Archives for May 2012

Legends and Leaders Revisited

One of the most contentious aspects of conference expansion is the formation of divisions, and how to properly accommodate the often competing interests of traditional rivalries, competitive balance, and geographic logic.  (Although, in a world where San Diego State will soon be in the same conference as Connecticut, that last one has become kind of laughable.)  With these things (and others) in mind, the Big Ten added Nebraska a year ago and attempted to create divisions that would produce satisfying championship games without trampling too much on tradition (something that few in the college football universe care about anymore) in the process.

The result was the highly controversial and unfortunately named “Legends and Leaders” format.  While most fans and observers (and even Jim Tressel) favored the simple East/West split along the Indiana-Illinois border, the Big Ten brass seemed to specifically desire a separated Ohio State and Michigan, for the obvious benefit of being able to stage The Game as a conference title matchup.  This decision, of course, infuriated fans of these teams, who were suddenly worried that perhaps the single most traditional thing in the conference was about to be seriously messed with.

And yet, in its first season, the success of the Legends/Leaders set-up is undeniable.  The championship game featured the two best teams in the conference in a high-scoring, back-and-forth rematch of the season’s most exciting game.  It’s hard to imagine a better result under any other configuration.


First, a quick note: to evaluate the potential success of other formats, I’ve assumed that each team would finish with the same conference record as they did in real life.  This is probably not true, but it’s impossible to be accurate here, so let’s just play it safe.

For starters, we’ll set our baseline at the actual results of Legends/Leaders:

Legends Champion: Michigan State

Leaders Champion: Wisconsin

Average conference wins: Legends – 4.5, Leaders – 3.5

Not bad, especially when you consider that Indiana’s goose-egg is the primary reason for the Leaders’ poor showing.

Now, how the people’s choice East/West would have fared:

East Champion: Michigan State

West Champion: Wisconsin

Average conference wins: East – 4.33, West – 3.67

Even with the terrible Hoosiers in the mix, the East benefits from having Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State together.  Note that this would have produced the exact same championship game but with better competitive balance.

Next up, a geographic split the other way (North/South).  This was not really talked about much, but I figured it would be worth a look.  Here, since Iowa and Penn State are essentially even, I went with the choice that kept Ohio State and Penn State together (which would probably have been a concern, especially with Ohio State and Michigan split up):

North Champion: Michigan State

South Champion: Penn State

Average conference wins: North – 4.67, South – 3.33

Easily the worst balance, and even worse with Iowa and Penn State switched.  In that scenario, 5-3 Nebraska wins the South as the only team in the division with a winning record.  Ick.  The only benefit of North/South is that it would have produced a non-rematch championship game and a different champion.  This set-up will probably get better over time as Ohio State returns to form.

The final configuration is one that the Pac-12 tossed around for a while.  Known as the “zipper model,” the basic idea is that teams are grouped into geographic pairs (which makes a lot more sense in the Pac-12) and then split up, apparently to create the opportunity for regionally exciting championship games.  The pairs I used were Nebraska/Iowa, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Northwestern/Illinois, Indiana/Purdue, Michigan/Michigan State, and Ohio State/Penn State.  After toying around with this one for a while, I found an alignment that would have resulted in perfect competitive balance (an average of 4 wins in each division) for this past season:

Legends (because you know we would have still gotten those names): Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Minnesota.

Leaders: Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana.

Again, the same championship game (here, since Michigan played neither Wisconsin or Penn State for real, I assumed a loss to the Badgers and a win over the Lions, but who knows…) along with perfectly balanced divisions.  The nice thing about this set-up (if you’re like me, anyway) is that the three teams I find it easiest to hate as a Buckeye are all in the other division, enhancing the excitement leading up to a championship game.

While a few more years in the books are necessary before any real conclusions can be reached (and who knows how many teams/divisions the Big Ten will have by then), it seems that the Big Ten was right to go for competitive balance, but may not have properly achieved it.  For now, the fan favorite East/West split is actually better than what we have, so we can at least pat ourselves on the back for that.

He said, Gene said

Last night all hell broke loose when The Lantern, the student newspaper at The Ohio State University, released an article of an interview with Gene Smith the OSU AD. In the article about OSU violations The Lantern had this…

“Smith told The Lantern Tuesday the athletic department has 12 pending NCAA violations, and he doesn’t know if they will be deemed primary or secondary violations.”

“We’ve got 12 pending,” Smith said. “It may turn out to be secondary. It may not.”

and then this….

“OSU spokesman Dan Wallenberg said in a Wednesday email to The Lantern, that there were actually less than 12 pending violations. Wallenberg did confirm that the additional violations are being “processed,” although he did not “know the status of each situation” in regards to whether it was being processed by the university or the NCAA.”

“Smith’s mention of the additional violations to The Lantern comes less than a week after OSU released documents that revealed 46 self-reported secondary NCAA violations since May 30, 2011 — the day former Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign.”

Those 46 secondary violations were amusing at best and a great example of the juggernaut that is the NCAA rule book.

