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How Relegation And Promotion Can Work In FCS and FBS

To many sportswriters who have followed English Premier League soccer in any capacity, the holy grail is promotion and relegation.

United States sports leagues, for a wide variety of reasons, do not allow its teams or franchises the ability to get "promoted" to the top flights of their professional leagues.  That's largely to protect the teams at the bottom, which can stink as much as they'd like, but will still share in the profits of the league.

In the EPL, however, the teams that finish in the bottom are "relegated" to the "Championship" division, and the teams that finish on top get "promoted" to the EPL.

Many sportswriters have tried, and failed, to devise a promotion/relegation system for a variety of pro sports.  But I think where it could best work is in the worlds of FCS and FBS football.

Hear me out.


North Dakota State's rise to the pinnacle of FCS has been downright ridiculous, when you stop to think about it.

A Yearly Occurrence, Lately
It seems almost inconceivable that the Bison, a shade more than a decade ago, were in Division II.  Yet they were.

Since then, they went from transition years to members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference to winners of the FCS National Championship.

Times 5.

With dominance like that at the FCS level, it's natural to ask questions like, "could the Bison sustain this level of success at the FBS level?"

Unfortunately the way things are today, this remains for the most part an academic question.

That's because the only way North Dakota State would be able to test the waters of FBS would be to leave their conference, and join one that sponsors FBS football.

They'd have to leave the Summit Conference for a conference like the Sun Belt.

Doing so would mean another lengthy transition and even more money, during which their football team would be ineligible for the postseason.

They would likely be trading the opportunity to be a high-major in basketball to one that would instead be a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They could also be trading a regional-based conference for all of their non-revenue sports, such as track, for a conference that requires flights for every meet.  That's a lot of money.

There isn't the option to "try before you buy".  Once North Dakota State would be in FBS, they'd be in FBS, with no way to go back to the way things were.  If they wanted to move back to the Summit, it would be difficult, and a lengthy process.

Basically, it is a stunted, bureaucratic process for football teams to be able to play FBS football.

This is where promotion and relegation could come into play, but not in the way you might think.

*****

Let's start with the rules.

1.  The P5 remains exactly the way it does today.  The P5, which already effectively are making their own rules for competition in football, remain static.  That means the members of the Big 10, Big XII, ACC, Pac 12, and SEC can't get promoted or relegated.

As a unit they could choose to exile certain members if they want, but they wouldn't be a part of this system.

Hooray!  No More Cooking Attendance Numbers!
2.  The G5 and FCS will streamline their rules to a degree.  Right now, members of the AAC, Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, and Mountain West conferences can offer 85 headcount scholarships - they cannot divide them up - whereas the teams of the FCS can offer up to 63 equivalency scholarships - which means they can divide them up in any way they seem fit.

Split the difference - have the G5 and FCS be allowed to offer 75 equivalency scholarships they can divide in any way they deem fit.

Additionally, remove the attendance requirement separating FCS and FBS.  In FBS, teams are supposed to average 15,000 fans per game per year to "remain" FBS.  Eliminate this requirement, which is largely a sham anyway, and allow teams to freely move from G5 to FCS, which in this case would largely only be a shift of initials anyway.

3.  Remove G5 and FCS conference affiliations.  Wait, what?  This could be the most contentious part of the rules I'm proposing.

Currently North Dakota State's conference is called the "Missouri Valley Football Conference".  Technically, this has the name of an athletic conference on it, the "Missouri Valley", but not all of its members are full members of the Missouri Valley Conference in all sports.  North Dakota State is not, for example.

The Big Sky conference and CAA football conference are both similar to the Missouri Valley in the way that they all have many affiliate members in other conferences for other sports.  For example, the Big West's Cal Poly plays in the Big Sky, and the A-10's Richmond plays in the CAA.

So let's say in both the G5 and FCS you decouple formal conference affiliations and make football "alliances" - which is really what the Missouri Valley Football Conference really is - that allow promotion and relegation?

This has lots of benefits in terms of regionalizing the competition and cutting costs for all the G5 and FCS schools.  No more conference games for UConn at SMU in football, or conference games for Georgia State at Idaho.

That doesn't mean that the master conferences aren't involved at all - they would be.  It would instead be a collaborative effort between the administrators of the conferences and the teams with football teams in that conference.  The benefit would be fluidity in conference membership, and lower costs.

Most important would be the bowl tie-ins with the G5 conferences.  They would remain the same as they were, so the AAC's bowl tie-ins with, say, the Military Bowl and Birmingham Bowl, playing ACC and SEC teams, would remain intact.  Similarly, these conferences could still keep playing championship games as well.

