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The Answer To College Football's Future: Group Play

by Dan Harralson
Jul 07, 2014 11:52 AM EDT



Since the start of the 2010s, college football has changed drastically.  

The current college football landscape features conference expansion, founding conference teams leaving their roots (Maryland), schools joining conferences that do not make sense geographically (Colorado, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Texas A&M, etc.)  

Conferences do not not mean much of anything anymore – so why continue on with them, ecspecially in a new era with a playoff?

A solution that can maintain college football's traditional roots along with the ability of moving the sport forward into a modern format, is a solution that stems from the world's sport and the sport that is growing rapidly throughout the United States – soccer.  

With the abundance of World Cup soccer that has been on over the last few weeks, group play is a good solution for college football's future.  

It's seemingly a matter of time before the five power conferences break off from the rest of the FBS field, and Mike Slive's demands at the SEC spring meetingswas just further proof.

“We want the ability to have autonomy in areas that have a nexus to the well-being of student-athletes,” Slive said in May. “I am somewhat optimistic it will pass, but if it doesn’t, our league would certainly want to move to a Division 4. My colleagues (in other power conferences), I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel the same way.”  

So with that being said and alongside what Mike Slive wants to create, lets take a look at how college football's Division 4 should be structured.  

The World Cup fields eight groups of four teams with the top two teams advancing into tournament play. A team is awarded three points for a win and one point for a tie.  

College football would have enough to field 16 groups of four teams – and the groups would be based on geographics and tradition.  

For example, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn all would be in one group – protecting The Third Saturday in October and The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Like the World Cup, a school would get three points for beating a group opponent. One point then would be awarded for defeating anyone else on your schedule – your remaining schedule would be based off playing seven other teams from the 64 "power conference" schools that broke off.  

No complaining if you feel your school was stuck in a group of death, either. All your school has to do is finish in the top two of your division to advance.  

Schools that do not advance out of group play and have at least six wins, you can go bowling – keeping tradition alive with bowl games on top of a five-round playoff. It's the perfect solution for college football's future.  

It also would reunite teams like Texas A&M with Texas, Baylor and TCU in a group and Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Colorado all together. Oklahoma and Texas could still schedule each other for a regular season game – with one point riding on it.  

Who doesn't want to see Oklahoma play Nebraska in a meaningful game again, and Nebraska playing Colorado again on Black Friday? Conference realignment may have taken some classic rivalries away, but group play is the answer to bring them back.  

Not sure if the egos of some would ever bow down to a soccer format – but it's a solution that keeps tradition and playoff intact. What else would you want?   And then there's Mike Leach and Washington State's group: Washington State, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State. And Leach discussed the idea with me.  

"I think it's a brilliant idea," Leach told Football.com. "I think it's a very good idea. Basically 64 teams are involved and it's awesome.  

"I started to see this way back when I was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and on into (Texas) Tech – we need to go 64 teams. In order for 64 teams to work, all you have to do is cut the regular season down to ten games."  

With the uncertainty of the NCAA's future with major college football schools, the "World Cup format" is the perfect solution as college football takes a step forward, while not losing their traditional rivalries and bowl games.  

"It gives a team ten guaranteed games and more for a good season," Leach said. "It's an idea that plays into conferences getting bigger and bigger.  

"You have to be first or second in your group in points, it makes it interesting all year long. In this business right now with four teams (The College Football Playoff), there's just too much bias and politics. Some of the bias is innocent bias, just trying to select four teams out of a bunch of teams that's not settled on the field is unfairness in the selection process."  

So Coach Leach and I agree that the World Cup group play format is the way too go for college football's future.  

Currently the ACC, Big Ten and the SEC all have 14 teams each, the PAC-12 fields 12 and the Big 12 has ten. That totals to 64, which makes the format even more ideal – the only problem is Notre Dame, of course. For the time being, we substitute Notre Dame for Indiana (we'll let Mike Slive determine how to implement the Fighting Irish), which makes group play look like this:  

Group 1

Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee  

Group 2

Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami  

Group 3

Arkansas,

LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State  

Group 4

Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Vanderbilt  

Group 5

Clemson, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech  

Group 6

Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest  

Group 7

Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU  

Group 8

Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State  

Group 9

Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa, Iowa State  

Group 10

Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin  

Group 11

Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue  

Group 12

Boston College, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse  

Group 13

Missouri, Penn State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia  

Group 14

California, Stanford, UCLA, USC  

Group 15

Arizona, Arizona State, Texas Tech, Utah  

Group 16

Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State