Dread it. Run from it. Conference realignment arrives all the same.
Breaking: Texas and Oklahoma have officially accepted invitations to join the SEC beginning in 2025. pic.twitter.com/EIu7Vr40ls— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 30, 2021
By now, anyone who holds the (dis)honorable distinction of being a college football sicko has heard the sport’s biggest news. It’s already official that Big 12 co-rulers Texas and Oklahoma are headed to the SEC, while Northwestern having to label Kansas as a West Division rival in their press releases seems to be an inevitable in the near future.
We’ve already covered those actual movements in a previous piece. Now it’s time for something far more on brand — some good ol’ irrelevant hypotheticals.
You might disagree with the moves the Longhorns, Sooners and Jayhawks are in the progress of making, but it’s pretty easy to see where both them and the conferences are coming from. They’re near enough geographically to keep the logistics clear, and every school added is more money in the back pockets of the powers that be.
The suggestions I’m about to lay down on you make absolutely no sense, but holy crap are they wacky and fun. Let’s dig into some less traditional ways that we could align the college football world.
1. Alphabetical Alignment
This one originated from the deep recesses of young Dan Olinger’s mind, back when I would play entire imaginary college football seasons using a Phil Steele magazine to keep all the records down and “vote” on my own Top 25 every week (Yes, I’m very weird).
For some reason, I always thought it would be cool if the NCAA split up their conferences in complete alphabetical order. Something about the thought of an annual Alabama-Akron annihilation always fascinated me on the inside, though the more likely explanation is that my OCD buried deep inside craved the symmetric beauty of seeing six to seven A’s in one division column.
Since there are currently 127 FBS teams, and 126 divided by 14 is an even nine, we’re rocking with nine conferences after forcing the U-Z region to take on a 15th team as punishment for their last of the alphabet-ness. Have better school/state names suckers.
Here’s a look at the first two conferences I’ve crafted, also known as the “AB Conference” and the “BCE Conference”, as Duke is obviously worthy of being shunned in the title distinctions.
While I didn’t map out every single letter-based conference, I was able to count things out far enough down the line to reach the NO Conference in order to look at how this might impact Northwestern.
The Wildcats can’t escape the conference-dominating shadow that is Ohio State in this scenario, though at the very least another CFB titan has been tossed the Buckeyes way in Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, that O division is absolutely wicked, and I fully expect to receive hate mail from Ohio and Old Dominion fans should this scenario ever see the light of day.
Meanwhile, the ‘Cats are chilling as the second/third best program in the N division depending on how one feels about North Carolina, not to mention they receive the gift of potentially spoiling Notre Dame’s season on a yearly basis. NIU vs. NU would most certainly be a fun game every year. North Texas and New Mexico State would most certainly not.
With two real heavyweights on one end of the conference and a fake but admittedly solid one in the Fighting Irish positioned inside Northwestern’s division, there probably wouldn’t be a ton of NO conference titles coming through Evanston. I think it’s far from a worst case outcome though.
2. Conferences by School Colors
Did you know there really aren’t that many purple teams in the FBS?
I knew it wasn’t the most dominant color pattern in the sport, but try as I may, I was only able to find six purple adversaries for Northwestern in this plight:
Big oof. I’m even stretching it a bit with the inclusion of Clemson, seeing as they’re more associated with orange than their secondary purple, but I figured orange already had enough teams to go around. Not only are the ‘Cats stuck in a bind with too few teams to face, but they also drew some very difficult opponents, three of whom have already made the College Football Playoff during its brief existence.
Thus, via the “being dark blue enough for it to count” corollary, we’re adding these programs to the purple conference fray:
- Louisiana Tech
Also doesn’t hurt that those three schools compose rather easy wins for the ‘Cats in conference play. Separation by way of the schools’ primary colors is easy enough on the surface, but in the end we’re likely getting three separate leagues each for the teams that wear red and blue, meanwhile purple-wearing schools get punished unfairly for picking a more distinct and non-traditional aesthetic to represent themselves on the football field.
