College football conference realignment draft: The final word

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Our commissioners discuss their leagues and divisions of their new superconferences

<p> College football conference realignment draft: The final word</p>

Now that our four commissioners have drafted their 16-team conferences, it’s up to the leadership to fit all the pieces together.

Through our draft, strategies emerged for how each commissioner approached tradition, rivalries and geography.

Explaining every pick: Rounds 1-4 | Rounds 5-8 | Rounds 9-12 | Rounds 13-16

Will each conference have championship games? A mini-playoff? What about divisions? How many conference games will each team play?

Our four commissioners explain their philosophy in picking teams for their leagues and how each elected to format their 16-team conferences:

LIGHT CONFERENCE
Commissioner: Mitch Light, managing editor (@AthlonMitch)

My approach for the most part was to grab the best programs available with each pick (though I tried to secure some rivalries late in the draft). Clearly, however, I didn’t pay enough attention to geography. Arizona State is an obvious misfit — it’s the only program west of Texas — and I would have preferred to have a bigger presence in Texas and the Deep South.

For football, I’ve divided my league into four four-team divisions:

Continental Division Midwest Division
Illinois Indiana
Kansas State Michigan State
Miami Penn State
Vanderbilt Purdue
West Division South Division
Arkansas Duke
Arizona State Georgia
Oklahoma NC State
Texas Virginia Tech

I favor an eight-game league schedule, but that’s not practical in a 16-team league, so we will go with nine conference games. Each team will play the other three teams in its division every season and play two teams from the three other divisions on a rotating basis.

This might not be popular with all of the coaches in the league, but we will have a four-team playoff to determine the conference championship. The four division winners will meet in the semifinals, with the higher seeded teams serving as the host. The two winners will meet the following week on a neutral site.

The winner of the league title could go on to play 16 games, if it reached the national championship game in the new four-team playoff. That seems like a lot — and it is — but keep in mind that North Dakota State and Sam Houston State, the two finalists in the FCS title game, played 15 games last year.

For basketball, the league will also be divided into four four-team divisions. Two eight-team divisions makes a little more sense, but scheduling becomes problematic. There’s no way to play every team in your division twice (home and home) and play each team in the other division once unless you want a 22-game league schedule. And that is not happening. So we will stick with the four divisions. Each team will play the other three teams in its division twice and play each team in the other three divisions once for an 18-game schedule.

GALL CONFERENCE
Commissioner: Braden Gall, editor (@BradenGall)

I had a distinct strategy heading into this draft. I wanted to attack the two most powerful and lucrative areas of the country: the Southeast because of the dedication to athletics and the Midwest, where, like it or not, there are still more eyes, ears and TV revenue than anywhere else in the nation. So my first four picks solidified these two areas and I did so with some of the country's most powerful brands in Notre Dame, Alabama and Nebraska. I wanted to completely avoid the Mountain and West Coast regions specifically due to dedication — fan, administrative, etc. There are great programs and fan bases out West, but not like the Southeast, Midwest and Heartland.

The other three areas I wanted to expand to were the Eastern Seaboard and the states of Texas and Florida. With South Florida, North Carolina and Maryland, I have a presence up and down the entire coast — including one program in the heart of the Sunshine State. With three schools in Texas, my league will be playing upwards of 15 games per year within the most talent-rich state in the country. I had the Lone Star State targeted in the final four rounds of my draft and I felt like I landed plenty of upside with Houston, TCU and Texas Tech.
 

North Division East Division
Louisville Maryland
Missouri North Carolina
Nebraska South Florida
Notre Dame Tennessee
South Division West Division
Alabama Houston
Auburn LSU
Ole Miss TCU
Mississippi State Texas Tech

With a four division "pod" model of alignment, I created some regional and divisional rivalries. Obviously, maintaining complete control of the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl was crucial. My league will play nine conference games every year using a 3-2-2-2 model. Every team will play three division games each year and then two alternating teams from each of the other three divisions. This ensures that, even in a 16-team league, that every teams will play every other school in the league every two years. Basketball and baseball will operate without any divisions and scheduling will rotate.

The biggest anomaly within my league will be my championship format. The division winners will be seeded 1-4 based on record (with head-to-head then overall record used as tie-breakers) in a two-week playoff format. Yes, it adds one extra football game for two teams in my league. But guess what, that means extra revenue for my conference. Roy Kramer was completed hammered in the media when he created the "SEC Championship Game" and I am pretty sure that worked out just fine. I am simply taking the next step.

Finally, my revenue allocation model will follow the Big Ten's plan of perfectly even distribution of wealth throughout the league. It is the only reasonable way to operate.

