Independence Based Conference Scheduling (IBCS)

This is Part VI of an eight-part article. The other parts are linked below:
Part I: Intro
Part II: Why G5 schools will be included in Division IV
Part III: Why Larger Conferences is the Way to Go
Part IV: Building the Big Ten
Part V: Building the SEC
Part VI: Independence Based Conference Scheduling (IBCS)
Part VII: Building the Group of Four (G4)
Part VIII: Loose Ends

One of the biggest (and most obvious) problems with a 28-team conference is how to create a football schedule. With only 12 game regular season games, a team can’t even play half of its conference membership before running out of games. The most obvious fix would be do divide the Big Ten/SEC each into four divisions with seven teams per division. However there is no way to split up the Big Ten and SEC without sacrificing a number of historical rivalries. On top of that there are unique situations such as Colorado who has no clear direction as to where they should be placed. Do you put the Buffalo’s in a Midwest based division with their former Big Eight rivals? Or do you put them in a Western based division where their recruiting and alumni centers are?

In order to create a conference schedule for a 28-team super-conference with all these issues in mind, I use a self-created scheduling model called Independence Based Conference Scheduling (IBCS). The model uses three different formats (independence, network, and conference) for schools to schedule each other in conference play. Each format is designed to fulfill a specific conference need and/or act as a check and balance to keep scheduling fair while providing additional revenue streams. 

Format #1: Independence

The concept works exactly like it sounds. The conferences still exist, however each schools acts as an independent within the conference. Big Ten/SEC schools fill their conference schedule in a manner similar to how an FBS independent would do so. For example, Michigan has to find fellow Big Ten schools to agree to play them rather than having the Big Ten tell each of its membership who plays who.

The Problem: Teams will abuse the hell out of it. Which is why the following rules need to be implemented:

1. All Big Ten/SEC schools must have the same number of conference games each season.
2. All Big Ten/SEC schools must have the same number of home/away conference games each season.
3. The most obvious of them all: You can’t play the same team twice in conference play per season.
4. All conference scheduling arrangements must be home and home deals (H&H) played in consecutive seasons. This rule outlaws scheduling practices such as buy games, two for one deals, and scheduling a single H&H over a long-term period. *

Exemption: Neutral game locations may be allowed as long as they are being made in good faith and not being used as a way for teams to circumvent these rules. They may only be scheduled if the conference grants an exemption.

For those who don’t know what a H&H is: School X plays at school Y in year #1, school Y plays at school X in Year #2. A two for one deal calls for school X to play at school Y in years #1 and #3 while school Y plays at school X in year #2.

These are four simple rules that athletic directors can easily abide by and work with. The reason why these rules are needed is because without them the schools will abuse the independent scheduling practice. Alabama will agree to play Wake Forest, but only if it’s a two for one. Penn State will schedule Syracuse for but only if Syracuse’s “home game” is in New York City. The big schools will always try to turn the tables in their favor by offering scheduling terms that are to their advantage. The small schools will gladly accept these terms because if they do not, someone else will.

This independence format is designed to allow the schools to choose their partners. If Colorado wants to play as many California teams as possible for recruiting reasons, they will use this format to schedule matchups with UCLA, Stanford, etc. Or if they want to play their historic rivals in the East then can schedule Nebraska, Kansas, etc. Or they can do a combination of both.

Format #2: Networking

Under this format the conference will sell the rights to create matchups to a TV network such as ESPN. This will greatly enhance a conferences TV value, which brings in more money. It also allows for intriguing matchups. For example if Oregon and Ohio State are projected to be the two best teams in the Big Ten, ESPN would most likely decide to pair them up.

ESPN will still have to abide by the same rules as listed in the independence section. This means that ESPN will schedule two seasons worth of matchups at once.

This will create better and more intriguing matchups in conference play. It will effectively guarantee that all the top teams play each other in conference. ESPN will matchup the programs with high preseason expectations and/or programs with large fanbases/history.

The Problem:
Unlike basketball, football takes much longer for athletic directors to schedule matchups. This is because the logistics of planning for a football game are significantly more complicated than a basketball game. However another element of the problem is the athletic directors themselves who have allowed football scheduling times to become so prolonged.

