The latest round of conference realignment has left Group of 5 schools (and Pac-12 leftovers Oregon State and Washington State) wondering how to remain competitive and maintain conference stability.
They’re considering an idea most commonly used in sports across the pond: promotion and relegation.
Boise State associate athletic director Michael Walsh has created what is believed to be the first formal proposals on the subject. He has written an in-depth plan for a three-tiered alliance of 24 FBS football teams in Pacific, Mountain, and Central time zones, with the opportunity for promotion and relegation at the end of each season.
The 22-slide PowerPoint, obtained and reviewed by Front Office Sports, has been shared with athletic directors in and outside of the conference, as well as with Mountain West Commissioner Gloria Nevarez.
“Many, many folks are kicking around concepts of relegation/promotion, or mega-leagues,” Nevarez told FOS. But “this is probably the first I’ve seen of someone really putting pen to paper, and looking at it comprehensively.”
Walsh’s goal: to create a lucrative football package while allowing Olympic sports to avoid the coast-to-coast travel now required in Power 4 leagues.
The proposal begins by telling athletics officials to “control what you can control.” In reference to the Power conferences, it asks: “Do you want to be at the kids’ table under the same roof, or eating at a different establishment?”
Much like in European soccer leagues, teams would be promoted or relegated at the end of every season based on performance. For example, the worst-place team in Tier 1 would be relegated to Tier 2, and the “conference” champion of Tier 2 would take its place.
Walsh suggests the Mountain West and Pac-12, as well as regional teams from the AAC, Conference USA, or WAC, could participate. All other sports, including men’s basketball, would remain in their current conferences in order to “maximize” the opportunity for NCAA postseason automatic qualifiers.
The first football tier could be a fifth Power conference, though Walsh noted that decision would ultimately lie with the College Football Playoff and NCAA, who award the designation for voting power and revenue distribution.
The proposal suggests modest bonuses based on a base sum for each tier, performance bonuses, and a specific bonus for ”tier status.” The amount of this revenue, however, would depend on the media contract. Walsh suggested the alliance target NBC/Peacock, Apple, and Amazon as partners — given they’ve all shown an interest in football, but have much less inventory than Fox, ESPN, and CBS.
It’s unclear how much traction the proposal will receive, though the Mountain West now has plenty of time to consider more creative ideas. Oregon State and Washington State will likely not make any decisions about conference realignment until their lawsuit against the conference is resolved —- which could take months.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West has already begun considering more traditional scenarios. It has courted Oregon State and Washington State and explored taking on the Pac-12’s name and intellectual property, as FOS previously reported.
“It’s the right time to think differently and consider what the next generation will wish we had done, rather than putting a bandage on yesterday’s problem,” Walsh said.