Should college football adopt a relegation system? Breaking down the pros and cons of the idea

College football fans don’t agree on a lot of things. Whether it’s a conversation about who the best player in the nation is, who has the loudest stadium, or which team owns the best uniforms, college fans are always arguing about something.

However, most would agree that the current system of college football is not working, and not sustainable.

Over the last decade or so, things have been heading downhill, and quickly. With the introduction of name, image, and likeness for athletes, the prevalence of the transfer portal, and the rapid speed at which conference realignment is taking place, the sport looks nothing like it did a decade ago. That’s not to say that any of those things are bad in their own right, but the combination of them all has completely shifted the landscape from what it was created to be over a century ago.

Now, you have a system that looks much more similar to the NFL than it does to college athletics and athletes that look far more like professionals than they do amateurs. The trickle-down effect of this has an impact on players — mainly in sports outside of football — family members, and fans.

So while most fans can’t find much to agree on in the world of college football, they will largely agree that something needs to change going forward, because the current system feels unsustainable.

So what do we do?

That’s a multi-billion dollar question that involves powerful television networks, university presidents, boards of regents, and likely a lot of regulation. It’s not hard to say that any sort of change will be difficult.

Over the last week or so, as teams like Oregon and Washington jump from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, and schools such as Florida State and Clemson ponder a leap from the ACC to more profitable lands, an interesting idea has been floated out.

The idea is based on the introduction of relegation into the world of college football. Much like European Soccer, it would create a hierarchy of leagues in the sport, and give teams the ability to move up or down between leagues each year based on how well they play.

It’s complicated, controversial, and hard to sell. However, if you take the time to understand it, you may buy in. I have long been a proponent of the relegation system in college football because I think it gives the sport a unique twist. I may be in the minority with that opinion, but I know that I’m not alone.

Let’s dive into the relegation format and explain how it would look in college football. From there, I may be able to convince you that this is the way moving forward.

A Baseline Understanding of Relegation

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The international world of soccer is complicated and convoluted. Each country has a different model, and different leagues, and different championships that they play for. In this example, though, we will be using the structure that England uses for their soccer teams. I will try to explain it simply.

Basically, all of the teams in England are broken down into different groups, based on prior success: The Premier Leauge (top division); the Champions League (second division); League One (third division), and League Two (fourth division). The teams in each division play each other, and at the end of the season in the Premier League, the winner is determined based on the final standings for the season. However, in the other leagues, there is a playoff to determine the final standings.

Now comes the interesting part: relegation. Based on the final standings each year, the three last-place teams are relegated (or removed) from the Premier League, and replaced by the top three teams in the Champions League, who get promoted (or moved up). The same happens at the bottom of the Champions League, with the last-place teams relegated to League One, and the top teams from League One promoted to the Champions League. The same is true for League Two, as well.

In the end, it results in some teams moving from league to league each year, playing with the ultimate goal of making it into the Premier League.

What Does This Have to do With College Football?

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As I was saying earlier, it appears that there is a need for a new system in college football. With conference realignment taking place so rapidly over the last decade, we have completely lost the regionality of the sport. No longer do teams on the west coast play others in their area, and teams in the south stay east of the Mississippi. Now you have schools like Oregon and USC traveling to Maryland and New Jersey for Big Ten Conference games, while UCF will take the trip west to play against Arizona and Utah in Big 12 Conference games.

A new system is needed. The relegation system is one that I think would be interesting in practice. We’ve already got the makings of mega-conferences starting with the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12, and we know that the TV money is there to see it through.

How the Conferences Would Break Down

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Much like in England, I think that you could split the FBS into four main divisions, and four regional divisions beyond that.

  • Premier League (16 Teams)

  • Champions League (20 Teams)

  • League One (20 Teams)

  • League Two (20 Teams)

  • 4 Divisions (East, South, Midwest, West)(20 Teams Each)

Obviously, once you have a year of results, it is easy to see which teams belong in the Premier League, Champions League, etc. However, you have to start somewhere, so we’re going to follow the lead set by Projection Sports and break it down loosely based on the final rankings from the 2022 season for this exercise…

Example Premier League

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Based on the example from Production Sports, these are the 16 teams that would be included in the inaugural Premier League:


Example Champions League

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Based on the example from Production Sports, these are the teams that would be included in the inaugural Champions League:


Example League One

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Based on the example from Production Sports, these are the teams that would be included in the inaugural League One:


Example League Two

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Based on the example from Production Sports, these are the teams that would be included in the inaugural League Two:


Okay, What Now?

