Saturday, November 24, 2018

Rethinking the Bowl Games

Yesterday, I outlined my plan for realigning the FBS level of college football. One aspect that I neglected to address is the postseason bowl games. Under this new alignment system, the bowls currently designated as the New Year's Six bowls would now serve as the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the playoff, on a rotating basis. Higher-seeded schools would get first choice in terms of site selection for these rounds. The final would not be a bowl game but would remain as a designated national championship game. These playoff bowls are as follows:

Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA
Sugar Bowl - New Orleans, LA
Orange Bowl - Miami Gardens, FL
Cotton Bowl - Arlington, TX
Peach Bowl - Atlanta, GA
Fiesta Bowl - Glendale, AZ

Additionally, there would be 16 other bowl games that would not be part of the playoff. This would be a significant reduction in the number of bowl games, reflecting the reduction in the size of FBS. Bowl eligibility would still be determined by overall record. All of these bowl games would be played south of the 36th parallel, primarily in larger cities. Corporate naming rights for bowl games would be prohibited. The list of these bowls is as follows:

Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX
Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, FL
Oil Bowl - Houston, TX
Raisin Bowl - Fresno, CA
Alamo Bowl - San Antonio, TX
Holiday Bowl - San Diego, CA
Tangerine Bowl - Orlando, FL
Liberty Bowl - Memphis, TN
Dixie Bowl - Birmingham, AL
Independence Bowl - Shreveport, LA
Aloha Bowl - Honolulu, HI
Gasparilla Bowl - Tampa, FL
Copper Bowl - Tucson, AZ
Las Vegas Bowl - Las Vegas, NV
Music City Bowl - Nashville, TN
Queen City Bowl - Charlotte, NC

Friday, November 23, 2018

The (Almost) Perfect NCAA FBS Realignment Plan

In today's college football landscape, the trend is toward increasingly consolidated superconferences. For instance, the last wave of realignment led to the expansion of the Big Ten, ACC, and SEC to 14 teams each, while the Pac-10 expanded to 12 and was renamed the Pac-12. These moves mostly came at the expense of the Big 12, which contracted to 10 teams, and the Big East, which split into a basketball conference and a football conference (the current American Athletic Conference). When the next wave of realignment comes (likely in the 2020s), it is quite possible that the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 expand to 16 teams each, with the Big 12 possibly ceasing to exist altogether.

It is understandable why the so-called "power" conferences want to expand: more programs means more television markets, which in turn means greater television revenue. As just one example, how else could we explain the Big Ten's addition of Rutgers other than the desire of the Big Ten to expand into the New York City television market?

Whatever benefits the conferences and individual programs may accrue from these trends, I would argue that college football as a whole is negatively affected. Conference expansion has broken up traditional regional conference rivalries. Expansion has also necessitated the creation of divisions within conferences, leading to unbalanced conference schedules and lopsided outcomes in conference championship games. The concentration of the strongest programs in just a handful of conferences means that most games at the FBS level have little if any meaning in terms of determining a national champion.

On the other hand, one of the more positive recent trends in college football has been the creation of the four team College Football Playoff (CFP) to replace the old top-two BCS system for determining a national champion. The BCS itself replaced a system in which there was no national championship game at all and champions were determined purely through the highly subjective polls. However, the new CFP system still has glaring issues - at least one Power Five conference champion will not have a chance to play for a national championship in any given year, while it's still nearly impossible for a Group of Five school to make it in at all (as we saw happen to an undefeated UCF team last year). Even a potential expansion of the playoff to eight teams would not fully resolve the issues with the system - consider how much subjectivity would still go into determining the two at-large spots under that hypothetical scenario.

