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Goodbye college conferences
Here me out: We could have something even better
from left field logo

Let me preface this column by letting you know that I have some fantastically wild ideas about a lot of things in this world. I liken myself as an “idea’s man”, per se.

Over the past month, the landscape of college sports has changed dramatically. NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) is now lawfully allowed for athletes of all ages — which means they can create their own brands, get paid for commercials and pocket money based on their skill set, even if they are playing an “amateur” sport.

This is fantastic news, in my opinion. The NCAA, and college schools, rake in millions upon millions of dollars based on the work of student-athletes that are paid in basically scholarships and some food stipends. While this seemed like a cool thing 60 years ago, it’s no longer the case anymore. The money in sports has grown exponentially, while the cost of living has also exploded, leaving the free room and board simply not what it used to be. 

Athletes were also limited to the amount of money they could make working jobs over the course of the year (plus limited hours at jobs). Yet, they are fully expected to give more than 40-plus hours a week to hone their athletic craft for their school. At 18-22 years old, that is a lot of cheap labor, especially to not see a dime of it in your wallet.

Will some athletes at certain sports in certain schools now bring in more than others elsewhere? Absolutely. But by at least adding NIL, the school doesn’t have to pay a student actual cash for being an employee of the university or college. (This also means we can start getting college football video games again, and for a segment of the American population, this is a huge deal).

The cash flow is already churning, and estimates of the SEC being worth billions (with a ‘B’), big-name schools like Oklahoma and Texas want out of the Big 12, simply to get in on some more of that cash. 

Ok, fine, whatever. But what this week’s movement of OU and Texas means for the national landscape is basically one of the “Big 5” conferences collapsing before our very eyes. Other conferences, like the Pac 12 (16? 20?) and the Big Ten (again, numbers mean nothing anymore), will pillage the Big 12 until nothing is left.

Will we see super-conferences within five years, with each league having its own 20ish teams, and split divisions? Probably.

But you know what we should do instead?

Blow the whole thing up. Everything, across the board in all college sports. 

No more conferences.

Will this put hundreds (maybe even thousands) of employees for administration purposes at these conferences out of work? Yes. Will it mean there is no longer a Big 10 commissioner, or a SEC commissioner? Also yes. Less money to go to executives, and more money for the schools. Since the big sports at the big schools already keep so many smaller sports afloat, this would bring in even more TV revenue money. How/why? Because the NCAA, or ESPN, or Hulu, or YouTube or Netflix or whoever could televise them all.

Here’s my pitch — a long shot, I know.

Create a leveled/tiered system, where teams accumulate not just a wins/loss records, but collective “points” based on wins over the strength of their opponent — similar to the NHL and professional soccer. 

We already use statistics similar to this (strength of schedule), using power indexes (RPI, BPI, etc,). But here is where I go one further — the points accumulated determine which level you are at for the next year.

Ok, maybe you are confused (I do that a lot to people). Let’s take college football — 127 teams are in the FBS (formerly known as D-I). You break that down to say, approximately 12 teams per level. Right now, there are 12 games in a regular season, with maybe a conference championship and then a bowl game (and for some, the college playoff). That means most teams play 13 or 14 games.

With a 12-team league, your school plays the other 11 teams, and then has two non-league games (like what we currently call nonconference). You can schedule anyone for a non-league game. Teams like Alabama schedule The Citadel or Navy (or even FCS opponents). They do this because it is similar to having a preseason. They know they will win, but this will get their players more game-ready for the conference schedule. They can even go deep into the roster. The smaller schools do this because they get a big cash payout to get slaughtered.

It is what it is.

But what if there was incentive to not do that? Again, stay with me.

I’ll base this on last year’s college football Power Index, according to ESPN. The top 12 teams in the country at the end of the year were:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Oklahoma

5. Georgia

6. Texas

7. Texas A&M

8. Wisconsin

9. Iowa State

10. Florida

11. Iowa

12. BYU

In my model, they are all in the same “conference” or “level” for this season. They all play each other.

And for the Win=Points part of it, teams would get the points based on the “Level” (and half the points for an overtime loss).

Let’s say that in this model (we’ll call is LEVEL 11), Alabama goes 11-1 in Level play, and tops LEVEL 1 Kansas and LEVEL 2 South Alabama: They would now have 124 points. Clemson goes 10-2 with an overtime loss in league play, and defeats LEVEL 8 Wake Forest and LEVEL 6 NC State, gaining 14 more points for 128 total. However, BYU is just 2-10 in league, but topples LEVEL 5’s Air Force and Wyoming: 32 points.

Now down in LEVEL 10 (teams ranked 13-24 from last year), Oregon has a monster year at goes unbeaten at 12-0 in league play and defeats both LEVEL 9 Stanford and LEVEL 6 Oregon State: They would have 135 points (more than everyone else in all levels).

