Bill Connelly has written a few great pieces about what the college football conference landscape would look like if the NCAA adopted a relegation system. Those of you who follow soccer know that a relegation system involves various tiers or levels of leagues. The last place team in the Premiere League for example, gets "relegated" to a lower league while the top team in the lower league gets "promoted" to the Premiere League. In attempting to apply this system to the NCAA, Connelly devised the following "Tiers":
ACC Tiers: 1. ACC, 2. Big East, 3. Atlantic 10 (which eventually became Colonial), 4. Patriot
Big 12 Tiers: 1. Big 12, 2. Conference USA, 3. Southland, 4. Pioneer & Great West
Big Ten Tiers: 1. Big Ten, 2. MAC, 3. Missouri Valley, 4. Ohio Valley & Northeast
SEC Tiers: 1. SEC, 2. Sun Belt, 3. Southern, 4. Big South
Pac 10 Tiers: 1. Pac 10, 2. Mountain West, 3. WAC, 4. Big Sky
So in this hypothetical system, a Conference-USA Championship would not only mean bragging rights and a good bowl, it would mean membership for at least a year in the Big 12. Finishing last in C-USA would mean getting "relegated" to the Southland. Connelly simulates how relegation would have hypothetically panned out had the system been adopted in 2005. In the simulation Tulsa gets promoted to the Big 12 after the 2005 season and is able to maintain membership for some time. Mike Price's middle of the road tenure at UTEP ensures the Miners are stuck in C-USA for a while, and New Mexico and New Mexico State drop all the way to the Big Sky.
This system would have prevented all the conference shuffling that started in 2005. If Boise State wanted to compete in a BCS conference, all they would have to do is win the WAC, then win the Mountain West. I like it because it puts each program's fate squarely in its own hands. However, the realities of the college football landscape make something like this entirely impossible. Why would any member of a power conference agree to a system where they could potentially fall from the SEC to the Southern Conference, the Big 12 to the Southland, or the Big Ten to the Ohio Valley? Aside from exposure and eligibility to compete for a National Championship, there is really not that much incentive for schools playing at the top level. Not to mention all the complications with scheduling, recruiting, membership in other sports, and facilities. Great food for thought though.