our "good" ideas will be what they go with because Comcast & ESPN rule the world, Jim Delaney is a billion dollar puppet, and the University Presidents only care about how much money it infuses into the campuses.


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:37 PM ^

....if each team had 2-3 protected rivalry games and all other conf games were drafted at the beginning of the season and the two top teams are in the championship game.

Will never happen though.


December 3rd, 2012 at 1:47 PM ^

that permits a 13th game requires that it be a conference championship game between division champs.

I think the Big10 is earning itself some disfavor by pursuing realignment right now so I'd not be at all sure that it would be easy for the B10 to push changes on that front.


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:01 PM ^

Yes, I qualify as an old guy, but please, can't we go back to the Big Ten that we knew and loved in the '70s? Enough with all this expansion already. 12 teams in the league is ridiculous to begin with. Why couldn't they stop at 12, figure out some way to rescue the scheduling alliance with the PAC-12 and move on? 

Believe me, I'm all for the modern age, with UM adapting by getting faster, quicker players, and playing nationally ranked teams that positiion UM for a shot at the BCS title, but some things are sacred. The final game of the regular season should be against Ohio (State). There shouldn't be any division or sub-divisions when it comes to the Big Ten. 


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:03 PM ^

As most of us are coming to realize, the B1G will be at 16 soon enough. I don't think there is any way around the divisional format and a conference title game.


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:03 PM ^

As most of us are coming to realize, the B1G will be at 16 soon enough. I don't think there is any way around the divisional format and a conference title game.


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:23 PM ^

Each time I was given an option to comment, I stated "get rid of divisions"


So my answer is no they are not.  Sure you have to have balanced schedules, but there's an argument that playing within a weaker division (or one where the top teams are ineligible)  is an advantage. 

Also, you then don't need to name them. 


December 3rd, 2012 at 2:56 PM ^

I've heard this a lot this year, but remember that OSU and PSU were ineligible. If we had OSU vs Nebraska, that would be the two best teams based on the season to that point. Wisconsin was a fluke this year. I'd prefer not to have divisions (see: Big 12, 2010), but it's going to become a necessary evil for the B1G superconference that is forming.

Ali G Bomaye

December 3rd, 2012 at 3:47 PM ^

Not to be a history Nazi (har!), but I think you're thinking of World War I, which started when the Archduke was assassinated and a bunch of asinine alliances caused a regional conflict in the Balkans to mushroom into a war involving all of Europe.  WWII was mostly Hitler going apeshit and the remaining countries banding together to defend themselves.


December 3rd, 2012 at 5:00 PM ^

I haven't thought this all the way through, but when the B1G reaches 16 teams, would 4 four team divisions make sense?  Each team could play their three divisional foes, a protected rivalry, and one game against a team in each of the other three divisions each year.  The 8th conference game could be a match up game against a sister division (#1 in the Yost division vs. #1 in the Bo division for instance).  This would result in a four team conference tournament to crown the champion and would elimiate the problem of playing cross divisional foes once per decade.


I'm sure there are many problems with this idea.  Thoughts?


December 3rd, 2012 at 6:52 PM ^

I think it would really only work if you had some fluid divisions that somehow avoided putting the top teams all in one division. If you could somehow set up a system where the divisions can change based on performance, that would give you the best 4 teams in the end every year. Almost like seeding and then dividing into equal divisions, but that poses a new set of problems.

Downside: you could in theory play 4 of your 13 games against the same two teams.


December 3rd, 2012 at 8:46 PM ^

Whenever the media talks of 16 team conferences, they talk about 4 team divisions... because they make the most sense and allow you to play through the whole conference in two seasons with a 9 game schedule. There is some issue in detemining a champion, but those aren't hard to solve. 

I'd love to see Michigan, Ohio, MSU and uh Indiana? Pair it with the Eastern division of Maryland, Rutgers, PSU and whatever other ACC team we take. This works best if we take a western team to pair with Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa, too. 


December 3rd, 2012 at 7:13 PM ^

Maybe static divisions aren't necessary.

There was a post on here not too long about it, so I don't take credit for the idea, but I've been thinking about the logistics of it, almost like rotating divisions.

Assuming a 14 team conference (but this model would work better with 16 teams):

Two Pods (say A, B) of 3 teams and two pods of 4 teams (say C, D).  Teams in the same pod (i.e. Pod A) play each other every year.  Each 3 team pod is matched up with a 4 team pod, switching every year.  That means that 6 games are taken care of, with 1 crossover from each of the other pods you aren't matched with for a total of 8 conference games.  In this model, you will play everyone in your conference no fewer than every 3 years.

Basically, rotating divisions.  Two pods combined make up one half (or division) of the conference, pod combinations will produce two division champions who will play for the conference championship.

The idea is expandable (or even preferable) with 16 teams.  You'd have four four-team pods, with each pod always playing the other 3 in their pod, then matched up with another of the pods (rotates each year) and plays everyone in that pod.  Assuming we go to 9 conference games with a 16 team conference, that leaves 2 crossover games, one from each pod your team's pod isn't matched with for the year.

Now, with this model, you have two options to crown a conference champion:

Option 1: Four-Team playoff for the conference crown
 Winners of each of the 4 pods/divisions would be matched up for a four-team playoff for the conference title where overall conference record first determined which teams will represent which pods.  Semifinal could be done on campus sites, with the team with the higher record hosting, and final hosted at a neutral site.

Option 2: Each paired pod of 8 (two pairs of 8) are de-facto divisions
Teams with the best conference record from each pod-pairing each represent one half of the conference, match them up in the title game.  Title game hosted at a neutral site.

Of course, tiebreakers will be put into place to determine which of the two (or 4) teams will play for the conference championship.



December 3rd, 2012 at 11:18 PM ^

With all the expansion to superconferences are conference championships going to be relevant?  More teams means the conference will be less connected and schedule imbalance may become a major driver behind who plays in the championship game. 

I also worry about adding conference games which reduce the number of non-conference contests which further obscures the relative strength of the conferences.  In the extreme superconferences may "work" because you have enough teams you realize selecting a unanimous champion is nearly impossible so you may begin to care less about a rigorous selection process.  This could reduce the number of conference games allowing teams to build a schedule that helps them build a good resume.