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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stuck in the Middle

The times, they are a-changin' in college football.

This upcoming season, major college football will see its first playoff. At the same time, college athletes have been empowered to unionize, the NCAA is mired in lawsuits, and the power five conferences may soon have the ability to create their own rules.

But what of the middle class?

It comes as no surprise that I, as a South Florida alumnus, have a particular interest in the plight of the Football Bowl Subdivision's "other" five conferences. as the BCS gave way, so to did the Big East/American's access to college football's biggest stage. The new playoff format leaves chances at slim to none that a team from outside the big five conferences will compete for a championship, and slim's on his way out of town.

Where does that leave the other five conferences? Stuck in the middle.

Members of the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and American can look at championships in both directions, but have little chance of touching any. Above them, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC will compete for college football's largest prize, the one that lies at the end of the arrogantly named College Football Playoff. Below them, the Football Championship Subdivision, Division II, and Division III will continue the playoffs they've always had, and their winners will hoist championships actually sanctioned by the NCAA. But for the 63 teams in the other five conferences once the dust settles (and two independents, Army and BYU, likely to find themselves in similar straits) there is no grand prize, save perhaps for the ability to represent their class in the series of marquee bowls we once referred to as BCS. It is a de facto best-of-the-rest role, but no championship in and of itself.

What are these schools to do? Frankly, there's not much that can be done. Much like the World Class DCI corps that sit below the "G7," their access will remain limited, unless there is further subdivision within the Division I ranks. They're in an untenable situation: Demand separation, and potentially separate yourselves from the cash cows that prop up the FBS? Or grin and bear it? Fortunately/unfortunately for them, the outcome this summer of the power five's proposal may hold the key.
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