3. Premier League Style Relegation
It’s a good thing this is being hypothetically instituted during the 21st century and not previously, as the early 1980s Northwestern teams would have eventually been bumped down below the earth’s core for their incompetency.
For those who don’t know, the Premier League is split up into multiple divisions where bottom performing teams in higher realms get demoted for seasons of poor play, while other squads are given the chance to elevate up the ranks should they string together seasons of success (or so I’ve been told, as playing soccer > watching soccer on TV everyday).
It’s hard to say exactly who would go where in this latest conception I’ve whipped up, and I am NOT looking into how soccer does this to check exactly how it works, so let’s just begin by putting the top 14 finishers in the AP poll to get our first conference, separating the divisions by odd and even numbered finishers.
First off, I had forgotten that Coastal finished No. 14 overall and apologize to their team and fanbase for the punishment they would have to endure during the upcoming season.
Second, while some fans might see being placed in the top tier of all of college football as a hindrance to the ‘Cats, keep in mind that with this league being thought of as the absolute best, standards are a little lower. When any tiebreaker situation should arise in playoff selection, bowl games or week-to-week rankings, who in their right minds wouldn’t defer to the unanimously agreed upon best conference in the nation?
It’s a tough spot, but one that NU has earned with their recent success, and the new system of relegation would make every regular season match that much more dramatic for the viewers.
4. Mascot Made Divisions
Anyone who has read the site over the last few years knows that I love me some EA Sports NCAA 14 Football, and one of the coolest features in the game is the option you’re given to play as mascots of the two schools battling on the gridiron. Just a wild mess of aesthetics that resulted in beautiful screen grabs such as this iconic image of internet lore.
Well, I say we take it one step further and split the whole NCAA into mascot-based competition. Of course, outside of the most common monikers, namely Bulldogs and Tigers, there isn’t a ton of overlap, meaning animals/creatures/humanoids of like nature are going to have to share sporting home. Don’t even ask me where a team like the Buckeyes would be headed. I’m a blogger, not a miracle worker.
Shockingly, I was only able to find three other Wildcats to join Northwestern in this crusade, those three being Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas State. Thus, it’s necessary to build a full on ‘Cats Conference for NU to call home. Here’s how I stacked it up following my “research”:
(Yes, I know Penn State is neither a Tiger nor a Panther, but tigers and lions are basically close enough to make this work and I was not putting Penn State back in Northwestern’s division. Deal with it).
All in all a pretty good outcome for NU. Sure, travel would be a pain, but Pat Fitzgerald and Co. would enter as the division favorite for the forseeable future. Drawing Clemson and LSU once again is an absolute pain, but we’ll let PSU bear the blunt of that dilemma.
5. THE NUCLEAR OPTION
Word has come around that all the Athletic Directors and Regent Directors nationwide have gotten sick of conference altogether and instead decide to generate the new league with a random draw of names.
However, lest you think it’s just one lottery and we’re done, these hypothetical NCAA rulers want to erase the entire possibility of conference ditching precedent set by Texas and Oklahoma that they are going to realign things every year.
That’s right. Random lottery draw for the conferences every single season. Let the chaos reign.
Clearly Notre Dame just needs to join the Big Ten already, as no matter what I do they end up in a league with NU. Furthermore, picking Northwestern to emerge as the conference champion of this randomly drawn league in 2021 is more than reasonable, as they’re probably one upset over the Fighting Irish away from being the favorites.
But who would NU be going up against in 2022, you might ask? Well here you go:
See, this is why every Northwestern fan should support this plan. One lucky spin and you’re given a pretty even three-way split at a chance for the conference crown with North Carolina and Indiana.
It also should be noted that in this scenario all 12 of your games are composed of conference opponents in order to preserve the spirit of the nuclear option lottery, with the one opponent you wouldn’t play in conference as the team directly across from you in the division alignment (Yes, I decided on this in the moment for convenience’ sake. Sue me).
This is somehow the most untenable of all five ideas I’ve described, but at the very least no one would be crying wolf about preferable treatment given that every program is in the same boat. If there’s one team that can thrive off a sport that would be reduced down to nothing but pure chaos, it’s Pat Fitzgerald and the Cardiac ‘Cats.