What To Do About Divisional Imbalance In the G5?

So the… inimitable Tulane blogger JP Gooderham just posted an interesting piece about the competitive imbalance across divisions within the AAC, as well as a proposal for how to solve that imbalance, and it got me wondering what that picture looked like across all of the Group of Five conferences?

I’ll point out that this obviously fluctuates from year to year, and I’ll probably take a deeper dive into that aspect of it sometime later this month, but for right now let’s talk about right now.

The Power Five conferences are quite balanced – the average SEC West team’s S&P+ ranking is 32 points higher than the average SEC East team, but the other three P5 conferences with divisions only had a total of 16 points of variation between divisions.

The Group of Five conferences actually have the opposite problem (average S&P+ ranking of the teams in that division):

  • AAC West (64) – AAC East (78)
  • MWC Mountain (55) – MWC West (99)
  • MAC West (69) – MAC East (108)
  • CUSA East (94) – CUSA West (98)
  • SBC East (87) – SBC West (106)

That’s a four-point difference for Conference USA, a 14-point difference for The American, a 19-point difference for the Sun Belt, a 39-point difference for the Mid-American, and a whopping 44-point difference for the Mountain West. As bad as that imbalance is that JP pointed out for the AAC, they’re actually the second most balanced Group of Five conference.

To me, the gap for the Sun Belt is most striking, because they just created those divisions (which go into effect next season). I may have even underestimated that gap because the math is based on a 129 S&P+ for Coastal Carolina last season, and I can most certainly assure you that they had a better season than the likes of NMSU, ULM and Texas State (119, 126 and 128 respectively).

As JP himself put it, “this is my beef. G5’s are inherently volatile, right? Troy will be elite again, but then their coach will get hired and boom, back to bottom. So your only choice is geography, but that’s a dumb way to create interesting football. In my opinion, let Georgia Southern and Georgia State keep their rivalry game, and schedule the other seven conference games based on last year. Let Troy get a serious shot at a NY6 bowl by playing the best possible slate.”

We, of course, know that the Sun Belt set up the divisions as such because of geographic proximity resulting in cheaper football, not better football, and it just so happens that all the good teams are in a cluster right now when it comes to football. But maybe they already gained enough of that by replacing NMSU and Idaho with CCU that JP’s proposal could still pay great dividends.

What is he referring to? A dynamic schedule that works something like this:

To break up divisions, the league should instead move to a “dynamic” schedule based on the results of the past year, which would prioritize matching strength with strength while serving teams coming off bad seasons a chance to bounce back.

Most importantly, you set your best programs up to play good games almost every week of their season. We’ll get to the benefits in a moment, but here’s how it would look in practice.

In short, you take the results of the previous year, stack rank your conference, and boom, you have a schedule. Want to keep the ConFLiCT going (joking, let’s use the real UCF/USF R-I9-valry)? Allow one designated rivalry game and keep seven dynamic scheduled games each year.

If this could benefit the AAC, then there’s no reason it couldn’t provide even greater benefit for the other Group of Five conferences that are even more lopsided. It could also work across sports, which likely present with the same issues for the same reasons. I want to take a further dive into this from the historical perspective as well as from a “non-football” perspective, but if nothing else it most certainly is promising by creating benefit without really creating harm or risk.

I want to take a further dive into this from the historical perspective as well as from a “non-football” perspective, but if nothing else it most certainly is promising by creating benefit without really creating harm or risk.

The more I think about it, the more brilliant this idea becomes. As JP points out, the Group of Five conferences are in the market to find as many market inefficiencies as they can, and this is certainly one way to turn things on their ears in the hopes of generating a sizeable advantage on their competitors.

(h/t, of course, to Fear the Wave)

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