College football relegation revisited: Updating the simulation to 2014

Who's more SEC-worthy: UL-Lafayette or Kentucky? - Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Let's revisit the idea that would make college football even more exciting, volatile, and potentially corrupt (just like world soccer!): promotion and relegation.

A couple summers ago, the SB Nation college football team played the "What if" game and introduced the concept of promotion and relegation to the college football universe. It was one of the most fun, entertaining, hopeless experiments I've been a part of, and since I mentioned it in Monday's Appalachian State season preview, I thought it would also be interesting to revisit it.

Here's Spencer Hall's introduction of the topic:

Relegation already happens in college football; it's just done in a stupid, messy and disorganized fashion. The process of relegation in college football is what you now know as "conference realignment," a shadowy process managed by boring men in blazers eyeballing spreadsheets of television homes in closed board rooms.

In order to bump up to a better league, you have to win and present a nice business opportunity for the league in question, and then after that you're in for life no matter how badly it goes. (You're welcome, Duke and Vanderbilt.) [...]

Since that welfare gap is on the way, let's go ahead and embrace it. Conferences need not go anywhere, but instead would have have affiliated subconferences. The Big Ten contracts out to the MAC for their second division, while the Pac-12 turns the Mountain West into theirs. The Big 12 grabs Conference-USA, while the SEC turns the Sun Belt into their kickass redneck rec room. The ACC turns the Big East into theirs, and if that sounds like an insult to the Big East, you really should take a long hard look at the Big East's current membership.

Here's SB Nation soccer editor Kevin McCauley on how the system works around the world.

And here's my eight-year (2005-12) simulation of how the process would work. We set up four tiers in the FBS and FCS conferences (and all the way down to Division III and NAIA, in the non-simulated version), then I played everything out based on a combination of real results and Sagarin simulations. And heading into the 2012 season, we were left with the following top-tier conference rosters, with non-original teams italicized:

  • ACC: Cincinnati, Clemson, Connecticut, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • Big 12: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa, UCF, West Virginia
  • Big Ten: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame (because the Irish had to be placed somewhere), Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Toledo, Wisconsin
  • Pac-12: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah
  • SEC: Alabama, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt

Now, conference realignment obviously throws a strange kink into this scenario. Can Missouri and Texas A&M actually leave the Big 12 for the SEC with relegation in place? Can the Pac-10 turn into the Pac-12, and if so, how? Do they just add some of their old teams that have been previously demoted? And ... does the WAC still exist?

We decided to let teams shift laterally from column to column, so in our alternate reality 2011, Nebraska still left the first-tier Big 12 for the first-tier Big Ten, with the other big moves following. But a lot of real-life realignment moves were self-contained within single columns -- Pitt and Syracuse don't get to jump from the second-tier Big East to the first-tier ACC just because. They have to earn promotion. As for the WAC, it never dies in our scenario, since it's needed in the Pac-12's column to bridge the Mountain West with the Big Sky.

So, as an addendum to that series, let's check out how the last couple of seasons would have played out.

2012

Hugh Freeze and his 2012 Sun Belt champions, the Ole Miss Rebels (Spruce Derden, US Presswire).

2012 ACC column

Tier 1, ACC

  • Membership: Cincinnati, Clemson, Connecticut, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • Champion: Florida State
  • Demoted to Big East: Connecticut

Tier 2, Big East

  • Membership: Boston College, James Madison, Louisville, Maryland, Navy, New Hampshire, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, USF, Wake Forest
  • Champion: Louisville
  • Demoted to Colonial: New Hampshire

Tier 3, Colonial

  • Membership: Army, Delaware, Duke, Georgia State, Lehigh, Maine, Old Dominion, Richmond, Towson, Villanova, William & Mary
  • Champion: Duke!
  • Demoted to Patriot: Georgia State
  • Promoted from Patriot: Colgate

2012 Big 12 column

Tier 1, Big 12

  • Membership: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Tulsa, UCF, West Virginia
  • Champion: Kansas State
  • Demoted to Conference USA: Tulsa

Tier 2, Conference USA

  • Membership: Cal Poly, East Carolina, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Marshall, Rice, SMU, Southern Miss, Stephen F. Austin, UAB, UTEP
  • Champion: Iowa State
  • Demoted to Southland: Southern Miss

Tier 3, Southland

  • Membership: Central Arkansas, Jacksonville, McNeese State, Memphis, Sam Houston State, Tulane
  • Champion: Central Arkansas
  • Demoted to Pioneer/Great West: Jacksonville
  • Promoted from Pioneer/Great West: Texas State