But Adam, what about bowl games?

Don’t worry, I have you covered.

Rather than the old way of splitting bowl games by invite, or conference, or the playoffs, bowls would be simple to decide: At the end of the season, No. 1 rank plays No. 2 rank (again, based on total points), meaning Oregon and Clemson would play for the championship. No. 3 would play 4; 5 vs. 6; etc. That means teams from all levels would continue to have the opportunity to play in a bowl game, though it would get harder the further down you are. Also, bowl game wins count for point total for next season’s tiered groupings.

Florida State, currently mired in a fall from grace, would be a LEVEL 4 team in this scenario. They would play 10 other LEVEL 4 teams (I forgot to mention, LEVELS 6-11 have 12 teams, and 1-5 have just 11, in order to accommodate 127 total DI schools). If FSU went 9-1 in league play, and 1-1 in non-league, beating LEVEL 3 Florida Atlantic, that is 39 points — more than top-tiered BYU. If FSU beats LEVEL 5’s Tennessee in the bowl game, that’s 44 points on the season and a jump to Level 6, strengthening their chance of growing the program again. BYU, while possibly still worthy of playing in LEVEL 10 or even 9, could replicate FSU the next year in LEVEL 3 and jump right back into the mix in a year or two to get to the top.

This entire system creates yearly volatility where teams swap rankings. But here’s also what you’d get: six of the top teams playing each other every week. And teams 13-24 playing each other every week. We would truly determine the best team(s) year in and year out.

Sure, LEVEL 11 could all go 5-5 against each other, and all play the next year down in Level 7. It’s a possibility. But it also means that the chances of year-after-year, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU and Clemson likely won’t be playing for the national title.

“But Adam, what about travel? What if Washington State is stuck in a level with 10 schools from the East Coast? What about travel expenses?”

Fair question, but this is where the NCAA (or whatever new authority is in charge) could pool money from every game, every week and create a large pool of money to be divided up equally to all schools. It wouldn’t take a high percentage of game-revenue for each contest to pay for the hotel and a trip home.

“What about rivalries?”

I’m not as into rivalries as a lot of people are, but I do know that rivalries really matter in college sports — especially college football. But Alabama-Auburn is hardly a rivalry if one team routinely can’t get to .500 in a normal season and the other is playing for a national title. Same with Ohio State and Michigan. Schools could still use a non-league contest to continue rivalries, which would always help with money at the gate. If the teams both routinely have winning records and play further up in the tiers, even better.

Now, let’s switch gears to basketball, where there are 353 schools in DI. Right now, there is an automatic bid into the March Madness tournament if you win your league’s tournament. I’ve never been a fan of this, and my new system clears up the chance that a team goes 0-28 but gets hot over one weekend and reaches the tournament.

With 353 schools, you could break it down into grouping of 18 tiers of approximately 19-20 teams (top 7 levels have 19 schools, bottom 11 tiers with 20). 

That means for the top programs in the top tiers an 18-game schedule in your LEVEL, with 12 non-league games to schedule against any tier. This gives the lower tiers (mid- and small-major schools) one more game to boost their point total and help grow the program, but also adds a bit more to the volatility.

And at the end of the regular season, instead of conference tournament and a Selection Sunday TV special (which we only watch because we’re practically forced to as fans), the point totals from the wins would determine the field of 64 (or 68, whatever) — and who is the top rank, without any sort of judging to go into it.

Think of it this way, at No. 18 in BPI last year, Colorado could go just 3-15 in LEVEL 1 play, and would likely have to miss the big dance. Also missing might be 206th-ranked Campbell, which at 13-7 likely would not get a chance to run the Big South and reach the dance, leaving the Fighting Camels in the Tier 2 or Tier 3 tournaments (currently the NIT and CBI).

In the basketball scenario, we wouldn’t have to count the points for wins like in the bowl games — but we could, and it would make upsets on that first weekend of March Madness that much crazier, as now a Level 13 team like Pepperdine (ranked 101 in the preseason, finishes 64th) could beat a top-tier team in the opener and sneak up into the second tier for next season.

This could work for college hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, etc. 

All I am saying is, is that there is a more fun way of doing this, without clinging to what a “conference” meant in 1957, or 1982, or 2001.

And then we will know just who the best teams are, year after year. And coaches might not leave Wisconsin for Arkansas, because “the conference is tougher”, only to end up at Illinois nearly a decade later. It could incentivize coaches to stay; for players to want to grow with a city and with a program. It could mean that even though your football team begins the year unranked, they actually have a chance to play for a national title, and not just the same five schools that opened the year at the top. 

It’s a better system, I think, for fans.

Unless, of course, you don’t mind your team going 8-4 and playing in the Belk Bowl each season.

