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Saturday, May 24, 2014

An American Divided

As the American Athletic Conference prepares to head into its spring meetings, a topic that will be on the table is divisional play. In 2015, when Navy joins, the American will have 12 teams and split into two divisions and host a championship game. It seems a potential sticking point is how to align USF and Central Florida, which the league seems to be staging as its chief rivalry. I'll acknowledge this while pointing out that USF has comparable history with ECU and Memphis and more with UConn and Cincinnati. Part of the debate is whether the two schools remain in the same division or join separate divisions; the latter move would necessitate a permanent crossover rival.

...what?

There's no reason this should even be on the table for discussion. No matter which way you slice it geographically - and it seems they're leaning east-west - the two schools would share a division. Random divisions like the Atlantic and Coastal or the soon-to-be-abandoned Leaders and Legends make little sense for the American, which faces a double-edged sword: That of being both geographically expansive and financially limited.

As rivals, the primary objective is ensuring that the two schools play every year. Keeping them in the same division achieves that, and by eliminating a crossover rival, a 5-3 scheduling model allows teams to see cross-divisional opponents 50% of the time. The only reason for creating a crossover situation would be to preserve a rivalry, and there aren't really any others worth preserving in the fledgling league.

There is precisely one reason why it would make sense for USF and UCF to be in opposite divisions: The bonus game created by the two meeting in a conference championship game. Still, two leagues - the ACC with Florida State-Miami and the Big Ten with Ohio State-Michigan - created non-geographic decisions with that goal in mind, and neither has yet come to fruition; the Big Ten finally gave up and will go geographic this coming year with the addition of SUNJ and College Park. American, please go with what makes sense.
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