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Changing College Basketball to the English Soccer Model

Bye bye, NCAA!

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Kansas Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s see here. Where to begin? Some prominent schools, KU amongst them, have been under some FBI and NCAA scrutiny in recent months. As many have stated before, the NCAA and the powers that be at the various TV consortiums need teams like KU, Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky far more than these schools need the NCAA.

The status quo of ignoring payments (or making the member schools look like “victims”) keeps the NCAA engine running, and the idea of “amateur” status keeps lining the pockets of the executives in Indianapolis and the various media outlets that benefit from the awful inequality that permeates college basketball. If teams like KU, Duke, UNC, UK and others had enough teams willing to break off with them (or even the corporate backing to achieve “independence” from the NCAA), many would do so.

These universities already skirt the antiquated NCAA rulebook anyway, why not make their own?

This post tries to examine a way to recreate leagues for the benefit of the schools involved, not the money grabbing hypocrites in the NCAA offices. It is modeled after the English soccer model of promotion and relegation, and I will admit, it might not fit everyone’s bill as a solution. For one, there is no playoff (although one could easily be added) and because I wanted to keep the original schedule parameters (November through April), each team will play everyone once and trade off which game is at home on a year-by-year basis.

Here’s how it sets up:

· Four Divisions, 31 teams in each division, 124 total.

· Each team plays everyone, 15 at home and 15 away determining a true champion

· Promotion/Relegation between tiers and NCAA

The biggest issue was how to determine which 124 teams made the field in the first place. As it turns out, I simply took the Power 5 schools, traditional basketball schools, and when we got down to determining the final grouping, name recognition took precedent.

The next issue was how to group the teams, which teams made it into the “top flight” and which started in the lower tiers (remember that every team has the ability to reach the top division). Here’s how it played out:

Division I

Automatic Invitees (won NCAA National Title in the last 31 Years) 2018-1988

  1. Villanova
  2. North Carolina
  3. Duke
  4. Connecticut
  5. Louisville
  6. Kentucky
  7. Kansas
  8. Florida
  9. Syracuse
  10. Maryland
  11. Michigan State
  12. Arizona
  13. UCLA
  14. Arkansas
  15. UNLV
  16. Michigan

Invited (Legacy teams- listed alphabetically)

  1. Butler
  2. Cincinnati
  3. Georgetown
  4. Gonzaga
  5. Indiana
  6. Ohio State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Purdue
  9. Stanford
  10. Texas
  11. Virginia
  12. West Virginia
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Wichita State
  15. Xavier

Sure, this might include some non-deserving teams initially (UNLV and Arkansas come to mind), but they will soon be weeded out if their performances don’t improve immediately.

After 30 home and away games (rotated yearly) a true champion is crowned. Arguably this is more difficult than the NCAA tournament, but it also completely rewards your regular season. If you can’t cut it here, you can’t win a title. There is no “NCAA Tournament anxiety” that so many of us experience on a yearly basis where great regular season accomplishments can be derailed by an opponent that drills a school-record amount of three pointers. Simply put, this model is objective and rewards your regular season.

After the season, the Bottom 5 are relegated to Division II automatically. Team #26 will play team #6 of Division II in a playoff game for the right to play/stay in Division I. The loser is sent/stays in D-II. This relegation/promotion playoff can be played at a neutral site and all divisons can play at that site much like a traditional Final Four or conference tournament.

Division II

Invited for Season One (Power 5/Basketball History- Listed alphabetically)

  1. Arizona State
  2. Baylor
  3. California
  4. Clemson
  5. Creighton
  6. Davidson
  7. Florida State
  8. Georgia
  9. Georgia Tech
  10. Illinois
  11. Iowa
  12. Iowa State
  13. Kansas State
  14. Memphis
  15. Miami
  16. Missouri
  17. Nevada
  18. NC State
  19. Notre Dame
  20. Oklahoma State
  21. Oregon
  22. Pitt
  23. Tennessee
  24. Texas A&M
  25. Texas Tech
  26. Utah
  27. USC
  28. Vanderbilt
  29. Virginia Tech
  30. Wake Forest
  31. Washington

This league is going to be tough. But it gives teams like Missouri and K-State a chance to celebrate. They can either win the league (major banner raising event) or finish anywhere in the top 6 to have a chance at promotion to play the big boys. Either way, there is no “night off” for these teams and winning this league will prove just as hard as winning Division I. It is a well-deserved trophy.