—Adam Krebs is the editor of the Times and eagerly anticipates the release of NCAA Football 2022 for PS5. He can be reached at


Teams would be awarded points equal to the level of the team defeated. Any overtime loss would equal half of the points for the level. Zero points awarded for loss in regulation.

Season based on 13 weeks, with one game against each opponent in grouped level. Nonconference/non-level games can be scheduled to fill out remaining weeks, with win point totals also based on level. 

Cumulative point totals collected by the end of the regular season determine bowl game opponents. Top two point totals play for the National Championship, regardless of level. Bowl Games also count for total points. Post-bowl game point totals determine level placement for next season. (First season based off of Power Index Rankings)

College Football

(Sample of 2021 Levels, 

based on ESPN’s Power Index Rankings from 2020)

Level 11 (12 teams)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

3. Clemson Tigers

4. Oklahoma Sooners

5. Georgia Bulldogs

6. Texas Longhorns

7. Texas A&M Aggies

8. Wisconsin Badgers

9. Iowa State Cyclones

10. Florida Gators

11. Iowa Hawkeyes

12. BYU Cougars

Level 10 (12 teams)

13. Cincinnati Bearcats

14. Oklahoma State Cowboys

15. Indiana Hoosiers

16. Oregon Ducks

17. USC Trojans

18. Auburn Tigers

19. Northwestern Wildcats

20. TCU Horned Frogs

21. UCF Knights

22. Arizona State Sun Devils

23. Penn State Nittany Lions

24. Miami Hurricanes

Level 9 (12 teams)

25. North Carolina Tar Heels

26. Utah Utes

27. LSU Tigers

28. UCLA Bruins

29. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

30. West Virginia Mountaineers

31. Virginia Tech Hokies

32. Washington Huskies

33. Stanford Cardinal

34. Ole Miss Rebels

35. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

36. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Level 8 (12 teams)

37. Louisville Cardinals

38. Appalachian State Mountaineers

39. Buffalo Bulls

40. Pittsburgh Panthers

41. Minnesota Golden Gophers

42. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

43. Nebraska Cornhuskers

44. Kentucky Wildcats

45. Boise State Broncos

46. Baylor Bears

47. Michigan Wolverines

48. Missouri Tigers

Level 7 (12 teams)

49. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

50. Purdue Boilermakers

51. California Golden Bears

52. Mississippi State Bulldogs

53. Tennessee Volunteers

54. Boston College Eagles

55. Kansas State Wildcats

56. Arkansas Razorbacks

57. Virginia Cavaliers

58. Marshall Thundering Herd

59. Colorado Buffaloes

60. San Diego State Aztecs

Level 6 (12 teams)

61. UAB Blazers

62. NC State Wolfpack

63. Tulane Green Wave

64. Oregon State Beavers

65. Houston Cougars

66. Ball State Cardinals

67. SMU Mustangs

68. Washington State Cougars

69. Memphis Tigers

70. Texas Tech Red Raiders

71. San José State Spartans

72. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Level 5 (11 teams) 

73. Wyoming Cowboys

74. Air Force Falcons

75. Nevada Wolf Pack

76. Liberty Flames

77. Army Black Knights

78. Maryland Terrapins

79. South Carolina Gamecocks

80. Toledo Rockets

81. Illinois Fighting Illini

82. Western Michigan Broncos

83. Michigan State Spartans

Level 4 (11 teams) 

84. Ohio Bobcats

85. Central Michigan Chippewas

86. Georgia Southern Eagles

87. Kent State Golden Flashes

88. Florida State Seminoles

89. Miami (OH) RedHawks

90. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

91. Georgia State Panthers

92. Troy Trojans

93. East Carolina Pirates

94. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

Level 3 (11 teams) 

95. Fresno State Bulldogs

96. Rice Owls

97. Florida Atlantic Owls

98. Arizona Wildcats

99. Duke Blue Devils

100. Colorado State Rams

101. Arkansas State Red Wolves

102. UTSA Roadrunners

103. Eastern Michigan Eagles

104. Syracuse Orange

105. Navy Midshipmen

Level 2 (11 teams) 

106. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

107. New Mexico Lobos

108. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

109. South Florida Bulls

110. Northern Illinois Huskies

111. Charlotte 49ers

112. Vanderbilt Commodores

113. Temple Owls

114. South Alabama Jaguars

115. Texas State Bobcats

116. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Level 1 (11 teams) 

117. Kansas Jayhawks

118. Utah State Aggies

119. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

120. North Texas Mean Green

121. UNLV Rebels

122. Florida International Panthers

123. UTEP Miners

124. UL Monroe Warhawks

125. Akron Zips

126. Bowling Green Falcons

127. UMass Minutemen