Imagining a College Football World with Promotion and Relegation

Now that we’ve hit the offseason, I’d like to roll out a new project we’ve had in mind for quite a while. There’s no shortage of articles and content out there that bring the promotion/relegation theory to college football. For those who don’t know, promotion and relegation is a competitive balance strategy seen in many different sports worldwide. The most well-known form of this is in the English soccer. In that particular instance, lower level soccer teams in England can play themselves into better leagues the following season. In English soccer, the top three teams in the standings make it into the higher division the next year. On the flip side, the bottom three teams in each league get relegated to the lower league. There is no limit to how far a team can fall or rise, but there are plenty of advantages to playing up into higher leagues.

A Western divide?

There have been many college football media personalities who have requested seeing this in our favorite sport. Being part of the NCAA makes doing this just about impossible. However, considering the changing landscape of the sport, the NCAA and college football splitting could be a real possibility in the near future. After all, this may not be all that crazy of an idea. So what we have planned is a complete simulation of the FBS with promotion and relegation since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014. Although Bill Connelly of ESPN has been a big proponent of this concept, and he has created models going all the way down to D3 football. However, he just projects teams moving up and down tiers based on his math. But we wanted to take it one step further, and create an entire schedule and season, with respect to the FBS. Thus, we could follow it week-by-week, and keep up with it like a real season with some substance to it.

This is just going to serve as an introductory post, and we will be explaining the nitty gritty of this project, and how we plan on presenting it to you fans.

The Tiers

Within the FBS, we decided the best way to divide up all 128 teams (as of 2014) was into four tiers. Tier 1 is the highest-caliber programs. Tier 4 is the lowest-caliber programs. Let’s break down how many teams we will have play on each level before you get upset about where I placed your favorite team. Each tier will have four divisions, aligned primarily by geography, with historical rivals taken into consideration.

Tier 1: 28 teams (4 divisions of 7 teams)

Tier 2: 32 teams (4 divisions of 8 teams)

Tier 3: 32 teams (4 divisions of 8 teams)

Tier 4: 36 teams (4 divisions of 9 teams)

Some side notes before I list the teams. Tier 1 and 2 are composed entirely of Power 5 teams, since the current setup favors the Power 5. Which means even the most successful, historical programs of the Group of 5 like Boise State, Cincinnati, and BYU will not start any higher than Tier 3. Tier 3 is composed of the bottom few P5 teams, along with the high caliber programs of the G5. Keep in mind, team selections are made with ONLY team histories through 2013 included. That means certain program’s rise to prominence in the last few years is not taken into account. Looking at you, Iowa State.

Okay, without further adieu, let’s look at the tiers.

Tier 1

Florida StateMichiganArkansasOregon
Miami (FL)Michigan StateAuburnTexas
Penn StateNebraskaFloridaTexas A&M
South CarolinaNotre DameGeorgiaUCLA
Virginia TechOhio StateLSUUSC
West VirginiaWisconsinTennesseeWashington
Tier 1 Divisions Mapped Out

So the South is SEC schools, the North is primarily Big Ten schools plus Notre Dame, and the West takes the Pac-12 schools along with the former Big XII partners. The East takes ACC schools, along with former member South Carolina, and geographic outliers in their previous conferences: Penn State and WVU.

Tier 2

Boston CollegeIllinoisBaylorArizona
DukeKansas StateKentuckyArizona State
Georgia TechLouisvilleMississippi StateCalifornia
MarylandMinnesotaOklahoma StateColorado
NC StateMissouriOle MissOregon State
North CarolinaNorthwesternTCUStanford
SyracusePittsburghTexas TechUtah
VirginiaPurdueVanderbiltWashington State
Tier 2 Divisions Mapped Out

Obviously, as the schools change moving down tiers, the geographic areas will not always be the same for each “South division,” for example. To start, the influx of Pac-12 schools make up the entirety of the West. From there, I put the 5 SEC schools in the South, along with the 3 Texas schools and OK State. I had to split up conference members here, mainly due to the eight-team divisions, so there really wasn’t a perfect fit. K-State, Mizzou, Louisville, and Pitt fit around the four Big Ten schools pretty well to make up a pretty solid North division. Maryland does in fact get booted to their former conference, replacing Pitt or Louisville in a sense. The remainder of the more Eastern ACC teams make up the East.

Tier 3

Appalachian StateBowling GreenHoustonAir Force
ArmyCentral MichiganLouisiana TechBoise State
East CarolinaCincinnatiMemphisBYU
Georgia SouthernIndianaSMUColorado State
NavyIowa StateSouth FloridaFresno State
RutgersMiami (OH)Southern MissHawai’i
UConnMiddle TennesseeTulsaKansas
Wake ForestWestern KentuckyUCFSan Diego State
Tier 3 Divisions Mapped Out – Hawaii is out of the picture

As we head down towards lesser conferences, there are less long-term conference affiliations to worry about. With less teams out west, the 7 westernmost teams were selected, along with Kansas, as not to break up the Texas schools. The East turned out to be pretty easy as well, picking up a couple North Carolina schools as well as some northeastern independents. The north took a few remaining Power 5 schools in Iowa State and Indiana, as well as some MAC and C-USA schools that loosely fit the footprint. The South is littered with AAC teams, the premier G5 conference, as well.

