ICFB’s Mountain West is essentially the WAC, with a few tweaks. This conference had its heyday from its founding in the early 60’s until the mid 90’s, when much of the realignment nonsense started. We’ll enter the discussion with that base of nine schools, ie BYU, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado St, UTEP, Hawai’i, New Mexico, SDSU and Air Force. We add Colorado and UNLV, state schools that are geographically ideal for the Mountain West, and are natural rivals with the existing schools. San Diego St moves out to the newly-reformed Big West, a move that will be explained below. Most of the other schools that are in the NCAA MWC belong in the Big West, as well, or the Big Sky. So there you have it, Mountain West, ICFB-style.
Does anyone remember the American South Conference? The ASC was a basketball and baseball conference that existed for several years, then blinked out of existence when it merged with the Sun Belt in 1991. Well, I always thought it was a good idea, and lodged it in the back o’ me brain all these years. The charter members were Louisiana Tech, New Orleans, SW Louisiana, UTPA, Arkansas St and Lamar. While figuring out what to do with the six members of the SWC that were not going to be included in the new iteration of that conference, and insisting that these six schools needed to stay together as a unit, it dawned on me that this would be the new American South. Thus, what we have are those six holdovers from the old SWC (Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Baylor, Houston and Rice), along with Arkansas St and La Tech from the original ASC. Add in a pinch of Memphis and Tulane and…voila, the new ASC. As for the other schools, SW Louisiana and Lamar are better matches for the Southland (see below), while UNO and UTPA have been reunited in a rebuilt TAAC in Division 10 (see way below).
The Pac-10 is the Pac-10 is the Pac-10…although with recent expansion, at least the NCAA Pac-12 chose to get their math right. The Pac-10 just works better as a 10-team configuration: you’ve got the Washington schools, the Oregon schools, the NorCals, the SoCals and the Arizonas. It works. It’s not that Utah and Colorado are necessarily horrible fits a la the Big 10 and ACC expansion efforts, it’s that those schools work far better in the Mountain West (see below). We’re keeping the Pac-10 as it has been since 1978 when the Arizona schools joined.
The Big 10 is the Big 10 is the Big 10. If you call yourself an association of 10, then by God have 10 members. Truth is, the inclusion of Penn St is – geographically speaking – not a bad move. Pennsylvania borders Ohio, and the Nittany Lions conceptually fit with the Big 10’s status of large state institutions. But then we’d need to call this the Big 11, and that has no rhyme. Besides, as I looked at the landscape of Division I, it struck me that Penn St in the Big East is an even better fit. More on that below. Nebraska in the Big 10 is a stretch, as the Huskers clearly belong with Oklahoma and the other Big Eight schools in ICFB’s Southwest Conference. Maryland’s inclusion here, as mentioned above, is a travesty; Rutgers’ inclusion is ludicrous. Just as the ACC needs to stick to the mid-Atlantic, the Big 10 needs to stick to the Midwest. What is this overreach we’re seeing? Oh yeah….
North Carolina State
The Southwest Conference, which was presumed dead in 1996, is experiencing a resurgence in Ideal College Sports. The SWC, quite simply, never should have broken up. It took until the 1960’s for the SWC to realize the configuration most of us are familiar with, and with that ensemble came its glory years. The membership I most resonate with is: Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Rice, Baylor and Houston. However, there seemed to be a schism between big state schools and smaller private schools, with the former dominating most of the prominent athletic races. Enter the Big Eight: a nice configuration in its own right, the Big Eight was comprised exclusively of state schools. When contemplating what to do with the SWC, it occurred to me that an amazingly competitive – and contiguous – conference could be formed by joining together schools from both conferences. Thus, the current conference you see above. The new Southwest Conference features 10 state schools, seven from the Big Eight (Colorado works better geographically in the Mountain West, as evidenced by a quick glance at a map) and three from the old NCAA Southwest Conference (you may be thinking that Texas Tech belongs here, yet conceptually and geographically I feel the Red Raiders belong elsewhere – see below).