It is completely unrealistic to expect football schedules to be made on less than one years notice, but it is perfectly reasonable to reduce times to less than two years notice. In a two year time frame the networks will be able to have a general idea as to which teams will, and which teams will not be competitive. What we will see with this setup is that the first matchups will be made with just under two years notice, while the return matchups will have just under three years notice.

Format #3: Conference

Under this format it is up to the Big Ten and SEC to decide who plays who. This is designed to act as a check and balance to keep members from getting screwed over. If West Virginia is struggling finding quality teams that are willing to play them, the SEC could step in and make Clemson and/or LSU play them. At the same time if a particular program is loading its schedule with cupcakes, the conference can step in and add tougher teams to their schedule.

The beauty of this format is that it gives each conference real power over their membership schools. The conference can prevent the strong programs from scheduling too many cupcake programs. Meanwhile they can also match up the weakest programs in the conference such as Duke vs. Vanderbilt, allowing them to rack up wins against each other so they can stay relevant and not fall into obscurity. The best benefit would be to force programs to play each other. I am looking at you Penn State-Pittsburgh and Texas-Texas A&M.

They can also use these matchups to keep membership in line. The conference can punish teams by giving them unfavorable matchups. This can be done in response to recruiting violations, or be used against programs that are not actively investing enough into their football programs. It gives the conference real leverage over their membership. It could very well be more effective than vacating wins or reducing scholarships.

So how do these three formats come together?

The Big Ten and SEC are given the autonomy to choose just how much emphasis to give to each category. They can choose to not sell any matchups to ESPN, and allow the individual schools more slots to independently schedule schools. Or they could do the complete opposite. An example (and what will probably be the standard) is a 4-3-4 setup in a ten-game conference schedule. This gives four games to the schools, three to the networks, and four to the conference.

In the interest of fairness it makes sense that each school in each conference has the same 4-3-4 format. How it is in the best interest of the Big Ten and SEC as a whole to apply these formats differently to each school. Selling an Ole Miss matchup to ESPN is not worth anywhere close to the amount of money as an Alabama matchup. The networks would most likely want to buy games only as they see fit. It is unrealistic to expect the networks to want the same number of matchups per school. The most likely outcome would be for the Big Ten and SEC to find out how many games the networks want then determine how many games to allot to the conference and independence formats.

While this may not seem fair, I do not see the unequal distribution among independent, network, and conference game allotments as a problem. The schools who are put at a disadvantage because of this system need to understand that it is all in the name of benefiting the conference. At the same time the schools who are being given an advantage due to this system need to keep themselves in check, and not completely outcast the disadvantaged schools. The two superconferences need to adhere to the needs of every member, if one school is getting screwed over particularly hard, the rest of the conference needs to step in and fix the problem.

It is this type of attitude that is vital to the success of the NFL and NCAA conferences. If you put what is better for your conference/league ahead of what is better for your school/franchise, it is a win for everyone involved, as long as you don’t completely ruin the smaller schools/franchises in the process. It is this type of attitude that vaulted the NFL, Big Ten, and SEC into the position of success that they are in right now. The Big Ten with commissioner Delany and the SEC with commissioner Slive understand this better than anyone.

You also have the potential to see the Big Ten and SEC attempt to take advantage of this model and manipulate it to gain an advantage over the other or try to screw the networks. The SEC could guarantee that their strongest programs have the easiest road possible to guarantee as many playoff bids as possible. Meanwhile the Big Ten could omit major rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State from the conference and independence scheduling formats, while forcing ABC to “buy” the right to schedule it as a matchup under the network scheduling format.

Delany and Slive are smart enough to know that the success of this model (and thus their revenue streams) is dependent on all three sides (the Big Ten, SEC, & TV networks) working together. With just two large conferences doing this, a relationship of trust can be easier built knowing that the two sides are accountable towards the other. I would not say the same if we had more than two conferences trying to abide by an honor system.


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© sportspolitico™ August 14, 2014

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