With these points in mind, I set out to completely revamp the FBS level of NCAA college football. The system I devised would be fairly simple: there would now be eight 10-team conferences, with the winner of each conference getting an automatic bid to an eight team playoff to determine the national championship. Each team would play a single round-robin against the other nine teams in its conference during the regular season, and the team with the best conference record would be named the conference champion. (Ties would be broken by head-to-head record.) No conference would be divided into divisions, and no conference championship games would be played. Subjective rankings would be used only to determine the seeds for the playoff. Even with the addition of an extra playoff round, teams would still only play a maximum of 15 games in a season due to the elimination of the conference championships. In addition to the nine conference games, teams would schedule three non-conference games, including a maximum of one game against an FCS opponent. With the contraction of the FBS from 130 to 80 programs, the other 50 programs (all of them Group of Five schools) would be dropped down to the FCS.

The conference alignment system I've created is based on historical conference affiliations, rivalries, geography, and program strength. The new conferences are summarized as follows.

Big East Conference
Rutgers, Temple, Penn State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia, South Florida, UCF

The six italicized programs played in the Big East at some point in its history. Additionally, UCF currently plays in the American, the Big East's successor. Penn State sought to join the Big East in the 1980s when it was a basketball-only conference, but was rejected. Had it joined and then became a founding football member in the 1990s, the Big East may well have survived as a football conference. Maryland and Virginia have been cited as schools that may have followed Penn State into the Big East. There are a number of great intrastate rivalries here, including UCF-USF, Virginia-Virginia Tech, and Pitt-Penn State, as well as interstate rivalries like Pitt-West Virignia.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State, Miami

The eight italicized programs currently play in the ACC. South Carolina was a founding member of the ACC; rejoining the conference would make Clemson-South Carolina a conference game again. Florida would join in-state rivals Florida State and Miami, while the four North Carolina schools are able to maintain their rivalries.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)
Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia

The eight italicized programs currently play in the SEC. Louisville joins in-state rival Kentucky, while Memphis is given the opportunity to build rivalries with Tennessee and Vanderbilt and play in conference with rival Ole Miss. Great intrastate rivalries like Auburn-Alabama and Ole Miss-Mississippi State are preserved, along with interstate rivalries like Alabama-Georgia.

Big Ten Conference
Ohio State, Cincinnati, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa

The nine italicized programs currently play in the Big Ten. The only new face is Cincinnati, which would be given the chance to build an in-state rivalry with Ohio State. A number of great interstate and intrastate rivalries are preserved, including Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan-Michigan State, and Minnesota-Wisconsin.

Big Eight Conference
Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Arkansas

The eight italicized programs were the original members of the Big Eight Conference. Tulsa would now be in conference with in-state rival Oklahoma State, while Arkansas could continue to build its rivalry with Missouri. Rivalries like Colorado-Nebraska and Missouri-Kansas are restored as conference games, while in-state rivalries are maintained in Kansas-Kansas State and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State.

Southwest Conference (SWC)
Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston, Baylor, Rice, SMU, TCU, LSU, Tulane

The eight italicized programs were members of the original SWC. Bringing these eight Texas schools back together in the same conference would restore a number of in-state rivalries, including Houston-Rice, SMU-TCU, and Texas-Texas A&M. LSU-Tulane is also restored as a conference rivalry, while LSU would be able to maintain its rivalry with Texas A&M.

Pacific-10 Conference (Pac-10)
Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Boise State

The nine italicized programs are current members of the Pac-12. Boise State would finally be given the opportunity to play in a major conference. A number of in-state rivalries are preserved, including Washington-Washington State, Oregon-Oregon State, Cal-UCLA, and Arizona-Arizona State.

American Conference
USC, Stanford, BYU, Air Force, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Navy, Army, Syracuse, Boston College

This conference is no relation to the current American Athletic Conference. Instead, it is loosely based on the proposed "Airplane Conference" of 1959; the six italicized programs were part of that plan. This conference would bring the three service academies together in conference, as well as the seven private FBS schools of the west and north. Notre Dame, a long-time independent, would now have conference games against a number of its rivals, including Army, Navy, USC, Stanford, Northwestern, and Boston College. Meanwhile, Syracuse-Boston College and USC-Stanford are maintained as conference games. BYU, another large religious school and long-time independent, rounds out the conference nicely.

