Proposals for How a Relegation-and-Promotion System in College Basketball Might Work

This post is a continuation of my May 7 article, “Relegation and Promotion in College Sports.”  At the end of it, I mentioned that I might in the future write a follow-up article about how I would implement it for basketball.  While I do not have a single concrete idea, I do have several proposals and sub-ideas for individual portions and the system as a whole.  In a way, this is better than having just one idea because it lends itself to fleixibility.  Here goes nothing:

First of all, let me summarize my position for those of you who did not read my original article.  Even if you did read the original article, there are things I believe I should make clear coming that I cannot remember whether or not they were stated back on May 7.  I believe that college sports could be made better if they used a relegation-and-promotion system similar to those used in European sports.  Each region would be divided into tiers, and each year the best teams would advance and the weakest teams would be downgraded, based on a three-year weighted average.  I have been thinking about this idea for a long time, even before the current realignment craze.  With certain safeguards and restrictions, a somewhat regionalized NCAA system would allow mid-majors to get a chance at the big boys, prevent teams like Seton Hall and Washington St. from permanently holding onto berths in major conferences while clearly underpreforming, and still maintain key rivalries.  (Note that despite its format, that sentence was not my thesis statement.)  Although it may be undesirable to some people and will, in all likelihood, never be implemented, it’s a nice thought experiment that I enjoy doing.

I think that any relegation-and-promotion system should be somewhat regionalized (at least in conference play) to minimize travel costs.  Major colleges like Syracuse and Michigan St. could probably handle it, but what about Canisius and Holy Cross?  I have two proposals for these divisions: one with four regions and one with six.  I’ll start with the four-region one.

West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington

Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin

South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina

East: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C.

We would allow the Ivy League to remain separate from the relegation-and-promotion system, with some rules allowing it to maintain postseason berths.  With that exception, the East would have about 86 teams, the Midwest would have about 86, the West about 83, and the South about 81.  (I use “about” to leave room for error.)  I would build the conferences based on a six-tier 16-16-16-12-12-remainder model while ensuring that no tier had exactly 13 or 14 teams.  However, I prefer this second, six-region proposal.

West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming

Central: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas

Great Lakes: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin

South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

Atlantic: Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia

Northeast/New England: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont

I know that this second proposal has some odd-shaped regions, but on the whole I prefer this one over the other one as far as travel and rivalries go.  Kentucky is in the Midwest under both proposals because the South is one of the larger regions; South Carolina is in the Atlantic for that same reason and that separating the Carolinas just didn’t feel right.  As for the Central, it could be a lot worse.  On the whole, I like this proposal better, even though you would never get Army-Navy conference play.  (Although the rivalry would not be killed.)  For this proposal, I would also give the MEAC and the SWAC, two conferences of historically black colleges, an exemption, but it works either way.  That leaves the Northeast with about 58 teams, the Great Lakes with about 55, the West and South with about 53, the Atlantic with about 48, and the Central with approximately 47 (again using “about” to leave room for error).   I would have five tiers per regional, with the number of teams possibly different for each region.

First, I will address the issue of how teams are relegated and promoted.  First of all, teams should be ranked by what I call Neutralized Points.  Neutralized Points would be a combination of a point system rewarding teams for winning games against opponents, adjusted using a series of computer rankings.  This way, teams are credited for scheduling tough competition and winning games without rewarding teams that feast on teams near the bottom of tiers or who underachieved.

The point system would be inherently simple, with different points being allotted for regulation wins, overtime wins, overtime losses, and regulation losses.  When recording point totals, I will do so in that order.  When playing conference opponents or those in a comparable tier, the points would be given out on a 3-2-1-0 basis.  I differentiate between overtime and regulation games simply because, in overtime, so much rides on the occurrences of a short timeframe.  If the opponent was from a higher tier, it would be 5-3-2-0.  If the opponent was in a tier directly below the team, the points would be 2-1-0-_1 (_ being negative), and two tiers would below would result in a 2-0-_1-_2 point award.  This is to award teams for scheduling tougher opponents while punishing teams for scheduling weaker oppositiion.  There would be no difference in points for home, road, or neutral play.

Then, a combination of several computer rankings (such as the Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy, RPI, and BRI) would combined in an average.  The NCAA average would be then normalized at 1.  After that, the computer ranking amalgamation, multiplied by the number of points, would result in the total Neutralized Points.