2012 Big Ten column

Tier 1, Big Ten

  • Membership: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame (because the Irish had to be placed somewhere), Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Toledo, Wisconsin
  • Champion: Wisconsin
  • Demoted to MAC: Illinois

Tier 2, MAC

  • Membership: Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Indiana, Massachusetts, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Ohio, Southern Illinois, Western Michigan
  • Champion: North Dakota State
  • Demoted to Missouri Valley: Miami (Ohio)

Tier 3, Missouri Valley

  • Membership: Eastern Kentucky, Illinois State, Indiana State, Jacksonville State, Kent State, Missouri State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, UMass (realignment, but over to Tier 3 instead of the Tier 2's MAC), Western Illinois, Youngstown State
  • Champion: Kent State
  • Demoted to OVC/Northeast: South Dakota
  • Promoted from OVC/Northeast: Eastern Illinois

2012 Pac-12 column

Tier 1, Pac-12

  • Membership: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah
  • Champion: Stanford
  • Demoted to Mountain West: Colorado

Tier 2, Mountain West

  • Membership: Air Force, Fresno State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, San Diego State, UCLA, Washington
  • Champion: UCLA
  • Demoted to WAC: Hawaii

Tier 3, WAC

  • Membership: Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Montana State, San Jose State, UC Davis, Utah State, UTSA (new program), Washington State, Wyoming
  • Champion: Utah State
  • Demoted to Big Sky: Idaho
  • Promoted from Big Sky: Northern Arizona

2012 SEC column

Tier 1, SEC

  • Membership: Alabama, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Champion: Alabama
  • Demoted to Sun Belt: Appalachian State

Tier 2, Sun Belt

  • Membership: Arkansas State, Elon, Furman, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss, Troy, UL-Lafayette, Wofford
  • Champion: Ole Miss
  • Demoted to Southern: Elon

Tier 3, Southern

  • Membership: Chattanooga, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, Stony Brook, The Citadel, UL-Monroe, Western Kentucky
  • Champion: UL-Monroe
  • Demoted to Big South: The Citadel
  • Promoted from Big South: Coastal Carolina

So instead of engineering a Belk Bowl bid, David Cutcliffe's first huge accomplishment at Duke is winning the Colonial and getting promoted back to the Big East.

Meanwhile, North Dakota State gets a ticket to major-conference football, Southern Miss' sudden collapse has devastating consequences, Northeastern schools have a horrible year, and after Hugh Freeze's stirring Sun Belt title run, Ole Miss is back in the SEC, which has its original membership again.

2013

Craig Bohl and his Capital One Bowl-bound North Dakota State Bison. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport)

2013 ACC column

Tier 1, ACC

  • Membership: Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame (realignment!), Pittsburgh, UCF (realignment!), Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • Champion: Florida State
  • Demoted to Big East: NC State

Tier 2, Big East

  • Membership: Boston College, Connecticut, Duke, James Madison, Maryland, Navy, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, Temple, USF, Wake Forest
  • Champion: Duke!
  • Demoted to Colonial: James Madison

Tier 3, Colonial

  • Membership: Army, Colgate, Delaware, Lehigh, Maine, New Hampshire, Old Dominion (left for Conference USA in real life, but would geographically prefer the ACC's column to the Big 12's, especially since ODU hasn't earned the right to jump to Tier 2), Richmond, Stony Brook (realignment!), Towson, Villanova, William & Mary
  • Champion: Maine
  • Demoted to Patriot: Colgate
  • Promoted from Patriot: Lafayette

2013 Big 12 column

Tier 1, Big 12

  • Membership: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
  • Champion: Baylor
  • Demoted to Conference USA: West Virginia

Tier 2, Conference USA

  • Membership: Cal Poly, Central Arkansas, East Carolina, Houston (left for the American, but makes more sense here), Kansas, Louisiana Tech (realignment that made sense!), Marshall, Rice, SMU (same as Houston), Stephen F. Austin, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP
  • Champion: Houston
  • Demoted to Southland: Stephen F. Austin

Tier 3, Southland

  • Membership: McNeese State, Memphis, New Orleans (new program), Sam Houston State, Southern Miss, Texas State, Tulane, UTSA (realignment!)
  • Champion: Tulane
  • Demoted to Pioneer/Great West: Southern Miss
  • Promoted from Pioneer/Great West: SE Louisiana