LASSAN CONFERENCE
Commissioner: Steven Lassan, deputy online editor (@AthlonSteven)

This was one of the most unique drafts I’ve participated in, so it was hard to pinpoint a strategy before pick No. 1. Initially, I planned on building four divisions of four teams from various parts of the nation, and that plan was on track early with the selections of Florida, Florida State, USC and UCLA. However, my plan was changed midway through the draft as I settled on two eight-team divisions:

East Division West Division
Clemson Baylor
Connecticut California
Florida Colorado
Florida State Kansas
Georgia Tech Oklahoma State
South Carolina Texas A&M
Syracuse USC
Virginia UCLA

My East Division will be anchored by Florida and Florida State, while South Carolina and Clemson head up the next tier. The East isn’t a strong top-to-bottom football league, but could get better if Syracuse returns to its 1990s level. Virginia and Georgia Tech are solid overall athletic programs and good academic institutions.

The West Division stretches from Texas to California and includes rising programs like Oklahoma State and Baylor. I’m leaning on USC to navigate NCAA sanctions without much trouble, while Texas A&M and UCLA need to pickup their football performance. Kansas doesn’t add much in football, but it will help the basketball product in this division.

I missed out on getting any schools from the upper Midwest (Big Ten country), which wasn’t by design. I wanted to grab at least one from that region, but none fell to me in the draft.

Football schedules will feature seven contests within the division and two crossover games. I plan on staging a conference title game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

I went into the draft planning on building a football-centric league, but I ended up with some solid basketball programs. Kansas, Florida, Connecticut and Syracuse all have titles in the 2000s, while Florida State has emerged as an ACC title contender under Leonard Hamilton.

My plan for basketball leagues is four four-team divisions with an 18-game conference slate. Each team will play its three divisional opponents two times and match up against the other 12 teams once each year.

Midwest Division East Division
Baylor Connecticut
Kansas South Carolina
Oklahoma State Syracuse
Texas A&M Virginia
West Southeast
California Clemson
Colorado Florida
USC Florida State
UCLA Georgia Tech

It’s a bit of a strange fit for South Carolina to be in a division with Connecticut, Syracuse and Virginia, but there’s really not a logical scenario. Putting Clemson in the Southeast Division with Florida State and Georgia Tech makes sense considering its history in the ACC.

FOX CONFERENCE
Commissioner: David Fox, editorial assistant (@DavidFox615)

Before we even chose the draft order, I knew I wanted my conference to have the most engaged fan base. I missed out on all but one SEC program and drafted no teams from Texas, so I’m sure there are a handful of people in those regions who will scoff at a college football conference whose only SEC/Texas representative is Kentucky.

My response: Don’t worry about my conference. I’m not going to have trouble selling tickets. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa and West Virginia all boast active fanbases. Kentucky’s following in college basketball, especially now that the Wildcats are competing for titles again, is unmatched. The Big Ten has its own television network (I have five teams from that league), BYU has one and the Pac-12 (I have five teams from this one) is starting one with many of the same pieces I have in my own conference.

Sure, my league might struggle for wins and credibility against conferences with strong footholds in the Southeast, Texas and California, but it won’t struggle for intrigue.

I want fans in my conference to be able to drive to road games. I want rival fans to bump into each other in sports bars and airports. I think I’ve achieved that within my two divisions, but especially in my Eastern division, which I'm calling the Lakes Division:

Lakes Division Mountains Division
Iowa Arizona
Kentucky Boise State
Michigan BYU
Minnesota Oregon
Ohio State San Diego State
Pittsburgh Stanford
West Virginia Utah
Wisconsin Washington

For scheduling purposes, I’m going to pair teams with a rival/traveling partner:
• Michigan-Ohio State
• Oregon-Washington
• Pittsburgh-West Virginia
• Minnesota-Wisconsin
• BYU-Utah
• Boise State-Stanford
• Arizona-San Diego State
• Iowa-Kentucky (yes, I realize Iowa and Kentucky aren’t rivals and aren’t particularly close, but this is what the process of elimination left me.)

In football, my league will have nine conference games, seven within the division with the “rivalry game” on Thanksgiving weekend. Each team will play a cross country home-and-home game with the other division with its traveling partner. For example, Ohio State/Michigan will play home-and-home games with Oregon/Washington and then flip home and road games the following year.

My format is going to create some competitive balance issues with teams playing five football road games in some years and West teams having to play at Kentucky when another might play at Ohio State, but my coaches are just going to have to live with it. This is also going to cause long droughts between interdivision matchups. That’s part of the cost of such a large conference, but hopefully that will give my conference championship game a little more cachet.

My division winners will meet in a conference championship game the first week of December. Given the structure of my league, it can’t be anywhere else but the Rose Bowl.

In basketball, my league will be similar to the Big East, but hopefully with a little more balance in conference schedules. I’m not going to use divisions for conference standings, but each team will play its seven football division opponents home and away and play four games (two home, two away) against two of the rivalry/travel pairings. For example, West Virginia and Pitt would each play BYU/Utah and Arizona/San Diego State from the West. My conference tournament would follow the Big East template with double byes for the top four teams and single byes for the Nos. 5-8.

The power of the basketball side of the league will be in the East, especially now, but over time, the West should be more competitive. I need Arizona to return to form, but I also need programs like Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Utah to be more consistent.

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