In the G5, the conferences could look like this:

Might need to change this graphic yearly
AAC Football Conference: UConn, Temple, UMass, Navy, Old Dominion, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Army, Buffalo, East Carolina, Memphis, Middle Tennessee State

C-USA Football Conference:  UCF, USF, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Houston, SMU, Tulane, Western Kentucky

MAC Football Conference: Akron, Bowling Green, Ohio, Toledo, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Marshall, Northern Illinois, Miami (OH), Kent State

Mountain West Football Conference: Air Force, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Utah State, Boise State, Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State, Nevada, San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, Hawai'i, Idaho, Tulsa

Sun Belt Football Conference:  Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State

Importantly, all of these schools could hold championship games, largely keep much of the same teams, and keep all the bowl tie-ins.

How it would work

The FCS playoffs would then become a sort of "super-regional" to qualify for the opportunity to play in the G5.  There would be up to five possible "promotion" spots into the different leagues based on the winners of the regionals.

There would be four regions of eight teams each, single-elimination.

There are two very good reasons why the FCS should consider this:

1. Currently, regionalization is a priority of the FCS playoffs anyway.  This year North Dakota State's road to Frisco involved facing off against Northern Iowa, a regional foe, and very well could have gone through South Dakota State, another regional foe.  Formalizing it allows the playoffs to be involved in a regional system, which leads to...

2. With possible promotion to a G5 conference at stake, interest in the super-regionals would be super.  You have to believe that fans would come out in larger numbers for games with that much at stake, and ESPN would also have a much keener interest in broadcasting who might be new members of an FBS conference.

A school could win but also decline "promotion" to a G5 conference if they chose and remain in FCS in their current football-only conference.  This would make the process more voluntary, giving each school more control as to whether they would want to play in, say, the Sun Belt.

Playing To Be In The Mountain West...!
Imagine an FCS postseason format like this, taken from this year's teams:

East Seeds: 1. Richmond, 2. James Madison
Teams in Pod: Colgate, New Hampshire, William and Mary, Duquesne

Midwest Seeds: Illinois State, North Dakota State
Teams in Pod: UNI, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Fordham

South Seeds: Jacksonville State, Charleston Southern
Teams in Pod: The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, Chattanooga, Dayton

West Seeds: Portland State, McNeese State
Teams in Pod: Sam Houston State, Southern Utah, Montana, South Dakota State

Interestingly, most of the games in this regional structure would be the same ones that ended up being this year's matchups.

In this hypothetical scenario, regional final games would be games like Richmond vs. Colgate, UNI vs. North Dakota State, Jacksonville State vs. Chattanooga, and Sam Houston State vs. McNeese State - all for slots in the G5, as well as one of the runner-ups.

The champion would still be determined in Frisco, but Richmond, North Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State would be in line to get G5 invites.

Even better, you could even make a mini-tournament of the loser's bracket, of Colgate, UNI, Chattanooga and McNeese State for the final possible invite.  Suddenly you have three more football games with an interesting prize at the end - and one that would be very intriguing for ESPN to carry.

After the season is complete, the allocations would be done regionally.  North Dakota State would get promoted to the MAC (midwest), Richmond would get promoted to the AAC (east), Jacksonville State would go to C-USA (south), and Sam Houston State would head to the Mountain West (west).

UNI would have the option on whether they want to be members of the Sun Belt, or not.  Additionally, they could be some flexibility or fluidity to the conference pairings.

Loosely based on last year's G5 standings, taking North Dakota State's place would be, say, Eastern Michigan, taking Richmond's place, Charlotte, taking Jacksonville State's place, North Texas, taking Sam Houston State's place, Wyoming, and finally, UNI's place could be taken by Louisiana-Monroe, if they so chose.  If UNI wanted to stay in FCS where they were, Louisiana-Monroe would remain in FBS in the Sun Belt.

These teams would then have the opportunity next year to compete for an FCS National Championship and a chance to get back into the bowl system.

Wouldn't this system effectively:

1. Keep the aspirations of the G5 and FCS intact?
2. Keep the championship games, bowl tie-ins and the integrity of the FCS National Championship intact?
3. Not affect the P5 conferences at all?
4. Give ESPN a very good reason to put more games on TV?
5. Inject a boatload of excitement into the G5 regular season games?  Suddenly, games between sub-.500 teams in conference play become battles to stay in G5.
6. Inject a boatload of excitement into the FCS playoffs?  Round of 16 games now become possible roads to another subdivision, intensifying interest in those games at the FCS level and also from the G5 community to look at future conferencemates. This shouldn't also dim from competing for a FCS national championship, either, since one or both schools would find themselves in the G5 next season.

I understand it is a radical solution, but to me it's a very elegant way to fluidly move schools back and forth between the subdivisions.  No transition periods, no different rules between the G5 and the FCS, just one fluid method of promotion and relegation between the two subdivisions that would be heaven for college football fans.

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