Thursday, August 1, 2019

College Football, a Primer: The Conference System

Today we continue our primer of college football. For previous posts see here and here.

Today we'll discuss the Conference System.

The Conference System

College football is football played by universities. I presume at the lower levels there might be some colleges playing college football.

There are three divisions in the National College Athletic Conference (NCAA): Division I, Division II, and Division III. Which division a college is in depends on the size (student population) of your university/college with Division I being the biggest schools.

Division I is further broken down into Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) for the largest schools and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) for the smaller schools that aren't small enough to be Division II. FBS is the series that you mostly see on television and gets the most attention. As the name implies, they play in the bowl games in December and early January. FCS games are rarely televised. Sometimes an FCS team will play an FBS team, usually so the FBS team can have an easy game to warm up for the beginning of the season.

In Division I FBS there are ten conferences. These are usually geographically based, such as the South East Conference (SEC) or the Pacific 12 (Pac-12) on the west coast (mostly). Of these ten conferences, there are five called the "Power Five" and these are the ones that get the most attention from television and other sports media. Those conferences are: the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), The Big Ten (which has 14 teams), the Big 12, the Pac-12, and the SEC. These are the conferences considered to have the best teams.

Some universities are "independent" and not in a conference. That includes Notre Dame, BYU, and Army. I'm not sure why they would want to not be in a conference.

Some teams are in one conference for football, and another conference for other sports. There are more basketball conferences than football conferences because there are more teams playing basketball.

There are 129 FBS teams divided among the ten conferences. Those numbers are fluid. For example, Idaho dropped out of the FBS recently to play in the FCS.

Teams usually play three "non-conference" games in a season. That might include playing an FCS team or a team from one of the less regarded conferences. Then they will play nine in-conference games for a 12-game season. That means year after year you're playing the same teams in the regular season. The only time you play teams outside your conference is non-conference play and bowl games.

This was a problem for Boise State University. They are in the Mountain West conference. And they were in the 2000s often undefeated. But they were always playing other teams in the Mountain West conference. They rarely got to play teams from the Power Five Conferences to see how good they actually were.

This is why I'd like to see an actual playoff system for FBS teams. There are 78 bowl games (too many in my opinion) and if we couldn't turn that into a playoff system, that's stupid. The FCS teams do a playoff, why can't the FBS.

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