Didn't know? No one else does, either.
That's because Conference USA, where the Owls play these days, isn't considered a “major” conference. It's a “mid-major” conference, thus beneath contempt.
For the last several years, a host of schools have been moving between conferences, and among conferences, based on the size of their alumni, the power of their football teams, and the school's willingness to spend money in order to find a “better” home.
The system enriches only football coaches, and ex-football coaches. It's one of the biggest scams going. The players often get nothing (some get a decent education, if they apply themselves and the coach doesn't fire them for poor play), and the schools are also left destitute. Only a few dozen schools actually profit from football, and they plow the money into athletic facilities, enriching coaches in minor sports.
The system is broken. Time to fix it.
I think soccer offers a way out, in promotion and relegation. Each year, bad teams get dropped into lower leagues, and better teams move up. The “top flight” in each country is where the money is, but there are plenty of ways to spin a profit elsewhere, and now, with rules in place to limit spending, everyone can make a Euro.
How might that work in the USA? Pretty simply.
Take Rice. We play a collection of schools mostly to our East. Other schools in our region play in leagues that are rated both higher and lower. Generally the Sun Belt is considered a lower league and the new American Athletic Conference, to which most of Rice's former rivals bolted this year, is considered a higher league.
But the AAC isn't a “top” league, and after it loses its automatic BCS bowl bid next year its fate is uncertain. Only five leagues are considered “superior” – the ACC, the Big Ten (which has 12 teams), the Big Twelve (which has 10 teams), the SEC, and the Pac 10 (which also has 12 teams.) The rules state that if you have 12 teams in a league, or more, you can have a money-spinning “conference title” game between the two best teams.
So here goes. The SEC is no longer the Southeastern Conference. It's a national conference. We'll call that the “top flight,” which is simply reality, and give them 16 teams.
We'll define the next four leagues, by regions, as “championship” level conferences. At the end of each season, each will drop one of its teams down a level.
That leaves four spots for the AAC and Mountain West to grab from. But each of them would drop two teams of their own. Those schools would play in Conference USA or the Western Athletic Conference. Those schools, in turn would drop four for the Sun Belt and Big West leagues.
Now we have a national “pyramid” in which, in theory, any school can rise. New schools which want to play Division I football come in at the bottom of the pyramid automatically. No more paying to play. And we'd also insist that teams make money at each level of competition, meaning the budgets go up as they rise, drop when they fall, and there are limits on what coaches can make.
All the championship games, including the national championship playoff, are run by the NCAA, and the profits from those games are spread out among all NCAA members, as they are in lower divisions of football.
The coaches will scream, and the athletic directors are scream, but what do you expect from men who have been scamming the system for decades and don't want to lose out on a good thing? All the current “bowl” games become play-offs within the divisions.
Some fans will scream too. Schools like Mississippi and Vanderbilt might drop a rung or two. But they'd be fighting for titles, instead of mere relevance. Coaches who can bring schools up multiple rungs will earn their fame.
It's so simple and elegant that you'd think it would never happen. Here is how to make it happen. The NCAA, which organizes every other competition in every other sport, and could, in time, ace-out BCS schools that don't go along with this as the NCAA basketball tournament eventually eclipsed the NIT. Any school that doesn't want to play ball can play outside the NCAA — they can become what they are, semi-pro farm teams for the NFL.
I don't want to hear it can't be done. I want to hear if this makes sense. I think it makes great economic sense, and might result in some of the money from athletics actually flowing to academics, which is where such money belongs.
Oh, and for each year a recruited player plays, they get a full year of college, free, to be completed whenever they want it. Play four years, you will get a college degree, on your schedule, and not the coach's. If the coach wants to “blow you out” for non-performance, they can negotiate a settlement with you, meaning you'll probably get the full four year ride even if you blow out a knee as a freshman.
Now, any other problems I can solve?