The NCAA and Relegation–Part I of II
The recent “conference realignment” has been troubling to some based on the degree to which on-field performance has not mattered. In a strange way, college sports fans might have been able to better understand the Big 10 adding Texas and Oklahoma, rather than Rutgers and Maryland. The latter added cultural fits, perhaps, but it was rather plainly a case of the Big 10 going after television demographics rather than on-field performance. Even if the Big 10 adding two more football kings would have destroyed the Big XII and radically altered the sport, at least the Big 10 would have added football teams in a football-centric world. If you are a sports conference, you should be looking to add the most successful institutions–not the ones that give you the most bang for the buck. Performance should matter. When a Rutgers has more value than Oklahoma, it is obvious performance does not matter. If so, would you prefer an NCAA with promotion and relegation? (Click here for Part II)
What is relegation? While the Confidential is reluctant to cite Wikipedia, the definition of relegation on that site is clear and concise: “In sports leagues, promotion and relegation is a process where teams are transferred between two divisions based on their performance for the completed season. The best-ranked teams in the lower division are promoted to the division above, and the worst-ranked teams in the higher division are relegated to the division below.”
And there is a sense that some schools do not deserve their position in the major conferences. Who is more likely to win anything of significance–Washington State or its neighbor Boise State? East Carolina’s football has consistently not been #5 within the state of North Carolina. Could South Florida and Central Florida someday be a more reliable football school than Miami? Does Connecticut not have a more impressive history of basketball and football performance than Rutgers? UConn has national championships in hoops and an actual BCS appearance. And so on.
But what if performance did matter for conference alignment. Consider a sports world in this context:
Football Big 10: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa
Football Big 10 Lite: Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Rutgers, Maryland, Kansas, Kansas State
A little top heavy, right? And one could argue that Kansas State has a right to take the place of Minnesota and Iowa.
Well, what if Kansas State had the right to earn the opportunity to be in that spot? Every five years, the Big 10 could take the worst team from the Football Big 10 and replace them with the best team from the Football Big 10 Lite over that same period. Kansas State (or someone else) would earn the right to move up.
The Big 10 could do the same thing for basketball:
Basketball Big 10: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Kansas, Maryland
Basketball Big 10 Lite: Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Rutgers, Kansas State
Some good teams on that bottom line. Illinois certainly might deserve that spot over Purdue and Maryland. And Indiana has not been consistently great since Bob Knight was dispatched to Texas Tech and ESPN. But that would sort itself out
And scheduling would be interesting. For football, the teams on the top line could play each other (7 games), plus 2 from the Lite. With the NCAA ready to approve the potential elimination of divisions, relegation-esque divisions would make things interesting. For basketball, maybe a round-robin within the top line, plus 4 games against the other.
There are a bunch of reasons why relegation would not work. Tradition is one. But with the erosion of West Virginia/Pitt, Texas/Texas A&M, and Missouri/Kansas, are the decision-makers really caring about that these days?
The NCAA is about student-athletes, not student-athletes. Do we really need to address this myth? Louisville is in the ACC, Missouri is in the SEC, Utah is in the Pac-12, and Boise State was “this close” to being in the Big East. These geographical absurdities were not caused to promote the student–it was all about money.
A better argument is consistency. Who wants to follow an ever-changing conference landscape? Well, fans currently do deal with a lack of consistency. And at least promotion and relegation would allow schools to earn of spots in the major conferences.
And then there is the issue of measuring who to promote and relegate. Would it be football-centric? Would it be basketball-centric? What about olympic sports? Well, there is no reason why a 16-team Big 10 could not make these decisions on a sport-by-sport basis. But even if it was more global, this is the information age. For 15 years, computers were determining who played for the national championship. Certainly there is a way to measure sports performance numerically. And if all 16-teams agreed to the measurement, there is little room to complain.
Moreover, think of the scheduling improvements. For Florida State, it would mean playing 7 games against the best football schools in the conference, plus two more. Instead of Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest (plus perhaps a subpar Coastal opponent), the Seminoles could increase their schedule strength. And better games would mean more excitement and interest. And so on.
Later this week, we will show one example of a divided NCAA that would accommodate promotion and relegation. But for now we welcome your thoughts on relegation. What do you think are the pros and cons? Would it be worth it despite the cons?