This is the final entry in my series on relegation in college football, bringing us up to current.
In the first season of the Mark Richt Era, the Hurricanes were a Top 25 team based on F/+ but the success on the field was open to interpretation. One the one hand, the ‘Canes outscored their opponent by double digits in all 8 wins and were within a score of winning in 3 of the 4 losses. Read that way, this team was unlucky and could easily have been 11-1 heading into the conference championship game.
On the other hand, before the season started everyone on the planet circled the 4 games stretch of FSU-UNC- Virginia Tech- Notre Dame as the most important of the season, and Miami lost all 4 games.
My personal read is that Richt struggled with something we see a lot of English Premiere League coaches…even the great ones, like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola currently…struggle with in their first year at a club: how do you find the proper on-field alignment to accommodate the prior coach’s players while at the same time implementing your future system?
That’s all well and good, and an optimistic read on the situation, but I don’t think Miami would have been any better off in the Big 10 this season. Ohio State, Michigan, Ped State and Wisconsin were all kickass teams this season, and Iowa, Pitt, Arkansas and Nebraska were tough in their own right. On top of that, mediocre teams like Michigan State and Northwestern are always well coached, and when you are in a transition period…as Miami was…coaching matters. To wit: there were only 4 coaches on the ‘Canes schedule this year I would put at or near the level of Mark Richt, and Miami lost to all 4 of them.
Elsewhere in FBS, this was the first time we saw a true tire fire at the bottom of the SEC, while the ACC saw Ohio and Cincinnati battle to the death. Arizona was relegated for the first time, while Bowling Green and Marshall saw their way out.
On the other hand, Colorado had a massive resurgence and finished the regular season ranked in the Top 10, which would have been enough to easily win them promotion out of the Mountain West. Western Michigan dominated the MAC and finished undefeated, with wins over Big 10 schools Northwesten and Illinois confirming their ability to play with the big boys. Memphis won a surprisingly tough competition against Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest to win our version of Conference USA, and Appalachian State won promotion roughly 5 years after joining FBS. Washington State came out of the at-large playoff, knocking off Troy and then Minnesota.
In the expansion draft, the SEC grabs Memphis, the Big 10 gets a big win by replacing Bowling Green with Colorado, the ACC gets Appalachian State, the Pac 12 reclaims Washington State and the Big 12 gets a surprisingly still-PJ Fleck-coached Western Michigan.
And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this experiment.
Going back to our original questions, how different does college football look? A LOT is pretty much the same. The core of these conferences didn’t really change; no surprise. Sure, you get your big names here and there that drop off, but whether through a flaw in this experiment or personal bias or the reality of the conference setup, most of them end up back home. The biggest points of controversy would have been the fluky promotions, which again, are completely on-brand for college football, the silliest sport ever created.
Did this system help the little guys that earned it? In the EPL, about 40% of teams that are promoted stay up for more than one season. In this experiment, it was actually more like 55%....these numbers don't square up, but then again, the gap between the teams at the bottom of the BCS conferences and the teams at the top of the lesser tier is probably not as big as the gap between Premiere League and Championship squads.
The little guys ended up being big winners here, and not just the usual suspects like TCU, Boise, Utah and BYU, but also teams like Navy, Troy, Central Michigan and Hawaii that had extended runs among the big timers. That is a lot of money coming into their Athletic Department coffers, which ostensibly would add on benefits to their Olympic sports programs in addition to the football teams.
Were the big boys held accountable for losing? One thing the EPL does have in common with my experiment is the following: it is REALLY hard to drop down a level and immediacy come back up. In the EPL, 80% of the time a relegated team stays down for multiple seasons, similar to our numbers.
Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, UCLA, Stanford, Texas A&M, Washington...those are BIG names, and they all spent at least one season at the lower level. For the fan bases of those schools, I would argue that relegation would have been a great thing (in theory). Almost every one of these schools held on to a coach for one or two seasons too long. Whether it is Al Golden, Houston Nutt, Derek Dooley, Rick Neuheisel or Mike Sherman, this system seems likely to have weeded those coaches out in a hurry.
Finally, how did Miami end up?
I would argue playing in the Big 10 is probably more interesting than playing in the ACC in terms of conference play. Assuming the FSU rivalry would continue uninterrupted, which in this day and age is not a strong assumption, I see no downside other than travel for fans. Bloomington, Indiana in November is no one's idea of fun.
It would have sucked to have to watch Miami play in the Sun Belt for a year. BUT Miami fans spent the last decade ranting and raving about mediocrity, an unsupportive administration, mis-allocation of talent and resources...and were mostly ignored.
Trying to fill Landshark Stadium against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State? That might have gotten Donna Shalala's attention.
Losing recruits because no one wants to play for a Sun Belt team? That might have convinced Randy Shannon or Al Golden to change tactics.
Or maybe, it would have convinced the administration to pony up for Gary Patterson in 2007, or Brett Bielema in 2011. And think where we might be now if THAT had happened.
No Al Golden. We all win.