College Football: How Conference Tournaments Can Save the Game

September 03, 2010 | Andrew Stewart

College football is like no other sport. A single loss can end a team’s chance at winning a National title. As a result, most are eliminated from contention to play in the National Championship game after the first couple of weeks.

Nearly every conference has either expanded or reduced in size over the past months. Throw in the recent scandals looming above USC and North Carolina and you have one of the most active off-seasons in college football history.

The sudden shift of teams is the result of conferences trying to expand to 12 teams in effort to host a conference championship game. The championship game is coveted for the extra revenue it would generate for the conference. The thought of hosting a conference championship has become the common goal among conferences without 12 teams.

After expanding to 12 teams in 2010, the Big Ten was broken into two separate divisions for the 2011 football season.

Each division is made up of six teams, with the top team from each division earning a spot in the conference championship game.

However, what if instead of just two teams getting the chance of playing in the Big Ten Championship game, 6 teams were given the opportunity to fight their way to a title game.

The Big Ten would still be separated into the two divisions; however the top 6 teams from combined conference standings would advance to conference tournament.

The idea of a tournament or a playoff in college football is not a new idea, NCAA school officials have been calling for a have been crying for a change to the Bowl Championship Series for years.

The conference tournament that I have drawn up is simple and would only take three week to complete.

To demonstrate my idea I used the new divisions the Big Ten will use for the 2011 football season.

From the division standings below, we see that Ohio State and Nebraska both lead their divisions. The current system that is being used by conferences with 12 teams would have an Ohio State-Nebraska Big Ten title game.

2011 Big Ten Division Standings

Division One

Nebraska 6-2

Michigan 5-3

Iowa 4-4

Michigan State 4-4

Minnesota 3-5

Northwestern 2-6

Division 2

Ohio State 7-1

Penn State 6-2

Wisconsin 5-3

Purdue 3-5

Illinois 2-6

Indiana 1-7

The main problem is that a team(s) from one division could have an identical record to the opposing division’s leader.

Penn State and Nebraska both have identical records. Just because Nebraska won their division, Nebraska does not deserve an automatic bid, especially if they lost to a team with an identical record from the other division.

The tournament that I have created would have Ohio State as the number one seed and Penn State as second seed. Penn State edges out Nebraska in an expanded conference standing because of a head-to-head tie breaker.

The conference standings below show the top six teams that qualify for the conference tournament separated from the bottom six. Penn State edges out Nebraska for the head-to-head win during the season. As a result of Ohio State and Penn State would have a first-round bye.

Conference Standings

1. Ohio State 7-1

2. Penn State 6-2

3. Nebraska 6-2

4. Wisconsin 5-3

5. Michigan 5-3

6. Iowa 4-4


7. Michigan State 4-4

8. Purdue 3-5

9. Minnesota 3-5

10. Illinois 2-6

11. Northwestern 2-6

12. Indiana 1-7

The first round match-ups would go as followed.

6. Iowa vs 3. Nebraska

5. Michigan vs 4. Wisconsin

The first round games would be played in the highest seeded team’s stadium. Playing the first and second round games at the home team’s stadium would create a much better atmosphere then a game played at a neutral site.

Ohio State would play the winner from the Michigan vs. Wisconsin game; Penn State would play the winner of the Iowa vs. Nebraska game.

The second round games:

5. Michigan vs 1. Ohio State

3. Nebraska vs 2. Penn State

The winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game would than go onto play the winner of the Penn State-Nebraska game. The team with the highest seed would the home team in the conference championship game.

The conference championship game could still be played at a predetermined neutral site, although I would not be opposed to the game being played at the higher seeded team’s school.

The conference tournament would be similar how college basketball plays holds there conference tournaments. The winner of each conference championship game advances to a FCS NCAA Tournament.

In regards to the desire of the NCAA to keep the historic bowl games, the NCAA could give each match-up in the tournament a bowl name. This would allow teams to win multiple bowls in one season as well would bring more revenue for each school.

The joint tournament system would give teams like Utah and Boise State, who have been overlooked in past years, a chance to play their way towards a national championship.