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USATSI

The NCAA Division I Council announced earlier this week that it's recommended relaxed restrictions on football conference championship games that, in previous years, mandated that any conference with 12 or more teams must be separated into divisions or play a round-robin schedule. The Mountain West has taken advantage of the change in a hurry with the conference announcing Friday that it will eliminate its divisions in football beginning in the 2023 season.

"Our membership has been working on concepts since last summer, as part of our strategic planning for the future of the Mountain West," said commissioner Craig Thompson. "A single-division approach provides maximum flexibility to adapt the Conference schedule as the landscape continues to evolve, while also allowing member institutions to play each other more frequently."

The conference will send its top two teams based on conference records to the conference championship at the end of the season. Specific tiebreaker rules will be announced at a later date. 

The Mountain West release states that part of the reason for the elimination of divisions is to put the league in the best position possible to earn one of the four College Football Playoff berths. AAC power Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team to make the CFP after the 2021 season.

This year's MWC Championship Game will pit the champions of the mountain and west divisions against one another on Saturday, Dec. 3, as previously planned.

Criteria for championship game qualification has become a hot topic this week following the NCAA Council's recommendation. The Pac-12 announced that its 2022 championship game will consist of the top two teams regardless of division, and that it will examine its long-term scheduling model at a later date with elimination of divisions on the horizon. 

The 10-team Big 12 has been able to hold a conference championship game without divisions since 2017 due to the nine-game conference slate which allows round-robin scheduling each season. The ACC was allowed to eliminate divisions in 2020 when Notre Dame played in the conference for one season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.