Protected rivalries on divisions, pods


While reports surfaced earlier this year that the Big 12 was considering splitting the conference into divisions once new members come on board, the Big 10 and the SEC are apparently considering going the other way. meaning to look more like the current undivided Big 12.

Although splits have obvious advantages, especially when it comes to scheduling issues; however, the argument against splits is easy to make: splits often mean that the top two teams in the conference don’t play in the championship game because the top two teams are in the same division. For proof, just look at the Big 10, where the West beat the East in the conference championship.


When the Big 12 shrunk to ten members, it made lemonade by adopting a round-robin format and scrapping the old North/South splits. The North/South divide had never worked so well. People often cite the years when the South dominated the Big 12, but the North also had its turn as the dominant division in the early years of the conference when Nebraska and K-State were the top 10 teams every season. .

Once the NCAA allowed conferences with only ten members to play a conference championship game, the round-robin format worked extremely well for the Big 12 as the lack of divisions meant the top two teams in the league made the title match every year.


While a non-split round robin conference makes perfect sense from a planning standpoint, the situation becomes more complicated when the league expands to 12, 14, or even 16 teams. While there is certainly great merit in ensuring the top two teams in the league play in the conference championship, planning becomes a headache.

An advantage of divisions is that they can be organized for geographic convenience. No sensible divisional format would have BYU and UCF in the same division, which saves these two from having annual games against each other. Additionally, no reasonable divisional format would separate West Virginia and Cincinnati, as each is the other’s closest conference rival.

However, divisions are not necessary to protect regional rivalries and reduce the frequency of long journeys. Two options outside of divisions are to have protected rivalries and move to a pod system.


Protected rivalries have great advantages because the numbers don’t need to be even. In other words, a team can only have two protected rivalries while its neighbor can have four or more. This is important to ensure that each team plays their two closest rivals.

In a pod system, three or four teams are grouped together in a mini-division. This solves some geography and planning problems, but creates others.

For example, consider the fate of the two furthest members of the new Big 12, UCF and BYU.

UCF’s two closest Big 12 rivals are WVU and Cincinnati. The BYUs are Texas Tech and K-State. While a three-team pool of UCF, Cinci, and WVU makes sense, who would be the fourth team if the league wanted four-team pools? Any team you add to this group would be cut off from much closer rivals.

Then there is the case of BYU. While the Cougars’ closest road rivals are Texas Tech and K-State, K-State and Tech aren’t close to each other. Tech is much closer to TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State than K-State. K-State is much closer to Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State than Tech.

In other words, with a conference spanning three time zones, what makes life easier for one team could threaten to shatter long-standing regional rivalries for another.


As noted above, BYU’s closest road rivalries are Texas Tech and K-State. However, the kilometers traveled are still so great that road trips would not be very practical. Most BYU fans would need to fly to catch a game in Lubbock or Manhattan.

However, flying to Lubbock would require flying from Salt Lake City to Phoenix (PHX) or Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and changing flights. Likewise, to get to Manhattan, KS, BYU fans should head to DFW first. This means TCU in Fort Worth is BYU’s closest air rival, and flying directly to Houston is roughly equivalent to flying to DFW from Salt Lake City. Instead of Texas Tech and K-State, BYU may well prefer to have protected rivalries with TCU and Houston. Or maybe Kansas should be considered?

Flights from Salt Lake City to Kansas City (KCI) are plentiful, but getting to a game in Kansas would still require renting a car from KCI and then driving about 45 minutes to an hour to get to Lawrence. However, since getting around Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth also requires rental cars and long drives (and through incredible traffic), perhaps a 45-minute drive through suburban KC isn’t that bad.

Meanwhile, flights to games at Baylor, Texas Tech and K-State would require two flights. The games at Oklahoma State could require three flights. Games at Iowa State could also require a flight to DFW and include long layovers.

So, for some teams, road rivalries are the core of the matter while it is aerial rivalries for others, and aerial rivalries are not so easy to sort out.


The next concern is how many rivalries to protect. Some teams will end up with more protected rivalries than others, and that’s fine, but what should the minimum be per team? My first thought was two, but that doesn’t do much to shape the conference or limit games between teams to two time zones.

What if we made each team a division unto itself, protecting a minimum of five rivalries for each team? This would allow every team with real road rivalries to play all of those games while ensuring that teams with no real road rivals get the best air rivalry games each season.


For simplicity, this plan focuses on the league after Oklahoma and Texas leave; however, since the two departing schools may still be in the league when new members join, they are bracketed as additional short-term protected rivalries.

As a benefit for new members, each gets a short-term protected rivalry with either Oklahoma or Texas.

Due to their proximity to major airline hubs, Houston, Kansas and TCU find themselves with six long-term protected rivalries.

Baylor: BYU, Houston, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, (Texas)

BYU: Baylor, Houston, Kansas, TCU, Texas Tech, (Oklahoma)

Cincinnati: Houston, Iowa State, TCU, UCF, WVU, (Oklahoma)

Houston: Baylor, Cinci, BYU, TCU, Texas Tech, UCF, (Texas),

Iowa State: Cinci, Kansas, K State, Oklahoma State, WVU, (Oklahoma)

Kansas: BYU, Iowa State, K State, Oklahoma State, UCF, WVU

State K: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, TCU, West Virginia (Oklahoma)

(Oklahoma): BYU, Cinci, Iowa State, K-State, Oklahoma State, (Texas),

Oklahoma State: Iowa State, Kansas, State K, TCU, Texas Tech, (Oklahoma)

TCU: Baylor, Cinci, Houston, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, UCF (Texas)

(Texas): Baylor, Houston, TCU, Texas Tech, UCF, (Oklahoma)

Texas Tech: Baylor, BYU, Houston, Oklahoma State, TCU, (Texas)

UCF: Cinci, Houston, Kansas, TCU, WVU (Texas)

West Virginia: Cinci, Iowa State, Kansas, K-State, UCF


Whether the Big 12 continues to play nine conference games or cuts to eight, the rest of the schedule becomes pretty easy. BYU, for example, would rotate between home and home games with Cinci, Iowa State, K-State, Oklahoma State, UCF and WVU every four or six years to fill its remaining schedule.

Houston, Kansas and TCU would have less variety in their schedules, but they would have the advantage of a longer-term rival. If the unequal number of protected rivalries creates problems in the long-term schedule, the number could simply be equalized once Oklahoma and Texas leave so that each team has the same number of protected rivalries.


No, of course it’s not perfect, but a perfect solution is probably not forthcoming. Divisions create inequities within the league, and figuring out divisions to alleviate geographic headaches is always problematic.

With protected rivalries, each team can be treated as the center of its own universe while preparing the Big 12 to feature the top two teams in the conference championship each season.


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