Texas Western (UTEP)
The Atlantic Coast Conference has undergone a radical transformation over the past several years … not for the better. The ACC’s identity is as a mid-Atlantic conference, and extending deep into the Northeast and Midwest destroys that identity. Disclaimer: I’m a Maryland grad, and will forever assert that the Terrapins should be in the ACC for as long as there are intercollegiate sports on our planet. Maryland in the Big 10 is a travesty among travesties. Tallahassee is as far south as the conference should go, therefore Miami has never felt like an ACC school. Virginia Tech, however, is a natural fit. I’ve also added West Virginia to the ACC, which is a no-brainer. Why would the Mountaineers caucus with Midwestern and Southwestern schools, when the ACC is so much better a fit. Again, look at a map. The middle tier (the heart) of the conference is the Carolina schools; there is now a solid northern tier of Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida St round out the southern tier. All of the other current NCAA members of the ACC are where they belong in Ideal College Football, namely the Big East (see below).
The Big East is a viable football conference, so long as their members aren’t all scrambling to be part of the ACC. There is no NCAA football Big East, and that is a shame. Here’s how I see it: the heart of the football Big East is the schools in the Northeast, namely Syracuse/BC/Rutgers/Pitt. These schools should always be in the same football conference, so this is the core I built around. From there, adding Army and Navy was easy. If they are going to play in a football conference, this is it. Louisville and Cincinnati should always be together, and – although they’re a bit Mideastern – are a good fit for the Big East. That leaves the Big 3, the most celebrated and prestigious football schools in this conference. Let’s take them one at a time. Notre Dame would be an intriguing addition to the Big 10, but as you’ve figured out by now, I’m a stickler for mathematics. Placing the Irish in the Big East puts them with the military academies (preserving historical rivalries); it also matches them up annually with the Northeast core of the conference, which feel like games that should be played. I suppose the best way to state it is that Notre Dame just works best in the Big East. Next up, Penn St. Anyone under the age of 30 grew up with Penn St in the Big 10. I get that. Up until the final iteration of ICFB, I kept them in the Big 10. However, I believe Penn St in the Big East is a better option. First, placing the Lions in the Big East matches them up annually with Pitt and the other schools in the Northeast core of the conference. This is Penn St’s natural arc of rivals, in my opinion. Furthermore, the Nittany Lion’s stay in the Big 10 would have necessitated another school moving out of the Big 10, which was going to be Northwestern into the Big East. In the end, I decided the best option was to keep Northwestern in the only conference they have ever known, while placing Penn St into a Big East that is much more amenable geographically, and allow them to renew old rivalries. Finally, Miami. Put simply, the Canes have never ‘felt’ ACC. I realize this is subjective, and understand if some don’t agree. By placing Miami in the Big East, we assure that they’ll play Notre Dame and Penn St every year, and that those three will be vying for supremacy in the same conference, and who doesn’t want to see that? Sure, Miami is geographically further south than the rest of the conference, yet I still maintain their inclusion is a good fit, and the best fit.
IDEAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL
The Mid-American came together under two main periods of expansion in the 50’s and the 70’s. Since then there has been some tweaking to the conference, but the overall flavor of Great Lakes / Midwestern schools has remained dominant. Ideal College Football’s current MAC is identical to that of the NCAA except for the exclusion of Buffalo, a better fit in the North Atlantic (see below). While Buffalo is, technically, Great Lakes, the Bulls conceptually belong with those schools in the NAC rather than schools in the Midwest.
I grew up with a 10-team Southeastern Conference (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Miss St, Tennessee, Vanderbilt), and at the time was mystified why South Carolina was not part of the SEC. The Gamecocks seemed a natural fit. When that move finally happened in 1991 (moving from the Metro Conference), I thought this 11-team configuration was excellent. However, Arkansas also joined this year, a move that I did not think was intelligent. Arkansas’ most natural/traditional rival is Texas, so keeping the Hogs with the Horns seemed the best fit. The expansion of Texas A&M and Missouri is also not compatible with the geographic consistency of the SEC, in my opinion. A quick look at a map bears out that A&M, Arkansas and Missouri are further west of the traditional borders of the SEC. We’re keeping these three schools in the SWC (see below), and maintaining an 11-team SEC that is truly southeastern.
Copyright © Steven Sugarman