Tier 4

Florida AtlanticAkronArkansas StateIdaho
FIUBall StateLouisianaNevada
Georgia StateBuffaloLouisiana-MonroeNew Mexico
MarshallEastern MichiganNorth TexasNew Mexico State
Old DominionKent StateRiceSan Jose State
TempleNorthern IllinoisSouth AlabamaUNLV
TroyOhioTexas StateUtah State
UMassWestern MichiganUTSAWyoming
Tier 4 Divisions Mapped Out

Similar to Tier 3, the nine westernmost schools easily make up the West division. The North is a bit of a rare circumstance since it’s made up entirely of MAC schools, which meant keeping Buffalo in the North, and pushing Marshall, a former MAC school, to the East. The Tier 4 North may be the most compact division of all four tiers. In creating the east, a dividing line had to be made through the state of Alabama. Thus, the Tier 4 south had more of a southwestern feel, as plenty of FBS Texas schools remain.

The Format

Although there are plenty of formats to go around when discussing relegation, here is the baseline of what will happen at the end of each regular season.

Tier 1:

All 4 division winners are seeded 1-4 based on record
Next 8 non-division winners are seeded 5-12 based on record
12 team bracket is assembled, with division winners getting byes, determining national champion
Bottom 6 teams in overall Tier 1 standings enter the relegation round, and are seeded 1-6 by record, with #1 being the worst overall team
3 “win and stay in” games to determine relegation
#1 plays at #6, #2 plays at #5, and #3 plays at #4
Winners stay in Tier 1, losers get relegated to Tier 2

Tiers 2,3, 4:

All 4 division winners are seeded 1-4 based on record
Next 4 non-division winners are seeded 5-8 based on record
4 division winners get byes, #8 seed plays at #5; #7 seed plays at #6, winners advance to promotion round
3″win and in” games to determine promotion:
#4 at #3, lower seed from play in round @ #1, higher seed @ #2
Winners get promoted to next tier, losers stay in previous tier
Bottom 6 teams in overall Tier 2,3 standings enter the relegation round, and are seeded
3 “win and stay in” games to determine relegation
#1 plays at #6, #2 plays at #5, and #3 plays at #4
Winners stay in their current tier, losers get relegated to lower tier
No relegation to FCS at the bottom of Tier 4 to preserve low-budget football programs

The Why?

With a promotion and relegation system, we make sure that the programs that want to invest and play with the big boys are rewarded. While most of me doesn’t want to see a system like this in place, in reality, I feel that something similar is coming. Given the recent news of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, I can see a super-league forming. Should this happen, I would definitely be in favor of relegation and promotion, so that we don’t view successful programs like Oklahoma State, UCF, BYU, and others as the “minor leagues.” Giving every program a chance to play up is fair for all. Contracts could be put in place that the higher tiers get higher resources such as TV money, endorsements, etc.

The How

While this is an offseason project, we would like to continue this as seasons go on. Like I said, we will be starting with the 2014 season, or when College Football really started to become the NFL Junior, some would say, as this was a transcendent year for the sport. If and when teams make the massive jump from FCS to FBS, they will be automatically starting in Tier 4. An additional note, is that there is no limit on how often teams can move up and down tiers. Similar to our season-by-season sim, we are using Bill Connelly’s SP+ numbers to determine likely point totals for teams, as well as FPI to determine win probabilities for each potential game. We have created custom schedules as fair as possible for all four tiers, creating dates, times, and TV networks to make it feel as real as possible, had this started in 2014.

The Schedule

All teams across all four tiers will play 12 game schedules, 6 as the home team, 6 as the away team.

Preseason rolling team strength projections were used to rank teams to determine preconceived notions of overall strength of programs. For cross-divisional and home-away splits, we made our schedules as fair and as balanced as possible.

Tier 1 schedules consist of:

6 divisional games (1 per opponent)

6 cross-divisional games (2 opponents per division)

Tier 2,3 schedules consist of:

7 divisional games (1 per opponent)

5 cross divisional-games (2 opponents for 2 divisions, 1 opponent for 1 division)

Tier 4 schedules consist of:

8 divisional games (1 per opponent)

4 cross divisional-games (2 opponents for 1 division, 1 opponent for 2 divisions)

THERE WILL NO GAMES BETWEEN TIERS: As much as it may hurt to see rivalries ripped apart, I do not see a reality where a future “Premier League” of college football protects rivalries across tiers such as the Civil War or Bedlam.

In terms of TV rights, ESPN’s monopoly over college football media is probably the worst thing for the sport. Thus, we are breaking this up in the new reality. In Tier 1 and 2 (essentially the Power 5), home games of each division will be televised by a certain media outlet. Tier 3 will be split up between ESPN and Fox, and ESPN will retain rights to lots of the smaller programs in Tier 4.

Tier 1/2 East: ESPN/ABC

Tier 1/2 North: NBC

Tier 1/2 South: CBS

Tier 1/2 West: FOX

Tier 3 East/South: ESPN/ABC

Tier 3 North/West: FOX

Tier 4: ESPN/ABC

This way, there is plenty of sports media competition between parties, which makes for a better product for everyone.

Wrap-Up and Looking Forward

We have put forth lots of effort creating this project, so we really would appreciate if you spread the word and find fellow college football fans that might enjoy an alternate look at history! We will roll out our weekly schedules and updates weeks at a time, as it should be interesting to see who is on track for moving up and down the food chain of the sport! So look forward for Week 0 and 1 of the 2014 season to come out shortly!


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