As the season draws to a close in European soccer leagues, eyes aren’t just on the top of the table.
Sometimes the competition at the bottom is what’s more intriguing.
Imagine a college football world where people pay as much attention to a game between Maryland and Rutgers in the final week of the season as “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan.
A relegation system would make this a reality.
To put it in the most simple terms, a relegation system is one where teams are transferred between leagues based on their performances.
The teams in the bottom would be relegated to a lower division, and the teams on top in the lower division get promoted.
A quick example would be Rutgers finishing last in the Big Ten getting relegated to the MAC, and champion Ball State getting promoted to the Big Ten in the Scarlet Knights’ spot.
For the sake of making this column simple, we are just going to look at the FBS — although this system could easily incorporate the FCS and even Division II programs.
To start, this means the conferences would need to be paired in order to determine who goes up and who goes down.
Below I created an example of what this could look like:
ACC - American
Big 12 - Conference USA
Big Ten - MAC
SEC - Sun Belt
Pac-12 - Mountain West
After pairing these conferences off, you can’t say this idea doesn’t produce some intrigue.
I mean, the conferences pair up beautifully in a geographic sense.
Now just to be clear before I go any further, a system like this will never be enacted in any American sport, let alone college football. I mean, the MLS doesn’t even use a relegation system.
The reason why it will never happen is money.
Any team in the bottom-half of a Power Five conference would never vote for this system, as it would be at the most risk of dropping a division and losing precious television money, which powers the rest of the sports on campus.
The difference for Rutgers between Big Ten television money and MAC television money could crush an athletic department.
While I brought money up, however, it would allow the opposite for smaller schools. Schools like UCF, Cincinnati and even Buffalo would have a chance to get into a Power Five conference and earn vital revenue that could completely change their athletic departments.
Not to mention, UCF would finally get its shot in the ACC and could find itself in the College Football Playoff if it puts together a complete season.
But anyway, I thought it would be interesting to see what college football would look like with this system, and is it something that could be feasible? Most importantly, would it improve the game?
After pairing off the conferences, this is certainly feasible — so what’s next?
Well, we have to determine how many teams get promoted and relegated each season.
In England, the Premier League, which is 20 teams, relegates and promotes three teams each year.
I think because of the size of college football conferences, it should be a maximum of two teams switching divisions each year.
We have a lot of options on how to do this, but I’ll detail two of them.
One, remove divisions within conferences: No more Big Ten East and West, we figure out a new scheduling system. The bottom two teams each year go down, and the top two teams from the MAC come up.
Looking at the Big Ten and MAC standings from last fall, this would be the result:
So in this instance, Michigan State and Illinois are down to the MAC and Ball State and Buffalo will be playing in the Big Ten in 2021.
The other option is keep divisions within conferences and have a playoff system.
Personally, I think this would be the best solution.
Using last year's standings, this would mean Michigan State would play Buffalo, with the winner earning a place in the Big Ten East the next season.
Then, Illinois would play Ball State, with the winner taking the spot in the Big Ten West.
This system would ensure that the team in the higher division would have to be beat by the supposedly worst team in order to get relegated.
I think one of the biggest critiques of this system is the supposed competition gap between the Big Ten and MAC.
However, this isn’t necessarily true.
Last season excluded, because there wasn’t any nonconference play, a MAC team has beaten at least one Big Ten team every year since 2005.
Since the Big Ten’s last alignment in 2014, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green have both won three games against Big Ten teams.
Northern Illinois and Western Michigan both tallied two victories, while Buffalo, Akron and Central Michigan all earned one.
In this same time period, Rutgers has won 10 Big Ten games — three of which came in 2020.
Rutgers has obviously played more Big Ten games in this timespan.
In fact, Eastern Michigan has a 3-1 record against Big Ten teams in that timespan.
What a relegation system would really do for college football is drive teams to get better.
Right now, schools like Rutgers and Illinois sit at the bottom of the conference every year and rake in Big Ten television money.
There really isn’t a punishment for them being bad.
They would certainly be punished with relegation while also giving some of the best teams in the MAC a chance to compete at the highest level.
If anything, it would spice up the games.
I know I would be more interested in seeing Penn State play Buffalo in 2021 instead of Rutgers or Michigan State.
Nationally, a system like this would remove the argument of Group of Five teams deserving a shot in the College Football Playoff.
If they are good enough, they will play themselves into the top conferences and earn postseason opportunities like the playoff.
Overall, this was just a quick introduction into what could be a complex system with a million different factors.
But a relegation system is feasible in college football: It would be fun, it would shake things up, but unfortunately, it is something we will never see.