ncaa musical chairs

The Four-Team College Football Playoff and Inevitable Realignment

For decades, college football writers and voters crossed their fingers, hoping one team would run the table and go undefeated through the year, leaving no doubt which was the best in the country.  When the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) came to be in 1998, the same group now asked the Football Gods that two undefeated teams survive the gauntlet unscathed, making for a controversy-free selection of the teams who would play for the coveted National Championship.

With the advent of the College Football Playoff, the thirteen-member Selection Committee must be silently praying that each season presents them with exactly four teams ending their campaign with no losses or one loss each.  More than years previous, those responsible for voting will feel public scrutiny and criticism of their choices; voting is no longer spread among faceless sports journalists across the country.

Here’s the problem, though.  The five most successful and influential conferences in the country – colloquially known as the Power Five – cannot all place their conference champion in the newly created four-team playoff to determine the National Champion.

In a season where four conference champs have one loss each, and the winner of the other Power Five conference has, say, three losses; the issue will solve itself.  In the significantly more likely scenario where the line of demarcation is not so obvious, there will certainly be a conference – with all its money and NCAA political clout – pretty damn pissed off their team was left out.  Worse yet, in a year where a team from outside the Power Five goes undefeated and cannot be denied a seat at the table, two conference champions of the Five will be on the outside stewing.

This ain’t gonna work.

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There are two eventual outcomes to this ill-fitting arrangement.

1) The Playoff expands to eight teams, including the Power Five champions and three at-large teams.

2) The Power Five conferences realign to create four elite conferences, effectively closing the door to all teams outside the chosen sixty-four squads on winning a national title.

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Right now, it’s hard to see either happening.  Eventually, though, it will have to.  While the first option is certainly the cleanest and easiest to implement, the laughable “it takes too much time away from our student-athletes” argument will gain prominence; likely fueled by the same powerful sixty-four teams looking to kick all the other teams off their playground.

It all fits together so nicely.  The Power Five conferences contain a total of sixty-four teams at the moment, a number that just happens to divide cleanly by four.

Which of the Power Five would disappear though?  Based on economics and tradition, it won’t be the Pac-12, Big Ten, or SEC.  Only the Big 12 and ACC are candidates for becoming no more.

How would such a massive conference shift unfold?

First, a look at the current alignment :


Along with the aforementioned two conference candidates for elimination, let’s assume that the remaining conferences would be highly averse to losing any of their schools or having them defect; television and other agreements would make that a messy proposition.

What would a Big 12 disbanding look like?

Here’s a guess, for shits and giggles :


From the start, a couple moves are obvious : West Virginia would go to the ACC for geographical reasons, and Iowa State to the Big 10 for the same, plus the creation of a rivalry with Iowa.  Further assuming that neither the states of Kansas nor Oklahoma want their teams split into different conferences, they travel together – and the Pac 12 with their four open seats provide the most geographically fitting landing spot.

The SEC would swallow three of the Texas teams, forcing a realignment that would give them the chance to move Missouri where they should be, in the West.

Texas Tech would be the only Lone Star university to round out the Big 10, for basketball considerations.  Finally, Notre Dame has to enter this picture somewhere, so they join the rest of their athletic programs in the ACC.  The odd man out in this would be Vanderbilt, who gets booted from the SEC for…being Vanderbilt.

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What would an ACC disbanding look like?

This one is a little messier.  Geographically, being so far East, it’s virtually impossible to move any team to the Pac 12; a problem exacerbated by the Pac 12 being a conference that would need to pick up four teams in a sixteen-team leveling.


For this hypothetical, it’s easiest to start with who the Big 10 would absorb.  As the northern-most teams, Boston College and Syracuse fit best.  Ohio State would pop over to the West division to accommodate the additions.

As mentioned, the Pac 12 needs four teams, and the ACC isn’t a feasible place to get them.  This forces a swap between Power conferences, and again the Kansas and Oklahoma teams end up moving West, even though their (old) conference remains intact.

With the Big 10 and Pac 12 filled, the remaining teams would be split between the SEC and Big 12.  In this example, the SEC picks up football powerhouses Miami and Florida State, allowing the Missouri realignment.  The entirety of the remaining teams go to the Big 12, where – with the exception of Pitt for geography concerns – they form a new division of the Big 12.  Except Wake Forest – they go bye-bye as the sacrifice on the altar of Notre Dame.

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Agree? Disagree? Think I’m f**king crazy?  That’s what the comments are for…

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