But there was a widespread panic by journalists from major news outlets to spread the fact that OSU is under serious investigations for these new twelve or so violations and these may put the death nail in an OSU coffin they have been trying to bury for over a year. To OSU fans it was just another unneeded headache that we all assumed would be similar to the 46 “funny” violations that we learned about last week. We also knew that the media and the CFB world would instantly jump on this story and go to the worst possible scenarios and report it as truth, rather then guesses.

Then came clarification from Gene Smith this morning in the following response to the Lantern article…..

“Contrary to reports attributed to me, Ohio State Athletics is not facing any major NCAA violations,” Smith said. “There are several secondary violations being processed by our compliance office. These are similar to those released last week. Again, these are secondary in nature and consistent with our culture of self-reporting even the most minor and inadvertent violations.

“Again, to be clear, the Ohio State football program, its coaches and staff are not facing any violations.”“Contrary to reports attributed to me, Ohio State Athletics is not facing any major NCAA violations,” Smith said. “There are several secondary violations being processed by our compliance office. These are similar to those released last week. Again, these are secondary in nature and consistent with our culture of self-reporting even the most minor and inadvertent violations.

“Again, to be clear, the Ohio State football program, its coaches and staff are not facing any violations.”

Who knows how the article in the Lantern got to where it got and whether or not there were misunderstandings or if things were taken out of context. Maybe Gene Smith said exactly what they say he said; that is very believable. What isn’t believable is that the national media will print this clarification as fast and fervently as they did the initial story. So expect lots of people not understanding this situation and using it to fit whatever argument they want to expand on their hate for OSU.

The truth is OSU has 40 or so sports teams with 400 or so coaches and over 1100 student athletes and is the largest Athletic Department in the country. The NCAA rule book is GINORMOUS and very detailed. OSU will have many violations each and every year. Just like every other school does (If they don’t then they are hiding their violations) yet when OSU has them they are front page news and fodder for all those reporters who love to espouse their hatred for either OSU or the NCAA or both.

The Future of College Football: Breaking Up For The Kids

Since the last installment, we’ve been (almost) given the gift of a four-team playoff postseason to begin in a couple of years.  Since that still-not-entirely-final announcement, the discussion has mostly shifted to how the four teams should be chosen, a question that–despite sanctimonious column after sanctimonious column to the contrary–has no right answer.  Everyone has a good point in this argument, and whatever is decided will still result in at least some amount of controversy.  But it will be a slightly better brand of controversy than what we have now, and that’s a good start.

But perhaps doing more to end that controversy would be the long-theorized and even longer-overdue secession of the top conferences from the NCAA.  This move–or at the very least, the creation of a new division within the current structure–would finally acknowledge the obvious: Utah State, Tulane and Buffalo are not on the same level as USC, LSU and Ohio State.

With the most recent realignment moves, the so-called “Big Six” conferences will house 78 programs by 2015 when Navy begins play in the Big East.  The remaining 42 (not counting a handful of announced FCS upgrades) belong to the mid-majors.  Of those 42, exactly zero are in the top 25 in winning percentage for the past ten years (  Every mid-major that would have been in that category has already been snatched up by a Big Sixer (Boise State, TCU, Utah) or opted for independence (BYU), which essentially gives them the same competitive benefits that Notre Dame enjoys.  Just one has appeared in a BCS bowl and that’s Hawai’i, the remaining mid-major with the highest winning percentage in the last decade.

To put it bluntly, they wouldn’t be missed.

Further, I would suggest tossing the Big East into that pool as well.  Of the bottom 15 teams from Big Six leagues on that 10-year list, four are Big East teams (all new additions even).  Each of the other conferences has two, and Army is the lone independent to rank that low.  If the separation were to finally occur, I have no doubt that Boise, Louisville, Cincy, Navy, USF, Houston, UConn and Rutgers could find homes in the Big Five or be successful as independents.  But ultimately, as long as Boise and Navy can, the rest are expendable.

From here we can finally get to a playoff that works, without getting too out of hand for you crybabies that don’t want a two-month 64-team extravaganza of football awesomeness.  With five conferences of sizes that will probably range from 12 to 16 teams and a few independents, a four-team playoff gets a little awkward.  You’re either leaving one conference champ out entirely or subjecting the whole thing to another goofy mishmash of polls and computer formulas.  Neither of those options will be acceptable at this point.  The only realistic answers are either an 8-team playoff (5 champs + 3 at-large) or a 5 team all-champs playoff where some seeding system (even if it’s just W/L record) is used so that #4 and #5 play a sort-of play-in game to the four team field.  (This second method is still a little clunky, as there would need to be some sort of accommodation for independents, perhaps an optional second “play-in” if an independent team meets inclusion criteria.)

And let’s not forget the advantages the separation would give to those mid-major conferences left behind.  I imagine there would be further expansion within that level by elevating even more successful FCS programs.  Undoubtedly there would be a new playoff created for whatever this level is eventually called (FCS-A?).  Finally these teams will be able to start working toward actually winning national championships instead of being satisfied with shameless early-season cash-in beatdown road trips and appearances in no-respect joke bowls with marginal-at-best benefits.

That’s cute, Michigan

H/T to Ramzy for the idea.