2013 Big Ten column

Tier 1, Big Ten

  • Membership: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, North Dakota State, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Toledo, Wisconsin
  • Champion: Michigan State
  • Demoted to MAC: Purdue

Tier 2, MAC

  • Membership: Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kent State, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Ohio, Southern Illinois, Western Michigan
  • Champion: Bowling Green
  • Demoted to Missouri Valley: Western Michigan

Tier 3, Missouri Valley

  • Membership: Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Indiana State, Jacksonville State, Miami (Ohio), Missouri State, South Dakota State, UMass, Western Illinois, Youngstown State
  • Champion: Eastern Illinois
  • Demoted to OVC/Northeast: Indiana State
  • Promoted from OVC/Northeast: Tennessee State

2013 Pac-12 column

Tier 1, Pac-12

  • Membership: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah
  • Champion: Stanford
  • Demoted to Mountain West: California

Tier 2, Mountain West

  • Membership: Air Force, Colorado, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, Washington
  • Champion: Washington
  • Demoted to WAC: Air Force

Tier 3, WAC

  • Membership: Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, San Jose State, UC Davis, Washington State, Wyoming
  • Champion: Washington State
  • Demoted to Big Sky: UC Davis
  • Promoted from Big Sky: UNLV

2013 SEC column

Tier 1, SEC

  • Membership: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Champion: Auburn
  • Demoted to Sun Belt: Kentucky

Tier 2, Sun Belt

  • Membership: Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Furman, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee, South Alabama (new program), Troy, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Wofford
  • Champion: UL-Lafayette
  • Demoted to Southern: Wofford

Tier 3, Southern

  • Membership: Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Elon, Florida Atlantic (left for Conference USA in real life, but the Owls seem fine right here), Florida International (as do the Panthers), North Texas, Western Kentucky
  • Champion: North Texas
  • Demoted to Big South: Florida International
  • Promoted from Big South: Liberty

David Cutcliffe wins Coach of the Decade for simply bringing Duke back to the ACC, North Dakota State narrowly misses out on a Rose Bowl bid (the Bison would have finished around third in the Big Ten and wouldn't have lost head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming), Nevada somehow survives another year in the Pac-12, and Mark Stoops' stud recruiting class at Kentucky falls apart when the Wildcats are demoted in favor of Mark Hudspeth's Ragin Cajuns.

Houston is in the Big 12, Bowling Green joins NDSU, NIU, and Toledo in the Big Ten, and Maine and SMU are now conference mates. So are West Virginia and UTEP.

2014

This is Dino Babers. He's Bowling Green's new head coach. He'd be running Art Briles' offense in the Big Ten, if we were in charge. (Bradley Leeb, USA Today)

So here's how the membership would shake out in 2014.

2014 ACC column

Tier 1, ACC

  • Membership: Cincinnati, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, UCF, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Cincinnati is saved! The Bearcats aren't doomed to second-tier life by realignment!

At this point, many conferences have awkward numbers. The ACC is at 13 teams, and there's probably not anyone else who'd want to jump over from another Tier 1 conference. Let's say it wants to expand to 14 and decides to start testing the rules. Should top conferences be able to give out one-time-only "get out of Tier 2 free" cards to original members (Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest) that got demoted? Could they be required to only add teams that they didn't already demote?

The latter is unrealistic (then again, anything could be made realistic in this entirely unrealistic alternate universe), and the former would open the door for some serious behind-the-scenes shenanigans. "You were demoted, [Original Member]? Don't worry. We'll just add you back anyway." So we'll leave the rules how they are, but know that college football will always follow the rules creatively.

Big East

  • Membership: Boston College, Connecticut, Maine, Navy, NC State, Syracuse, Temple, USF, Wake Forest

Colonial

  • Membership: Army, Delaware, James Madison, Lehigh, Lafayette, New Hampshire, Old Dominion, Richmond, Stony Brook, Towson, Villanova, William & Mary

2014 Big 12 column

Tier 1, Big 12

  • Membership: Baylor, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech

With Kansas entering year three as a conference rival of Cal Poly, the Big 12-C-USA arrangement is actually working out pretty well as a whole. The Big 12 has always had at least one or two dead-weight teams, and C-USA has always had at least one or two rock-solid teams.