The top 5 are promoted to Division I, while #6 battles it out with the #26 from Division I for the coveted sixth spot in the top tier. The loser is placed in DII. The Bottom 5 are relegated to Division III automatically while #26 of Division II and #6 of Division III play a neutral site playoff to determine their status (D-II or D-III).

Division III

Invited for Season One (Remaining Power 5/Historically or recently good basketball teams-Listed alphabetically)

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Boston College
  4. BYU
  5. Colorado
  6. Houston
  7. Long Beach State
  8. Loyola-Chicago
  9. LSU
  10. Minnesota
  11. Marquette
  12. Mississippi
  13. Mississippi State
  14. Nebraska
  15. New Mexico
  16. Northwestern
  17. Oregon State
  18. Penn
  19. Penn State
  20. Princeton
  21. Providence
  22. Rutgers
  23. San Diego State
  24. Seton Hall
  25. South Carolina
  26. St. Mary’s
  27. Temple
  28. TCU
  29. VCU
  30. Washington State
  31. Western Kentucky

Again, this is a very difficult task, especially after a few years when this group gets even more diverse thanks to promotion/relegation. We’d really get to see what teams like Loyola-Chicago and St. Mary’s are all about.

The same Promotion/Relegation principles apply to Division III.

· Top 5 promoted to Division II automatically

· Bottom 5 relegated to Division IV automatically

· #6 will battle #26 of Division II to determine status (D-II or D-III)

· #26 and #6 of Division IV will play in a neutral site playoff to determine their status. (D-III or D-IV)

Division IV was the hardest for me to create, so these could possibly change going into the inaugural season. They could also be determined by a committee of the previous 93 teams. Here is a rough guess:

Division IV (Listed alphabetically)

  1. Air Force
  2. Boise State
  3. Central Michigan
  4. Central Florida
  5. DePaul
  6. Detroit Mercy
  7. East Carolina
  8. Florida Gulf Coast
  9. Fresno State
  10. Harvard
  11. Hawaii
  12. Manhattan
  13. Marshall
  14. Miami (Ohio)
  15. Northern Iowa
  16. Northern Illinois
  17. Ohio
  18. Rice
  19. Richmond
  20. Santa Clara
  21. SMU
  22. South Florida
  23. Southern Miss
  24. St. John’s
  25. St. Joseph’s
  26. Toledo
  27. Tulsa
  28. UAB
  29. UTEP
  30. Western Michigan
  31. Yale

The same promotion situation applies here as well.

· Top 5 promoted to Division III automatically

· #6 plays #26 of Division III in the neutral site game mentioned above to determine status (DIII or DIV)

· Bottom 4 are relegated to NCAA

This is where it gets tough. Relegation. Does the NCAA allow teams back in? Will teams want to play by different rules if they finish in the bottom 4? If so, the “Final Four” from an extremely watered down NCAA tournament can be promoted into Division IV while the bottom 4 can rejoin the NCAA. This is obviously a sticking point and the biggest problem to this plan.

But overall, this model provides four difficult leagues with lots of incentive throughout the year. Just like in English soccer (especially in the lower divisions), there will be meaningful games up until the very end, and there will likely be congestion throughout the league tables. And imagine if Kentucky or UNC has one of those weird seasons where they only win 8 games or have a record that would traditionally get them into the NIT and they get relegated. Watching them battle back up to Division I status would be riveting. Just as exciting would be watching the ascent of a team like Marshall (or someone similar).

One glaring issue that rarely comes up in European soccer but would more likely come up here is the idea of tiebreakers. There, goals scored and goal differential are key components. Here, head to head would be the first tie breaker followed by some metric to be determined later (perhaps something equivalent to margin of victory). This would have to be investigated further and agreed upon by the teams involved.

Obviously, this model won’t happen any time soon, and it won’t happen at all as long as the NCAA plays victim to shoe companies and rakes in money from the NCAA Tournament (which small teams and neutrals like, but big teams and their fans are mortified for a good week and half until the first two rounds are over). But, it is fun to think of these super leagues and the exciting games and scenarios that we’d see within them.