Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Expansion aftermath: Let a hundred eight-team divisions bloom

Friday June 11, 2010

With the movement of Colorado and Nebraska, we’ve begun the much-anticipated shuffling among the major conferences. With the process set in motion, the question now is how far conferences will go during this round of expansion. Is the 16-team Pac-10 going to happen? Are other conferences going to be as aggressive or settle with 12 or 14 members?

The race towards megaconferences might have one interesting side-effect: the rise of the divisions as their own unique entities underneath the umbrellas of the larger conferences.

In a 16-team conference, you’ll have two eight-team divisions. Yes, there are alternative structures (see Clay Travis’s 4×4 arrangement), but most conferences will choose the traditional model and tie everything together with a championship game.

Currently the Pac-10 is the only major conference that has a nine-game league schedule, and that is (was) in order to facilitate a round-robin schedule. The practice actually puts the league at a disadvantage relative to other conferences in terms of bowl eligibility. It will be interesting to see if the expanded Pac-10 continues the nine-game schedule or if it bows to pressure to be at parity with other leagues who can schedule eight conference games and use that other game for a nonconference opponent of varying quality.

The number of conference games is a big deal to coaches and a key point going forward with expansion. Mark Richt said recently, “As far as I’m concerned, you can add more teams, but I just don’t want to play any more league games.” Richt can’t be alone in that sentiment – unless the nine-game schedule is imposed on all conferences as the new norm, those signing up for an extra conference game are making things tougher for their teams.

But an eight-game slate in a 16-team conference all but cuts off one side from the other. You’ll have seven league games in your own division and then one against the other side. If that one game rotates, it ends any traditional rivalries against teams in the other division. Even with nine conference games, you’re still only playing two schools out of eight from the other division, so things aren’t all that much better in either scenario.

At that point, the larger megaconference is just an administrative abstraction between its divisions. It exists for revenue-sharing purposes and for the clout it brings negotiating for collective deals and postseason positions. I realize we’re not that far away under the current structure, but the solidarity of a single Big 10 or Pac-10 is gone now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But for the conference championship games, we’re almost back to the days of eight-team conferences.

Divisions in our future of 16-team conferences will take on a much greater importance. They’ll be relatively more isolated and even develop identities of their own. The Pac-10 will have its Route 66 / Tom Joad schools and then the Pac-8 schools of the 1960s and 1970s. Nebraska’s division of the Big 10 will certainly have a different feel than one oriented around the Rust Belt. Give me Alabama and Auburn in the SEC East, and we’ll send LSU a postcard every now and then.

This idea about giving the new Pac-10 two automatic BCS berths is definitely full of itself, but it’s going to be the kind of thing you’ll hear more often as these 8-team divisions begin to take on lives of their own. The Senator asks, “What in the hell do they even need a conference for in the first place?” This is a perfect example of the conference-as-abstraction that allows two more or less distinct entities to pool together for TV deals and revenue sharing and still claim two separate places in the lucrative BCS.

I know that other Georgia fans and I are wondering if the SEC will dip their toe into the expansion market and push towards 14 or 16 teams. It’s not too early to start thinking about what we’d like our SEC East “conference” to look like.

Comments are closed.