The announcement that the Conference USA and Mountain West Conferences are not only joining forces (in what I will refer to below as the Mount USA conference), but hoping to potentially expand to between 18 and 24 programs, opened up a series of questions:
- With only 16 universities announced in the deal, who would make up the other two to eight?
- What's the over/under on sarcastic "FINALLY natural geographic rivals Fresno State and East Carolina are under one conference roof" comments?
- How in the HELL do you set up a schedule for a 24-team conference?
The answers: 1. We're beginning to figure that out. 2. For me alone, somewhere in the neighborhood of 179. 3. See below.
Conference realignment has opened up a series of potential scheduling oddities in coming seasons, so it might be a good time to look at matters from a progressive point of view. How can we use large conferences to IMPROVE scheduling instead of simply adapting to it? Today, we look at this new Mount USA; we'll take on other issues in coming days.
Within the most geographically ridiculous conference in the history of geographically ridiculous conferences lies interesting unity, small batches of programs that are actually tied together in sensible ways. A conference of four six-team divisions would actually result in a schedule not nearly as absurd as one might initially assume.
Let's look at how these four divisions could eventually take shape.
Pacific Coast Division: Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, UTEP
* Potential Addition (1): Idaho, Montana, San Jose State
Mountain States Division: Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming
* Potential Additions (2): New Mexico State, Utah State
Coastal Division: East Carolina, Marshall, Southern Miss, UAB
* Potential Additions (2): Appalachian State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Temple, Troy
Midlands: Rice, Tulsa, Tulane
* Potential Additions (3): Louisiana Tech, Texas State, UTSA, Most Of The Sun Belt (Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Western Kentucky)
To a certain degree, scheduling for this conference really is not as difficult as it may at first seem. To reach an eight-game schedule, you simply play all five of your division mates and one team from each of the other three divisions.
Here are a couple of examples:
MS: Colorado State
@San Jose State
MS: Air Force
In the end, most teams would end up with schedules that, sans perhaps one odd game, make sense, both in terms of geography and conference history. Sure, you would get your occasional Nevada-FIU or Hawaii-Appalachian State matchups, but those would remain relatively rare.
There would, however, still be the issue of a conference title game. That's where you could get a bit progressive in your line of thinking. You could basically merge these four divisions into two bigger divisions and simply say that the team with the best record in either the Pacific Coast or Mountain States division gets one title game bid, and the best of Coastal and Midlands gets the other. Or, you could schedule an empty, ninth conference game as a placeholder and determine the matchups later.
Here's how Week Nine would work:
- Once all 24 teams have played their eight conference games, they get paired up. The No. 6 team from the Pacific Coast division plays No. 6 from the Mountain States, No. 5 plays No. 5, et cetera. You could incorporate a "no rematches" clause if you want to, though that could get messy as it pertains to "No. 1 versus No. 1."
- The top teams from each of the divisions face each other (Pacific Coast versus Mountain State, Coastal versus Midlands) with the winners playing in the conference title game the next weekend.
With this approach, you build what are basically conference title semifinal matchups into a schedule that gives everybody the same number of games. You could incorporate a "no rematches" clause if you want to, but that would get messy if you were to incorporate No. 1's into that.
There are two primary drawbacks to this approach:
- Home/away status. There is no clean way to determine who plays at home or on the road in this arrangement -- you could go with "best overall record," but chances are good that the records would be incredibly similar. Plus, home games are at a premium for some smaller schools, and their scheduling could likely be determined by knowing in advance whether they have four or five home conference games. Home/away status might have to be determined in advance -- meaning, if both No. 6 teams are scheduled to be home or away, they would just play the lowest-ranked team with the opposite status; this could be overcome would result in some general awkwardness.
- Scheduling. Obviously this ninth game couldn't happen until probably Thanksgiving weekend at the earliest, which would lead you to one of the following impractical scenarios: either schedule games over Thanksgiving, which could lead to some incredibly low attendance, or schedule them for Championship Week, then have your conference title game a week after everybody else. This isn't an awful arrangement, though it does bear mentioning that most of this new conference's bowl games would take place within the first week or so of bowl season (and therefore quite close to the championship game itself).