What's next in the crazy world of college football: How about relegation? | David Whitley

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

If you’re bad at your job, you get demoted, right? Unless you’re Vanderbilt, in which case you get a media rights check for about $80 million.

As the old American Express ad said, “Membership has its privileges.” And being a member of the SEC has provided the Commodores with more privileges than they’ve earned.

I don’t mean to pick on Vandy, which is hardly the only school that’s a freeloader school in football. I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe in the American ideal of earning your keep.

Now there’s a slight chance we’ll see more of that, all brought to you by the current upheaval in college sports.

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What's next for the haves and have nots of college football?

When it all plays out, there are probably going to be two super conferences (SEC and Big Ten) and whatever realignment evolves from the Big 12, Pac 12 and ACC.

That will make up the top tier. As with the current Power Five/Group of Five dynamic, the have-nots could be left in the cold regardless of how good they are. And the haves could stay in regardless of how badly they stink.

That ain’t right, and even the King of the Haves knows it. Nick Saban also has an idea how to fix it.

“Maybe you do something like European soccer where teams move up and down based on results,” he told ESPN.

Wait a minute. S-s-soccer?

I’m just speculating, but most people around here think America’s version of football is far superior to Europe’s. A few billion people around the world might disagree, but they’ve never been to an Iron Bowl.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from the other football. In this case, it’s “relegation.”

The bottom three teams in the Premier League get demoted to the Championship League every year. The top three second-level teams take their places.

College football talking heads have kicked the idea around for years, but it was too crazy to be taken seriously. Now nothing seems too crazy.

The latest example is news the Big Ten’s about to sign a $1 billion-plus TV deal with Fox, NBC, CBS and a streaming partner. It will pay members about $100 million a year — members like Illinois, which still hasn’t recovered from losing Red Grange to the Chicago Bears.

Vanderbilt is the SEC’s version of Illinois. Then there are teams like Kansas, Arizona, Rutgers, Colorado and a few others who’d get relegated to the dork corner if football had a Rush Week.

On the other side of the velvet rope are programs like Boise State, Coastal Carolina, San Diego State and Billy Napier’s old club, Louisiana. They do better work than the lower-rent haves and are lucky to get $1.5 million a year in media revenue.

So how do the powers-that-be bring more merit to the system?

“Blue-sky thinking,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, “which is you detach from reality.”

What would the SEC look like? 

There are plenty of potential permutations, but let’s kick one around.

There’s an SEC 1 made up of current members and whatever might eventually be scooped up from the ACC. And an SEC 2 comprised of Sun Belt and some Conference USA teams. The bottom two SEC 1 schools get bounced to SEC 2, and the top two SEC 2 teams get promoted.

The Big Ten could partner with the MAC. Whatever becomes of the Big 12/Pac 12 could partner with Group of Five teams that make geographic sense.

Then let the fun, drama and panic begin.

Imagine if it happened last year. If you think Gators fans are down on Dan Mullen now, what if he’d left the program in the Sun Belt. Conversely, Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns would have been on a holy crusade to crash the SEC Ball.

November games most fans ignored would have major implications. Eyeballs would follow. Flex scheduling could juice ratings.

More money for everybody!

Have-nots can dream big like Leicester City

Well, not for teams that get relegated. But they could earn their way back to the top tier, just like they earned their way out of it.

And the have-nots do more than dream of becoming Leicester City. You know about those lads, right?

Leicester was sort of the Vanderbilt of British soccer but got promoted to the Premier League in 2015. It won the whole shebang despite starting with 5,000-to-1 odds.

Back to reality, the odds of Coastal Carolina winning it all would still be about 5,000-to-1. Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, et al. would still dominate. And there are a few thousand potential hitches, but that’s the case with every Next-Gen scenario.

“I’m not smart enough to figure out all the schools that need to make moves and do things necessary to improve their lot,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said.

Contrary to most evidence with NCAA-related matters, however, there is enough collective brainpower to make relegation work. The first thing it must do is prioritize merit over chumminess.

Then think blue sky and realize you don’t have to love soccer to find it worth imitating.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.