After that, the Neutralized Points would be boiled down to a three-year weighted average.  This weighted average would be used to determine the relegated teams.  The team with the lowest average would play the team with the forth-lowest average in a home-and-home series, and the second-lowest would play the third-lowest.  The loser of that series would be relegated.  No team in the top half of its division or quad (see tier scheduling) could be relegated.  If a top-half is team is in the bottom four, then teams would go down the list until a suitable replacement is found.  The exact opposite in each case, with no exceptions whatsoever, would used to determine promoted teams.

Of course, with a relegation-and-promtion system, there will always be the issues of games played and rivalries.  For the first, I propose having 10 non-conference games, 18 conference games, plus cup and relegation competitions which I will get to later.  In all, I believe that each team would play anywhere from 29 to 49 or 51 games, depending on which of my College Championship proposals is used.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it would still fall into the November-April timeframe if properly scheduled with lots of games during vacations.

How conference games would work would depend on how many teams are in that particular tier.  Up front, I mentioned that I did not want to have either an odd number of teams or 14-team conferences; when I do that, the eighteen-game scheduling gets pretty weird.  However, having a fifteen-team conference works.  I wanted to regulate the number of conference games to help keep everything symmetrical and in perspective.  Here it goes:

10 Teams: Double round-robin

12 Teams: Divide into two six-team divisions.  Play division opponents twice, conference opponents once, and see Extra Games Proposal for the other two games.

15 Teams: Divide into three five-team divisions.  Play division opponents twice and conference opponents once.

16 Teams: Divide into four-four team quads.  Play quad opponents twice and conference opponents once.

My Extra Games Proposal for 12-team conferences can take one of multiple forms.  For one, it could take the shape of a permanent, four-game annual rivalry between two teams.  If the situation were to arise, an example would be Duke-North Carolina.  The other possiblity is to have the two games split between two teams, either in the form of permanent rivalries and/or on a rotating basis amongst divisional opponents.

With any relegation-and-promotion system, there will be the issue of rivals that play in different tiers.  This is compounded by the fact that not all rivals are necessarily located in the same region.  A safeguard to help with the maintenance of these rivalries would to have them registered with the NCAA.  If a rivalry is registered, then the teams are required to play each other in a regular season game, excluding cup competitions.  Rivalries do not always have to be between just two teams; an example of a multi-team rivalry would be the Philadelphia Big 5 rivalry with Pennsylvania, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova.

There would also be two cup competitions: one styled after England’s FA Cup, and the other similar to the UEFA Champions League.  The FA Cup-style tournament be a single-elimination cup competition, starting at the very beginning of the season with Teams No. 344 and 345, as ranked by the three-year Neutralized Points average, facing off at Team No. 344’s stadium.  Teams would gradually be added round-by-round, with the last byes entering in the Round of 64.  Games would be held with one round each week at the higher seed’s home court.  Teams would be unable to schedule games where it would be possible for them to play a Cup game and a regular season game on the same day or schedule a game on the day before a potential cup game.  (Cup games would be scheduled in order to allow to teams to accommodate two total games each week.)  The champion would receive an automatic bye into the group stage of the Champions League-style tournament.

The Champions League-style tournament would have 80 teams, selected by performance in their league.  For the actual Champions League, each nation’s system is ranked by a numerical coefficient based on success in European competition.  The qualifiers would be determined by a similar method.  Furthermore, the defending champions and the Cup winner would receive automatic byes into the group stage (bear with me).

It would start with 32 teams playing home-and-homes to qualify for a group stage.  These would take place on either a Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday schedule.  For the 48 teams that are already safely in the group stage, it would be an off week.

Then, each team would be seeded 1-4.  A publically televised draw would determine 16 groups of 4.  No two teams from the same conference could participate in the same group.  Each No. 1 seed would host their group in either a three-game group stage or a double-elimination tourney.  (I would imagine that the latter would be easier to schedule since you know that there will be one or two games per group every day.)  Either way. the group stage would take place over a single weekend, preferably during either spring break or a holiday weekend to minimize lost class time.  The winners of each group would advance to the knockout stage.

There would be another draw selecting the eight matchups for the knockout stage.  Each round would be a home-and-home determined by aggregate points.  An five or ten-(I prefer ten) minute overtime would settle any ties.  I propose that there should be a rule that if the two games are split, then the aggregate total must be greater than the margin of victory in the game the aggregate loser lost in order to prevent overtime.  In other words, I believe that if one team wins the first game by 21 and the other team wins the second game by 13, an overtime period should still be played because 13 (the lower scoring team’s margin of victory) is greater than 8 (the difference in aggregate scores).  I believe that this might help competitive balance.  Of course, it’s also a harebrained idea (like so many of my other ideas).  The final would still be a home-and-home as well as every stage in my ideal dream world, although preserving the Final Four may just be a must.  The winner of this Champions League-style tournament would be the true NCAA champion.

