Monday, August 3, 2009
Get ready for a new world order
By Pat Forde
To Baylor, Godspeed. To Indiana, fare thee well. To Duke, may the road rise to meet you. And to the entirety of the Sun Belt and Mid-American Conferences, safe travels.
Now get out.
What we are doing here is performing a hangeronectomy -- a ruthless downsizing of the cumbersomely named and gruesomely bloated Football Bowl Subdivision. Just as in corporate America, 2009 is the time to get lean in college football. It's time to separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the Trojans of USC from the Trojans of Troy.
|Pete Carroll shouldn't have to worry about USC being selected in Tuesday's mock draft.|
Let's end the charade. The most powerful and least powerful of the 120 teams in the current FBS have very little in common. Sure, you all put on your football pants one leg at a time -- but they're faster legs and bigger pants on one side of this great divide.
Despite the occasional peasant uprising (2008 featured Toledo over Michigan, Arkansas State over Texas A&M, UNLV over Arizona State) the outcomes of Have vs. Have Not are predictable and persuasive. These two groups do not belong together. So what the NCAA has brought together, ESPN.com will now tear asunder.
We're going to remake big-time football. From now on, clueless Top 25 voters and arcane computer formulas are out; on-field competition is in. And membership in an elite conference is subject to annual renewal as opposed to being a birthright.
It starts with a live draft Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. When colleagues Ivan Maisel, Mark Schlabach and I are finished with our cut list, we'll be down to a fast and furious 40 power programs in the newly renamed Gordon Gekko Subdivision. (Motto: "Greed is good.")
We'll be drafting the most successful programs in the nation, based on whatever criteria each of us chooses to bring to the situation room. There is no set formula for this. Wins and losses matter most -- and what you've done in the 21st century is more important than what happened in the 1930s -- but fan following and overall prestige count, too.
You elites will be formed into four 10-team conferences of our choosing. You will play all nine league opponents every season, with the full round-robin scheduling alleviating the need for an annoying conference championship game. Of your three nonconference games, two must be played against fellow Gordon Gekko Subdivision opponents. Only one game can be played against an opponent from outside the top 40.
When the regular season is over, the four conference champions will enter a playoff -- yes, a playoff! -- to determine the national champion. (We expect approval from the First Playoff Advocate in the Oval Office at any time.)
After our 40-program draft, there will be a post-draft champagne-and-caviar reception on the penthouse level. From there you elites can look down and wave goodbye to the Little People we're in the process of evicting.
Those of you on the 80 teams that didn't make the cut can take your small stadiums and tight budgets and step-slow players to the Greyhound buses parked outside. They're waiting to relocate you to a middle-class home of your own. You're headed to the Tom Joad Subdivision (motto: "They fix 'em so you can't win nothing"), where you huddled masses can battle each other in relative obscurity while the upper class counts its money.
But wait. Before you rich and powerful teams get too comfortable, understand this: You can be kicked out of the club. Think Premier League soccer relegation, and apply it to the gridiron.
Every season, the bottom five teams in the Gordon Gekko Subdivision will be booted out and replaced by the top five teams in the Tom Joad Subdivision, which will feature eight 10-team conferences. The four teams that finish last in the Gekko conferences are automatically relegated, plus one underachiever will be chosen at large for demotion. They will be replaced by the four semifinalists from the playoff of Joad conference winners, plus a fifth team that must win an at-large game against another Joad conference winner.
Consider it a play-in game. And have it in Dayton, naturally.
So those are the rules of engagement. To the rich: Congratulations on getting richer. To the poor: Let them eat cake.
If you're a Joad team, it doesn't mean your brand of football is without value -- entertainment value and intrinsic value. It just means you should be playing your actual peers instead of having your brains beaten in by monolithic programs where the strength coach makes more than your head coach.
But not all the so-called little programs really are little, and not all the so-called big programs really are big. That's where we step in to redistrict the place.
We're not just sweeping out the lowest tier of the current BCS; we're also looking to whack the bottom feeders from the power conferences and most of the midlevel league members as well. We'll take down some academically oriented schools and a few basketball schools. And with the possible exception of fast learner South Florida, just about every school that jumped into what was formerly called Division I-A over the past 10 to 15 years now is on its way back out under our format.
Sorry about that, strivers. But in case you haven't heard, life is unfair.
Look, I'm ESPN.com's resident college populist and antiestablishment crank. There are few things I love more than seeing Boise State shock Oklahoma in football, or George Mason beat North Carolina, Michigan State and Connecticut in basketball.
But I'm also a realist. And no matter what the current NCAA divisional alignment tells us, it's unrealistic to believe that Louisiana-Monroe, with 2007-08 athletic revenues of less than $8 million, according to the Orlando Sentinel, is on equal terms with Texas, with more than $120 million in revenue.
The gulf is greater in football than it is in basketball. And it's now wider than Alabama's Terrence Cody.
Which is why it's time for a mass eviction. Don't let the marching band hit you on the way out, Have-Nots.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.