Maybe conferences should just ditch non-conference games
Conferences are looking for ways to improve their non-conference schedules in the new playoff landscape. Here's an idea: don't play any at all.
As our own Jerry Hinnen informed you Wednesday morning, the ACC is considering the idea of playing non-conference conference games. If that phrase doesn't make sense to you, don't be alarmed, it shouldn't.
Essentially the idea is that ACC teams from opposite divisions could schedule games against one another that wouldn't count as conference games. It's an idea that comes from a good place, as it would ensure that in-state rivals like North Carolina State and Duke would play more than once in the next 11 years -- which is how things currently sit. College football is a regional sport, after all, and keeping the fires of those regional rivalries stoked is definitely a good thing.
But I have a better idea than adding non-conference conference games to a school's non-conference schedule.
Why not just ditch non-conference schedules altogether?
In 2014 three of the five major conferences will consist of 14 schools: the Big Ten, the ACC and the SEC. That means each school could play up to 13 games a season against conference opponents if they wanted to do a full round-robin schedule, or just keep it at 12 games a year to balance home and away dates. Sure, you wouldn't play everybody, but the longest any one team would be off your schedule is once a decade or so.
That Pac-12 only has 12 schools, so if it wanted to do a true round-robin, that would leave an open date on a 12-game schedule, and the Big 12 would find itself with three open dates. The Pac-12 could keep one non-conference game (hey, it's a lot easier to schedule one than three or four) and then play 11 conference games, and it'd be just fine.
At this time the Big 12 may not want to expand, but it would probably have to should the other power conferences adopt this scheduling format, and there are plenty of schools that would love the chance to sit at the big kids' table.
But right now the ACC, Big Ten and SEC could solve all their scheduling problems in one simple step. Ditch non-conference games, stay within your conference, continue to foster the regional rivalries that made this sport so popular to begin with, and then send your champion to the playoff to take on the winners of the other conferences.
It's not a perfect solution, as you'd miss out on non-conference rivalries like Clemson and South Carolina, but there are ways to make those games happen as well. They're called bowl games. We have roughly 300 of them to choose from now.
And while things would certainly change, and it wouldn't be perfect, ditching non-conference games would make a lot more sense than playing a conference game that's not really a conference game.
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