Tier 2, Conference USA

  • Membership: Cal Poly, Central Arkansas, East Carolina, Kansas, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee (realignment!), North Texas (the double-jump: both promotion and realignment), Rice, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP, West Virginia

Obviously realignment could still have shaken the rosters of C-USA and the Big East up quite a bit, and since they're on the same tier, there's nothing saying that SMU et al would have actually left C-USA for Big East territory. (The same goes for North Texas, MTSU, etc., obviously.) But in the end, there's something poetic and merit-based about Kansas sharing a conference with Cal Poly and Central Arkansas.

Tier 3, Southland

  • Membership: McNeese State, Memphis, New Orleans, Sam Houston State, SE Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin, Texas State, UTSA
Yes, Southern Miss was just Robert Griffin III away from reaching the Big 12 in 2011 and is now in Tier 4.

2014 Big Ten column

Tier 1, Big Ten

  • Membership: Bowling Green, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, North Dakota State, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Toledo, Wisconsin

The Big Ten-MAC pairing actually works out as well as any pairing in this experiment. Teams like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue have played like MAC teams for most of the last half-decade (or longer), while programs like Northern Illinois, Toledo, and, yes, North Dakota State, have played at a higher level than the lowest Big Ten team for quite a while now.

Tier 2, MAC

  • Membership: Ball State, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Illinois, Illinois, Indiana, Kent State, Maryland (realignment!), Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Ohio, Purdue, Rutgers (realignment!), Southern Illinois

Just like MAC teams have been able to jump up and compete in the Big Ten, Missouri Valley champs have been able to do the same in the MAC. The result: the MAC becomes a Hub Conference, with only five of 13(ish) original members occupying the roster in 2014.

Do Maryland and Rutgers still slide from the ACC's column to the Big Ten's? They made the move in real life because of money, and the Big Ten would still have more money to offer in this scenario. Joining the big MAC herd would decrease their chances of reaching the top tier, though.

Tier 3, Missouri Valley

  • Membership: Eastern Kentucky, Illinois State, Jacksonville State, Miami (Ohio), Missouri State, South Dakota State, Tennessee State, UMass, Western Illinois, Western Michigan, Youngstown State

2014 Pac-12 column

Tier 1, Pac-12

  • Membership: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington

This is another perfect example of how promotion and relegation would have made top-tier conferences better. Siphoning off the Washington States of the late-2000s for Boise State would have made this conference brutally tough. Meanwhile, the constant shifts in the MWC-WAC-Big Sky pairing is a perfect illustration of how close in quality so many Western teams really are.

Tier 2, Mountain West

  • MembershipCalifornia, Colorado, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State, Washington State

Tier 3, WAC

  • Membership: Air Force, Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, San Jose State, UNLV, Wyoming

2014 SEC column

Tier 1, SEC

  • Membership: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UL-Lafayette, Vanderbilt

It probably comes as no surprise that the SEC-Sun Belt pairing results in minimal movement. Arkansas State got promoted in 2005 and relegated in 2006. Appalachian State got promoted in 2006 and actually survived a couple of years but got relegated in 2009, promoted in 2010, and relegated again in 2012. Nobody stays for long. Mike Slive would definitely be maneuvering to get the SEC excluded from this whole experiment.

Tier 2, Sun Belt

  • Membership: Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Furman, Georgia Southern, Kentucky, South Alabama (new program), Troy, UL-Monroe

While the Sun Belt is far separated from the SEC, Southern Conference champs have been reasonably well-suited for competing in Tier 2.

Tier 3, Southern

  • Membership: Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Elon, Florida Atlantic, Liberty, Western Kentucky, Wofford

The takeaway from this experiment: Promotion and relegation would bring an extra layer of drama and excitement to a sport already full of it. You want conference battles to matter more? You want directionless legacy programs to be punished for playing awful football for years on end? You want better, more deserving programs to fill the spots of the legacies? You want the top tier of college football to be nearly free of dead weight? Promotion and relegation are for you.

Of course, as the conference realignment discussion above would suggest, the general cronyism of this sport (and college athletics in general) would still figure out a way to flourish. Those with money and connections would figure out small ways to rig the system. Plus, if you think coaches changing jobs (voluntarily and involuntarily) and players transferring are issues now? Just wait and see what would happen if teams change tiers from year to year.

But after two more years of this experiment, I'm no less sure that a) this would be an incredible thing for college football, in terms of excitement, competitiveness, drama, etc., and b) it would never, ever, ever, ever happen. It would reward currently powerless entities, and it would give entrenched, struggling programs no reason to say yes. But it's February; it's the time in the offseason where we can all do a little dreaming.

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