Picture college football in 2006. Syracuse was in the Big East, the SEC hadn't yet gone on their national championship winning streak, and a playoff seemed like a far away dream. Today, Syracuse is in the ACC, the SEC has won eight of the last 10 national championships, and we're about to enter our third season ending with an FBS-level playoff. So, knowing that things can change pretty drastically in this sport, what might we be looking at in 2026?
Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel has an interesting theory. Citing several factors that could lead to changes in college football conferences, he speculates that the major powerhouses could merge into a 24-team confederation, similar to European soccer leagues. Basically, the biggest names in the game would split off from the NCAA in college football to form their own league of elite members. As you may have guessed, Mandel's confederation proposal has to cut out many Power Five conference schools, and Syracuse doesn't make the cut.
That would leave Syracuse and many other notable schools to possibly group together and form a second-tier league. Of course, That seems a bit unfair.
To fix it, what if we go all-in on the European football (soccer) model, and adopt the promotion-relegation method of dividing top-tier teams from the second-tier?
For those unfamiliar, the method boils down to this: teams can move between the various levels of competition based on their performance year-to-year. The best teams of the lower level of competition can be promoted up a level, while the worst teams at the top level can be relegated down. SB Nation's Bill Connelly has taken a look at how this system would affect college football for the last few offseasons.
There are some glaring problems with this idea right away. First, it will really piss some people off. Taking a team such as Texas, a perennial powerhouse with some recent years of underperforming, and relegating them down for a good Boise State team would be crazy. That would move down a huge state school with a large TV market and vast fan base for a team that used a blue field as a (well-executed) marketing strategy.
Second, college football is the most profitable sport at pretty much any university, and moving back and forth between levels would do crazy things to an athletic department's revenue stream. If the major confederation of teams had a lucrative TV deal, even just losing that source of income would be a huge hit to schools -- a common issue for Premier League teams over in the UK. And that doesn't get into the impact of America's biggest anti-pro/rel factor: Geography. You could potentially see years where east coast teams dominate but one or two schools out west are in the league, which would make for some oversized travel costs.
It would be cool, though, to have a league that is solely the best-of-the-best of college football. No more cupcake scheduling or strength-of-schedule debates. It would also make the sport even more competitive, since a team that's unsuccessful they're at risk of being relegated. And if it spurred story lines like this year's Leicester City team did, the sport could get even more entertaining.
While it's less likely these sorts of changes are ever be implemented, at least we can use posts like Mandel's and Connelly's to wonder "what if."