Overall, I believe this alignment would be a massive improvement over the current system. It would restore the geographic basis for conferences, bring back a number of historic conference rivalries, and potentially even create new rivalries. Having smaller conferences would reduce the concentration of the strongest programs in just a few conferences, bringing a degree of parity back to the college football landscape. Current Group of Five schools like Boise State and UCF would now have a legitimate chance to compete for a national title. Above all, conference championships would be given greater priority than subjective ranking systems, as winning the conference would give a program a bid in the playoff automatically - in other words, win and you're in. While it's highly unlikely that such an arrangement would ever actually come to pass, one can dream, right?

Monday, July 16, 2018

2018 First-Half MLB WAR-Stars

The following are mock MLB All Star rosters created based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Players in bold were selected to this year's roster.

American League:
C: Wilson Ramos, TBR – 2.4
C: Austin Romine, NYY – 1.4
1B: Matt Olson, OAK – 2.5
1B: Justin Smoak, TOR – 2.2
2B: Jose Altuve, HOU – 4.4
2B: Jed Lowrie, OAK – 3.5
SS: Francisco Lindor, CLE – 5.5
SS: Andrelton Simmons, LAA – 4.6
3B: Jose Ramirez, CLE – 6.6
3B: Alex Bregman, HOU – 4.8
OF: Mike Trout, LAA – 6.8
OF: Mookie Betts, BOS – 6.3
OF: Aaron Judge, NYY – 5.0
OF: Eddie Rosario, MIN – 4.3
OF: Mitch Haniger, SEA – 3.5
OF: Andrew Benintendi, BOS – 2.9
DH: J.D. Martinez, BOS – 4.3
DH: Shin-Soo Choo, TEX – 3.3
Bench: Manny Machado, BAL – 2.9
Bench: Whit Merrifield, KCR – 2.8
SP: Chris Sale, BOS – 5.6
SP: Luis Severino, NYY – 4.9
SP: Trevor Bauer, CLE – 4.5
SP: Corey Kluber, CLE – 4.3
SP: Blake Snell, TBR – 4.1
RP: Craig Kimbrel, BOS – 2.3
RP: Blake Treinen, OAK – 2.3
RP: Lou Trivino, OAK – 2.2
Pitcher: Justin Verlander, HOU – 3.8
Pitcher: Gerrit Cole, HOU – 3.2
Pitcher: Mike Fiers, DET – 2.3
Pitcher: Reynaldo Lopez, CHW – 1.7

National League:
C: J.T. Realmuto, MIA – 3.8
C: Wilson Contreras, CHC – 2.7
1B: Freddie Freeman, ATL – 3.9
1B: Paul Goldschmidt, ARI – 3.2
2B: Javier Baez, CHC – 3.7
2B: Ozzie Albies, ATL – 3.4
SS: Trevor Story, COL – 2.9
SS: Brandon Crawford, SFG – 2.9
3B: Nolan Arenado, COL – 3.8
3B: Eugenio Suarez, CIN – 3.6
OF: Lorenzo Cain, MIL – 4.4
OF: Nick Markakis, ATL – 3.1
OF: Brian Anderson, MIA – 2.8
OF: Starling Marte, PIT – 2.7
OF: Christian Yelich, MIL – 2.5
OF: Harrison Bader, STL – 2.5
Bench: Matt Carpenter, STL – 3.5
Bench: Brandon Belt, SFG – 3.1
Bench: Scooter Gennett, CIN – 3.1
Bench: Max Muncy, LAD – 3.0
SP: Jacob deGrom, NYM – 6.0
SP: Aaron Nola, PHI – 5.9
SP: Max Scherzer, WSN – 4.9
SP: Kyle Freeland, COL – 4.6
SP: Tyler Anderson, COL – 3.7
RP: Adam Ottavino, COL – 2.4
RP: Jared Hughes, CIN – 2.3
RP: Sean Doolittle, WSN – 2.1
Pitcher: Ross Stripling, LAD – 3.2
Pitcher: Jon Lester, CHC – 2.8
Pitcher: Miles Mikolas, STL – 2.8
Pitcher: Kirby Yates, SDP – 1.5