Now that we’ve got the leagues set, we can get on to the actual football on the field. It is unclear what type of schedules each league would play, but for this article, we can assume that everyone would adopt a 9-game conference schedule, with three non-conference games that can be played outside of the league. This way, you could still keep your rivalries between Oregon and Oregon State, Washington and Washington State, and so on.

At the end of the regular season, you would have the standings from your league determine the playoff seeding. The top 12 teams get in, while the bottom four schools left outside are subject to relegation.

Let’s take an example from the 2022 season standings to make it easier to understand.

Example Relegation with 2022 Standings

We are going to look solely at the Premier League (and the top of the Champions League) to give an example for how things would have shaken out in 2022 if relegation were a thing. Here are the final standings for what would have been the Premier League:

Team Name



Georgia Bulldogs



TCU Horned Frogs



Michigan Wolverines



Ohio State Buckeyes



Alabama Crimson Tide



Tennessee Volunteers



Penn State Nittany Lions



Utah Utes



Florida State Seminoles



USC Trojans



Clemson Tigers



Kansas State Wildcats



Oregon Ducks



LSU Tigers



Notre Dame Fighting Irish



Texas Longhorns


By the relegation model, the top 12 teams would enter a playoff — Georgia as the No. 1 seed, Kansas State as the No. 12 seed — while Oregon, LSU, Notre Dame, and Texas would be relegated to the Champions League for the 2023 season.

Likewise, Washington, Tulane, Oregon State, and Mississippi State would be promoted from the Champions League to the Premier League.

Pro: Saves Regionality for Other Sports

I think one of the biggest pros for this argument has nothing to do with football. Rather, it’s the fact that removing football from the Power 5 conference system that we’ve had for so many decades would allow the rest of collegiate athletics to operate in a manner that makes sense for players, families, and fans.

If every Oregon sport but football could go back and compete in the Pac-12, along with USC, UCLA, and Washington, I think we would be able to have our cake and eat it too, so to speak. No longer would the Ducks’ volleyball team have to travel to New Jersey to face Rutgers in the middle of the week, and Maryland’s baseball team wouldn’t be faced with a February trip to Seattle for a baseball series.

Take football and be honest about what it really is — a semi-professional sport. Just because we want to group all of the best teams on the gridiron together in order to generate the most revenue doesn’t mean we have to do it in every other sport as well.

Con: Blue-Bloods Have No Incentive

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Ask yourself this quick question — why would Georgia, or Alabama, or Ohio State ever say yes to adopting this relegation system? It simply presents way too much downside with zero upside for them.

As it stands now, the system currently in place works perfectly for the true blue-bloods in the sport. And when I say blue-blood, I don’t mean the historic teams like Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma. I mean the teams who win year-in and year-out — Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, etc.

Under the current system, any of those teams I just mentioned can suffer the rare down-year and be just fine. They will still get the revenue, still get the recruits, and still remain one of the most respected teams in the land. Under the relegation system, though, that would no longer be the case. With the new system, a rare down-year could result in relegation to the Champions League, which any Buckeye or Bulldog would treat as a black mark for the program.

Of course, let’s not act like these teams would routinely be flirting with relegation. Georgia hasn’t finished outside of the top 12 in the final AP poll since 2016; it’s been since 2011 for Ohio State, and Alabama’s last time outside of the top 12 was back in 2007.

Still, you can see why these teams would take a stand against the idea. They have no incentive to say yes, so I don’t blame them.

Pro: Fans and — More Importantly — TV Networks Win

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

We’ve seen over the last few years that in the end, what TV networks want is what usually ends up happening. FOX, NBC, and CBS wanted the Big Ten to expand their footprint and move west so that they could fill more of their late-night windows with interesting games. So what happened? The Big Ten added USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington in due order. The SEC did the exact same thing, adding Texas and Oklahoma to further expand west as well.

Money rules the world, and there is a lot of money in college football.

If we were to adopt a relegation system that pits the best of the best against each other, that means higher ratings, and more interest from fans with marquee matchups each and every week. On top of that, you would have not just one 12-team playoff each year, but four playoffs that have real stakes as teams try to move up into a higher league.

If I were a TV executive, I am salivating over that thought.

So, Will This Happen?

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If I’m being completely honest, I think the likelihood of something like this actually coming to fruition is incredibly low — maybe 5%, at best. There is simply too many moving pieces, and it feels like too big of a change for this to actually take place. While there are teams who would benefit — schools like Oregon State, UTSA, and Boise State could finally play their way into prominence with a true meritocracy — an equal number of teams — Rutgers, Maryland, Florida — would all be in danger of losing their seat at the big boy’s table.

What’s important is that we at least start the conversation, though. I don’t think the relegation system is perfect, but it certainly could be an improvement on what we have going at the moment.

Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire