A Solution to the Divisional System

First of all, a thank you to everyone who read and commented on my first post.  I had no idea that this blog would have any kind of following or that there would be so many great, insightful comments.  There was so much great content in those comments (which I highly recommend you read) that I decided to do another post in response to them.  It seems that a lot of people recognize that divisions are not optimal, but they still think divisions are a “necessary evil” or bring good in other ways.  I don’t think that’s true, and I will list out my ideal solution below.  That solution is based on the following premises:

  1. For me, the primary goal of college sports is not to maximize profits.  It is to win games and to find out who is the best team.  This is in direct contrast to professional sports, where the teams are run like companies and their jobs are to maximize profits.  Maximizing profits and winning are not mutually exclusive at all (winning probably helps), but the goal is fundamentally different.  If you go into college football with a profit maximization mindset, you’ve lost the essence of college football.  The system should be what’s most fair to the players/teams first, not what makes the most money.
  2. Having stated the first premise, this would mean that the goal of any conference championship game that exists is to determine the best team in the conference.
  3. If a conference championship game needs to exist, then the two best teams should play in it.
  4. The system of divisions can prevent the two best teams in a conference from playing each other in a championship game.  This is simply a fact; it happened last year with LSU and Alabama.
  5. It is very difficult to objectively determine the best team in a conference every year*.  No system will ever be perfect.  However, this does not mean we should accept an obviously flawed system (divisions) if there is a better solution available.

If you disagree with these premises, then we probably just have to agree to disagree.  I probably won’t convince you of anything, and you probably won’t convince me of anything.  That’s totally cool and the goal of this blog is just to have a discussion around something we all love.  I would certainly love to hear which part you disagree with and why.

With divisions, a team could potentially beat every team in its division but lose every non-divisional conference game and still get a shot to play in the championship game.  This means that a 5-3 B10 record team could get a chance to play in the championship because they were perfect against their division, while a 7-1 B10 record team doesn’t because they lost one game within their division.  Again, this is a very flawed system because the 7-1 team is presumably better than the 5-3 team, especially since they played much of the same competition.

So, here is my proposed solution:

I don’t get what was wrong with the old system, before Nebraska joined the Big Ten and it moved to divisions?  Big Ten teams were able to play most of the other teams in the conference, and at the end of the day the team with the best record in the Big Ten would be the champion.  This system ensures that all conference games are equally important, not just the games within your own division.  It is pretty straightforward and less arbitrary than a divisional system.  I don’t think it’s always necessary or beneficial to have a conference championship game (outside of the revenue part, which I addressed in the premises).

However, the change I would make to the old system is that I would add a conference championship game in certain situations.  If a team went 8-0 in the conference and the next closest teams only went 6-2, then saying that the 8-0 team is the best team and deserves the championship is probably correct within a reasonable margin of error.  However, when there are two teams with a 7-1 record, then there needs to be a championship game to sort things out on the field.  I think another way of determining it (who won head-to-head if they played, point differential, etc.) is much more arbitrary.  Just let them settle it on the field.

The tricky thing is if three teams go 7-1.  Then there has to be an arbitrary way of sorting out which teams are the two “best” teams that deserve to make it into the championship game.  However, this situation is much more unlikely to occur in comparison to the two best teams in the conference being in the same division, which GUARANTEES that the second best team will not play in the championship game.  Yes, some of my solution involves arbitrary selection processes, but it’s much less likely to occur than the flaws of the divisional system.

*As a small example, consider 2011’s Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa teams in a vacuum.  Michigan demolished Minnesota while losing to Iowa (somewhat convincingly in my opinion), while Minnesota beat Iowa.  The transitive property, A > B and B > C so A > C, does not work in college football.  Who is to say which of the three is the best team?  Obviously this is a flawed example, but you get my point.  If Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa were all 7-1 and all other Big Ten teams had worse records, the only way of picking a champion MUST be arbitrary.  There is always an element of arbitrariness in years where there are several top teams with the same record.  This isn’t going away, ever.  That doesn’t mean we should be happy with our current system if we can find a system that is less flawed.

Thanks for reading.


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