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Divisions in College Football

As we know, there is a lot of division within college football, and look no further than the Jimbo Fisher/Nick Saban NIL “debate” for proof. However, actual Divisions are going away. When conferences began staging Championship games, it came with the requirement that the Conference be broken into two divisions and the winner of each division face each other in the Championship game. In May 2022, the NCAA rescinded this requirement and allowed each Conference to establish its requirements for qualification in its Championship game. The apparent change came quickly as the Pac-12 announced the elimination of its divisions. The two teams with the highest winning percentage will face each other in the Conference Championship game.

The more considerable change will be how Conferences adjust their regular season schedules without divisional alignment. The change will allow for more flexibility and potentially better matchups for fans. The most intriguing conference, as always, is the SEC. With Texas and Oklahoma slated to join the conference soon and the increased flexibility in scheduling, there is an opportunity for significant change. The SEC is first considering 8 Conference games vs. 9 Conference games. An added Conference game would eliminate a Non-Conference game from each team's schedule, which could mean fewer games against Group of 5 or FCS schools. While that isn't a problem for the upper echelon teams in the SEC, the lower schools need those games to increase their win total to qualify for Bowl games and help with recruiting. Giving up an almost guaranteed win for a game against Alabama or LSU isn't appealing for most schools.

The other main difference between the 8/9 game conference schedule is the number of common opponents each season. The eight-game schedule bakes in 1 common opponent each year, meaning Alabama plays Auburn and Georgia always plays Florida, keeping traditional rivalries in place. The nine-game schedule allows for three common opponents each year, meaning when Texas joins, they can count on games against Oklahoma and Texas A&M each year. This is great for the historically “better” teams as higher profile matchups lead to better attendance, higher TV ratings, and, eventually, better contracts. If you put yourself in the shoes of Vanderbilt, the addition of 2 or 3 SEC powerhouses on your schedule every year makes the season that much more difficult while losing a non-conference win you were relying on. This schedule change makes rebuilding a program that much more difficult.

Eliminating divisions within conferences should lead to better matchups, less farcical non-conference matchups that still cost full price to get into, and better Championship games. It should also help identify the best four teams in the country to participate in the College Football Playoff. This may be a rare case where a decision from the NCAA means all college football fans win. Now, if we can only get to a 16-team playoff, that's a story for another day.