Wiedmer: If all you care about is college football's Haves, two 26-team leagues are perfect

Football centered and near the fifty yardline football tile / Getty Images

The SEC Network's resident genius and truth teller Paul Finebaum first suggested the doomsday scenario for college football as we've long known and loved it late last week, just after news broke of Southern Cal's and UCLA's intentions to bolt the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.

The sport is headed for two super conferences, Finebaum surmised. And it's certainly hard to argue with that idea at this moment.

What that means for a lot of non-TV ratings producers such as Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference, TCU in the Big 12, Rutgers in the Big Ten and Vanderbilt in the SEC remains to be seen. Grandfather clauses should keep them in, as well as the assumption in some high-powered corners that everybody needs an unofficial off week at least one weekend a season, not that each of those schools hasn't had moments of great success at one time or another.

But television ratings and fear of losing ratings clout are what's driving this cannabalism nationwide and those schools just mentioned do little if anything to boost conference Nielsen numbers.

So the rich - namely the SEC and Big Ten - get richer and more powerful and everybody else hopes there are a few crumbs left to survive on along the way.

Or, just maybe, to revisit Finebaum, we wind up with two conferences only, each - at least for the purposes of this column - consisting of 26 schools. The SEC, already 16 strong with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, adds Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. In other words, the entire ACC below the Mason-Dixon line.

The Big Ten, which is already the Big 14 before adding UCLA and USC, gobbles up its own 10, beginning with Notre Dame. Throw in Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the ACC, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Colorado from the Pac 12, and Baylor and Oklahoma State from the Big 12 (sorry Iowa State, Kansas, , Kansas State, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.)

Now, remember, this is football only. The SEC could easily drop Vanderbilt and Wake, for instance, to add Louisville and West Virginia.

Likewise, the Big Ten could drop, oh, Indiana and Rutgers, to add Iowa State, Kanas State, TCU or Texas Tech.

But here's the beauty of a 26-team conference: Each league has two 13-team divisions. Everybody plays everybody else in the division - a perfect 12-game schedule. The division winners meet for the conference title and an automatic bid to the national semifinals.

Six other teams are then picked - including the conference title game runner-ups - but only two each from each conference are required among the six. Two more at-large teams are chosen, but can come from the same league, which is sure to be the SEC eight out of 10 years. (Sorry, Big Ten boosters. This is my column. SEC rules, as has been the case in five of the first eight CFP title games, including the last three in a row, in case you want to claim I'm biased.)

As for the format to get to the semifinals, the conference title game runner-ups each get byes to a second round. The bottom four teams are then seeded for play-in games, the winners of those games then playing the conference runner-ups. Those winners would then face the conference champs, though if the title game runner-ups advance, they would play the winner of the opposing conference in the semis.

Is it completely fair for the 52 teams that make up the two leagues? Nothing is completely fair in sports if you demand it be completely equal. One division in each conference will almost always be more difficult than the other. Schedules won't be completely fair because some schools might play four tough games in a row and others no more than two straight. Weather and injuries might further level or tilt the playing field.

But most weeks would be a slugfest and it's hard to see anyone running the table in such a scenario.

Look, all of this is a mess. It will all but cripple Football Championship Subdivision programs such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga if it happens, since it will eliminate the sort of "guarantee" games that add $500,000 or more each season to those schools' fragile budgets. It will similarly hurt true mid-major football programs such as Middle Tennessee State, Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte and Georgia State, not to mention higher majors such as Memphis, Cincinnati and South Florida.

A lot of those programs are struggling to succeed financially in the current climate. Take away even the slightest hope of reaching the playoffs - as Cincinnati did a year ago - and the notion that "We Don't Matter" becomes even more pronounced.

Unless, of course, you're one of the lucky 52, or 60, or 76. Still, whatever the two super conferences become, bigger won't mean better for anyone but those lucky few. Bigger will only be attached to a league and format you'll never be able to join.

Then again, for those of us who already think it's all too big and professional and completely out of whack from what college athletics should be, maybe this is the reckoning we've long needed - a final, desperate call for priorities and perspective and sanity.

Until then, however, we're left with four words from a Pac-12 source to CBSSports.com, who said of today's major college football climate, but using words that could increasingly be said of any leader in any walk of life, beginning with Washington, D.C., down: "You can't trust anybody."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com