Thursday, September 23, 2010

Please, Pac-12. Keep it Simple.

According to the reports, the PAC-10 will become the PAC-12 after this school year, with Colorado and Utah jumping in. The conference is now looking at how the schools will be divided up.

The Pac-10 athletic directors will meet Oct. 6-7 in San Francisco and the presidents and chancellors will convene there on Oct. 21. Splitting the divisions will also be discussed. A "zipper concept" is an option, dividing natural rivals into opposite divisions.

Another concept to be raised is splitting the northern and southern schools but using three scheduling "pods" of four teams to provide a rotating schedule that would allow northern teams to play in California regularly. Under that scenario, each team would not be guaranteed to face each divisional opponent each season.
My advice: Don't overcomplicate the matter.

That's what happened with the Big Ten...
As you may recall, the TBD conference divisions:
Division A - Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Division B - Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern

Maybe more Ohio St/Michigan
wouldn't be so bad after all...

The folks in charge of the new Big Ten, wanted two things: 1) Ohio State and Michigan in the championship game, and 2) Michigan and Ohio State to continue to play during Thanksgiving week.

To play in the championship game, teams of course have to be in separate divisions.

Unfortunately, those two items work against each other, as you know, that sets up the possibility of a Michigan and Ohio State matchup two weeks in a row. This is incredibly troublesome, especially if there is a national title bid on the line. If they split the wins, what does that do for us?

It either creates a whole lot of confusion over who really is the Big Ten champ, or whether or not the Big Ten lost out on a national title shot because their two best teams played each other two weeks in a row (assuming that Michigan and Ohio State are the conference's top two teams).

What if they split the wins, and one still makes the title game? Doesn't that go against the grain of almost every football season? Late-season losses count more. It is possible to lose in September or October, make up ground, and still play for the championship, but not November.

That's why I don't like how they split those two and left them with their final-week game. That's dumb. (By the way, the Big Ten has also done this with Illinois and Minnesota, but they aren't as much fun to talk about.)

Good conferences don't do this. Good conferences like... the SEC, of course.

I understand that I am an SEC guy, and I believe that Mike Slive can do no wrong. But that doesn't discredit me from saying that his system works. (Five national titles since 2000, with a current streak of four.)

And you never, ever end up with two teams playing each other back-to-back. Because the SEC is smart in how they set up their schedules. Year after year, the SEC schools arrange their schedules so that they end each season with a heavy dose of intradivision or natural rival games.

The late-year combinations...
Alabama: LSU, Miss. St., Auburn
Arkansas: Miss. St., LSU
Auburn: Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama
Miss. St.: Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss
Ole Miss: LSU, Miss. St.
LSU: Ole Miss, Arkansas
Georgia: Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Tech
South Carolina: Florida, Clemson
Tennessee: Vandy, Kentucky
Florida: Vandy, South Carolina, Florida State
Vanderbilt: Kentucky, Tennessee
Kentucky: Georgia, Vandy, Tennessee

That was compiled after looking at the schedules of all SEC teams over the past four years. Only in one instance are interdivisional games close to the end of the year, and that's Georgia & Auburn. (And sometimes they play with two weeks still remaining.)

But under no situation have they played an interdivision game on the last weekend of the season. Why? So that they don't run the risk of those teams playing back to back. Also, it helps create drama, especially if both teams are still in the hunt for a shot at the conference title game.

If it is already decided that Ohio State and Michigan are going to be in the Big Ten title game, then what is the point of the first game? Are both teams going to "show" everything they have? Will they play everyone like it is a game they HAVE to win?

The questions could continue on forever.

This is what the Pac-12 needs to avoid. Don't follow in the footsteps of the Big Ten. Follow the much more precise (and simple) footsteps of the SEC.

What's nice about the Pac-10 is that they have pretty clearly defined natural rivals:

Oregon/Oregon State
Washington/Washington State
Arizona/Arizona State

Toss in Utah/Colorado, and it all shapes up nicely.

So, all of these rivals need to be in the same division. And because of geography, I recommend the following to be locked in:

Division A: UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State
Division B: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State

That leaves the combos of Stanford/Cal and Utah/Colorado. Either could fit in either division. Utah and Arizona share a border (and Colorado is a jump across the Four Corners). But Utah and Colorado would easily fit in with the northwestern schools as well, due to climate, and Colorado especially with culture.

Cal and Stanford are in California, so that naturally makes them a good fit for USC/UCLA, but they also could make it up and down the I-5 pretty easily for the northwestern schools.

And when, in the report above, they refer to the 'pods' and 'playing in California more often' this obviously means Los Angeles. The good news for the Pac-12 is that they have TWO teams in Los Angeles.

And, if they followed the scheduling model of the SEC, with their one permanent intervdivisional and two rotating opponents, half of the northern/intervdisional schools would be playing in Los Angeles every year. (It works, trust me. Get out a sheet of paper - you'll see.) Or if you want to go with nine conference games - even better. Lock in two, and float two. Whatever.

But don't overcomplicate the matter, Pac-12. NO "ZIG-ZAG". Sometimes one division is going to be better than the other and not everyone is going to get to play in LA every year. Those are the breaks.

Piece the conference divisions together with the option of Utah/Colorado going north or south. Doesn't matter. And then schedule like the SEC with intradivisional games dominating the end of the year.

It's not rocket science, it's football.