Thank you for reading this post.  I would like to thank Uncle Popov’s Drunken Sports Rant ( and fetch9 from Rock Chalk Talk, a Kansas Jayhawks fansite ( for ideas on the points system and the European-style tournaments, respectively.  (I understand that fetch9’s ideas were also inspired by others, but still.)  Although I have never communicated with either of them, I would like to say that I appreciate their ideas.  Please comment with your opinions.

P.S. This article was the cause of a blogging rut and the corresponding gap between my posts.  Sorry about that.


19 thoughts on “Proposals for How a Relegation-and-Promotion System in College Basketball Might Work

  1. Two things, first, I think this might be a little bit complicated. This would be a reason to say no way in hell if it wasn’t for the BCS. Secondly, I have a question. Are you saying that this should be used for all sports or just basketball and baseball, because this would be further complicated by sports like lacrosse and hockey that are strongly regional, even at the collegiate level.

    • First of all, thank you very much for visiting my blog. I’m curious as to how you found out about it-I’m always up for finding new viewers.

      As to your questions, here goes. Your remark about it being complicated is something I completely understand. I have a certain…knack for confounding just about everything. Again, these are all proposals: the system as a whole can work if any individual idea is cut out, except for the one about regionalization.

      Second of all, this proposal was only meant to cover basketball. This article was a follow-up to one I wrote two weeks ago with a more general scope covering the NCAA as a whole. Sports like lacrosse and hockey which have fewer teams or a more regional popularity would only have one or two regions. Furthermore, particularly violent sports, such as football, would not have the FA Cup-style competition. The idea is that each sport would branch off of this basketball one in ways that are appropriate concerning the sport as a whole and its fanbase. Thank you very much.

      • Found it-I think I just saw it searching on “Freshly Pressed” for sports. Starting with basketball and branching out makes sense. Basketball is the sport that really almost every college has, because it’s a small team and not a crazy amount of contact. The idea of having fewer regions for sports like hockey and lacrosse does make sense, it’s the only way that really does make sense. Finally, the no-FA Cup-style for football, also makes sense, as there are too many teams and too much contact for that to be able to happen.

      • Thanks for responding. I really appreciate it that you came to my blog and took the time to read my articles. I watched the second half of the Maryland-Duke game myself, and it was pretty cool.

        One of the benchmarks that I would use to determine if sports use the FA Cup-style tournament would be the number of games their pro counterparts play. For example, lacrosse’s two leagues combined have a twenty-two game regular season. The sport could have an eight-team Champions League with two four-team groups play a round-robin, with the champions playing in the final. Then, a FA Cup-style tourney could include all or almost all of the sixty-odd teams.

      • I checked, the NLL and MLL combined is 30 (16 and 14), not 22. I don’t think it’s fair to combine the two leagues for the amount of games, as many players only play in one, and they play two different types of lacrosse. But I do think the same amount of games as professional is a good idea, except that most leagues play every other team twice (Pro Soccer, NLL, MLL) or certain teams twice, and some once (NFL), so that could be problematic if a league expands, especially the NLL and MLL, because that expansion would be rapid.

      • Sorry about that. I don’t follow lacrosse that much; I used it because I went on your blog and saw that you enjoyed it. I combined the two seasons because I realized that some do play both. Personally, I don’t believe that the lack of a round-robin status is a big deal. Again, the games requirement is used to gauge the physicallity of the sport and how frequently it can be played as opposed to who should play whom (or is it whom should play whom?). Again, rivalries make sure that all of the Duke-North Carolina, Ohio St.-Michigan games get played. Am I missing something here?

      • Thanks. I’ve really enjoyed all this back and forth. Have you read any of my other articles? I like to know what people have read while checking through my archives.

  2. I also have two proposals for teams wanting to join Division I. One is that this would occur as normal, and the lower divisions simply wouldn’t have the same system. The other proposal is that each division has its own regions as necessary for its team make-up, and have the top team in the top tier “run” against the worst team in the higher division’s regional. Each team in the two divisions would have one vote; loser plays in the lower division. This is similar to how they would do it for teams entering The Football League (tiers 1-4) in English soccer (excuse me, football). I can’t believe I forgot to mention this in the actual article. Sorry about that.

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