Conferences are no longer defined by regions, but now by the dollar value of their respective television contracts.
What will the remnants of the lower Power 5 Conferences become? Some speculate merging and picking sides, others suggest demise for those below the SEC & B1G Ten. The future is dependent upon the television packages, Notre Dame’s intent to stay independent, and the daily change of the landscape. What if there was a more stable version of college football?
Its distant cousin, Fútbol, has a format that could save the authenticity of Division I football.
The concept of relegation, promoting and demoting teams based on success/merit, is one that soccer embraces and implements well. The same idea could work for college football, if the landscape is willing to accept the idea.
Three subdivisions of Division I college football could make the entirety more stable. FCS – Football Championship Subdivision (Lower D1), FBS – Football Bowl Subdivision (Middle D1) and NCFC- National College Football Championship (Upper D1). These three options would allow flexibility that many teams lose in this strong arm era of first-or-last football. The household names will survive the current landscape, but any team that is not objectively mainstream or widely successful will fail to garner a substantial national presence.
FCS allows for “old-fashioned” D1 football of basic regular season followed by a 24-team postseason bracket for a national championship. There are not any frills and the money at this level is enough to make it to next year, other than some comfortable research institutions and the Ivy’s. This division will be the “tried and true” football experience with little need to participate in the “glitz and glam” of the upper divisions. Players of any star level could play here, but the general appeal would be to win games and the classic national championship. A continued partnership with ESPN+ across the entire division would give a needed consistency to fans who have been used to a gymnastics routine to watch their team when not within range of the stadium.
FBS allows for “modern” D1 football that attracts higher level recruits to get national spotlight and make a name for themselves on the way to a bowl game and possibly an NFL chance. This division can be a step ladder for successful FCS teams and a safety net for struggling NCFC teams. The FBS would be the mainstream teams who are not competing in the NCFC “prime-time” style season. The majority of 2-4 star type players would consider this division an option as they compete against high-caliber players every week. A singular platform to watch these teams on would be a monumental task with the vast differences in television contracts across the land, but a commitment to stay relevant on national broadcasts is a must.
NCFC would allow for “elite” D1 football that is the highest and hardest working recruits available. This subdivision would be the direct hot-bed for NFL scouting, major NIL deals, and big-time television productions. The NCFC would function largely in the way the premier league does for soccer by having the absolute best against each other. The ending format would be a 4-8 team playoff to settle the national champion. These teams would be exclusively featured on ESPN and other prime-time national broadcasts to feature this subdivision as a premium product.
A wrench in the system is that the Big Ten and SEC could try to breakaway from the NCAA entirely which poses another world-shifting argument. The current college football playoff is a private entity and with the emergence of LIV Golf and other private sports leagues/ companies it is not outrageous to think the next step for college football is to differentiate itself into a private product. This will not be a possibility for all NCAA teams, but football has long been a unique beast whether it be for making money, Title IX requirements, and overall appeal of a school. Not everyone can be the Big Ten and land a seven billion dollar media deal, but everyone does need stability in college football.
My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.