Bret Bielema had a fantastic idea for scheduling. He suggested that two conferences, like the Big Ten and SEC, have a challenge. In his plan there would be one week of the season where the conferences would play each other. The best teams from one conference would play best teams from the other, and then the next best teams would play and so on down the line. It’s the kind of thing that has been discussed and debated in bars and break rooms. Friends and rivals argue about who would win in such a hypothetical. It’s fun to talk about, but could it be feasible?
The big hurdle would be logistics. If you are going to schedule in an unorthodox manner, you will have to be sure it will work. College football games require way more preparation and coordination than most of us realize. The personnel that is needed to run a game as well as traffic management, parking and clean up is massive. Games can’t just happen without some notice.
Look at South Carolina and LSU this year. Williams-Brice Stadium was fine to host a football game, but the personnel that would be needed wasn’t available. Nearby cities like Charlotte couldn’t host very easily because they had other things going on. Putting football games on with short notice doesn’t work.
To alleviate the notice problem, both conferences in the challenge could split up their teams into half who will play at home and half who will play away. That’s going to have to happen anyway, but if it is determined at the outset, then the home team may not know who it is playing, but it will know it will be preparing for a home game. It will know most of what it needs. The traveling team won’t know where their plane will be touching down, but they will know they need to travel. This is doable logistically.
The challenge must be formulaic. It’s not going to work as well if ESPN decides who they want to see play. There will be cries about fairness and some teams getting marquee matches while others get left on the Ocho. To fix this, just make the standings the determinant for who plays who. If you’ve already chosen who will be home and who will be away, just put them in order based on their conference standings, and viola you have your match ups.
Television, ESPN in particular, drives college football. There is so much money in televising games it causes conference to expand and teams to change conferences. TV is the reason this might actually happen. A challenge would be fantastic viewing. Everyone will tune into an Alabama-Ohio State game, but how do you get people to tune into Missouri and Indiana? Simple, you make that game matter for the conferences.
This would be a whole weekend affair. You could do it on labor day weekend to start the season. On Thursday you would have an early and a late game in the challenge. Friday night would have a game too. Saturday would be like New Year’s Day: game after game that mattered. Add a game or two on Sunday night and a big one on Labor Day, and you have five days of non-stop conference battle. The ratings would be massive.
SEC v. Big Ten v. ACC
A combination of the SEC, Big Ten or ACC would be the quickest and easiest to put together. There are 14 teams in each conference, meaning every team would play and no one would be left out. A challenge with another conference could work, but you would need to add teams. For instance the Pac-12 could have a challenge and add BYU and Notre Dame to the mix for the weekend, if they were willing.
The SEC and Big Ten match up against each other better than with the ACC because there are very few games between the conferences now. The ACC and SEC play plenty already. Imagine the problems if Clemson and South Carolina were to play twice in a season or Kentucky and Louisville. That won’t make the season better; it would be redundant. Plus the Big Ten and the SEC are the two conferences who argue about who is supreme. No one is really arguing the ACC is better than the SEC or the Big Ten.
How It Would Work
Let’s assume the SEC and Big Ten were to play this year. First we have to divide the two conferences into home halves and away halves. The Big Ten is easier. We take the last week of the season, with its rivalry games, and do the opposite for the challenge. For instance, in years where Ohio State plays at Michigan, Michigan will be away for the challenge, and Ohio State will be at home. That should help balance the schedules, to some extent. Using that formula, here’s the 2015 Big Ten home and away groups:
The SEC is a little trickier because many of the rivalry games are out of conference. There would be other ways to figure this out, but for the sake of example, here’s how I broke them up. South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky play out of conference games the last week of the season, so I assigned them home or away to balance the locations of those games. For example, in 2015 South Carolina plays Clemson at home, so South Carolina would be away for the challenge. I did the same with the Egg Bowl and Iron Bowl. That resulted in more away teams for 2015 than home teams. LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Missouri don’t play a historic, rivalry game the last week, so the same rationale didn’t work as well. I divided them relatively randomly to get to seven home and away teams. Here’s the SEC for 2015.
Then we look at the standings from 2014 and line everyone up. The only tricky thing about this part is tie-breakers. The conferences have tie breakers, but they aren’t designed for cross-division, so they might want some new ones. Using the old ones, here’s what we get for the Big Ten.
Here is the SEC:
So, we just match everyone up. No politicking, no complaining. As the head ball coach says, it is what it is. Here are the match-ups.
This would be an awesome weekend of football. It’s shocking how even it seems it would be. You have to think Ohio State beats Mississippi State at home. Wisconsin beat Auburn; Penn State beats South Carolina. Minnesota would beat Missouri, and Michigan would beat Arkansas.
The SEC would have its games too. Alabama would beat Michigan State at home; Georgia would beat Nebraska. Ole Miss and Texas A&M would demolish Rutgers and Illinois. LSU would handle Maryland. That’s five. The rest of the games are toss ups.
It would be 5 games for each conference and four toss ups. Can you imagine most of the country staying up late to watch the Purdue-Vandy game and the Kentucky-Indiana game to see who is going to win the challenge? It would be great. This needs to happen.