The Four Steps to Fairness in College Football Scheduling

By Amy Daughters -

Want to fix the glaring inequality in college football scheduling?

Though there are a thousand ways to complicate the issue, the answer is simple: Make everybody play by the same rules.

To illustrate, let’s compare Baylor’s 2015 slate with that of Georgia Tech and Arizona State, all three teams that will likely be featured in the preseason Top 25 rankings.

Baylor will play nine Big 12 games and three opponents out of conference. The non-league slate is at SMU, FCS Lamar, and Rice. The Big 12 schedule is Texas Tech (in Arlington), at Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, at K-State, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU and Texas.

Georgia Tech is set to play six ACC Coastal games, two cross-division ACC Atlantic games, three games out of conference and then a match with quasi-ACC member Notre Dame. Non-conference: FCS Alcorn State, Tulane, and Georgia. ACC Coastal: at Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, and at Miami (Fla.). ACC Atlantic: at Clemson, and Florida State. Other: at Notre Dame.

Arizona State will play five Pac-12 South games, four cross-division Pac-12 North games and three games out of conference. Non-conference: Texas A&M (in Houston), FCS Cal Poly, and New Mexico. Pac-12 South: USC, at UCLA, Colorado, at Utah, and Arizona. Pac-12 North: Oregon, at Washington State, Washington, and at Cal.

Here are a few top-line observations:

  • Baylor won’t play a non-conference game vs. a Power-Five team while Georgia Tech plays Georgia and Notre Dame and Arizona State plays Texas A&M.
  • While Baylor and Arizona State will both play nine conference games, the Bears will play every other Big 12 team while the Sun Devils will play everybody in the Pac-12 except for Stanford and Oregon State.
  • Georgia Tech plays only eight ACC games, leaving Boston College, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest off the table.
  • While Arizona State draws Oregon, Washington State, Washington, and Cal from the Pac-12 North, fellow South member USC also gets the Ducks, Huskies, and Golden Bears but adds Stanford in place of Washington State.
  • While Georgia Tech draws Clemson and Florida State from the ACC Atlantic, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech gets NC State and Boston College.

You get the picture: Comparing schedules is messy. And we’re only looking at three teams from three Power conferences.

Here’s the simplified solution:

Everybody Plays the Same Number of Conference Games

First things first, every team should be playing the same number of league opponents. If not, teams that play eight have an advantage over those teams that play nine.

Think about it, if Ohio State plays eight Big Ten games then it has four non-conference games to play with. In 2015 that means Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan.

Compare that to Oklahoma, which will play nine Big 12 games, leaving only three non-league games: Akron, Tennessee, and Tulsa.

So while both clubs have Power-Five opponents out of conference, the Buckeyes gain an extra win with the additional, built-in non-power game. The Sooners, on the other hand, have a better chance of picking up an additional loss vs. a power team from its own league.

Ideally, the number of conference games should be nine, across the board. This also means that every team would be required to play three non-conference games.

Everybody Plays the Same Level of Non-Conference Games

The next logical move is to regulate who the three non-league games are played against.

First, it’s time to drop the practice of scheduling FCS opponents. With 128 FBS members, 63 that aren’t Power-Five teams, it’s unnecessary. Plus, it creates an unfair advantage for those teams that have an FCS program on their schedule annually.

Next, require all Power teams play at least one non-league game against a Power-Five team. It’s a rule that’s already on the books in the SEC and ACC, now it’s time for the rest of the country to fall in line.

That leaves the remaining two non-conference games open for non-Power opponents from the American, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC or Sun Belt or, an additional Power-Five foe.

In reality, this is the part of the schedule that can’t ever truly be equalized.

First, there is no way to regulate the strength of an opponent being scheduled (think Kansas vs. Michigan State), because Power Fives must be treated as apples vs. apples. Next, programs can’t control how good, or bad, an opponent is once the game finally rolls around. In other words, if Virginia Tech is on the schedule five years from now, who knows how good the Hokies will be by then?

Lastly, there are similar issues with scheduling non-Power teams: Programs can choose to play high-achieving non-Power teams like Boise State or Cincinnati, or instead opt for the San Jose State’s or Tulane’s—programs that aren’t “not good” but instead overmatched and out-funded.

Everybody Plays Everybody Else in the Division/Conference

This is the one piece of the puzzle that the shrunken-down Big 12 has inadvertently gotten right: To make things fair every team in a conference or division must play every other team.

It means that either the number of teams in a league should be limited to where this can happen, or a division should be grown until it can field an entire conference schedule.

This makes the question of whether to have one division, two divisions or no divisions mute. It also erases the inequality caused by cross-division scheduling and permanent cross-division rivals.

In other words, LSU doesn’t get screwed by having to play Florida each-and-every year, while Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt.

For this to work, given the nine-league game requirement, each conference, or division would need to consist of 10 members. This way, the entire league schedule would be made up by games with every other member. Cross-division games would go away completely.

The net effect would be the two ACC divisions adding three members each, the Big Ten three each, the Pac-12 four each and the SEC three each.

As for the Big 12, it could stay the same or face super-expansion.

Getting there would mean either melding a couple of the Power conferences together, eliminating one all together and sharing its members, or pulling teams up from non-Power leagues. Either way, it’s a win-win for those upper-crust programs that don’t have a Power-conference home.

What’s most logical is the creation of four Power leagues with 20 members each. This would increase Power membership from 65 to 80 teams, a group that could make up the new “highest” level of college football.

This scheme would not only give 15 additional teams access to the Playoff bracket, it would simplify the selection process: Four champions to automatically fill four Playoff slots. The committee just decides who plays who in the semifinal games.

The potential cost is sacrificing significant rivalry games that are protected by the permanent cross-division rivalry scheme. The solution is simple: Shuffle the divisions until the teams are aligned to protect the rivalries.

It’s worth it.

Everybody Plays a Conference Championship Game

To eliminate last season’s Playoff bracket conundrum, “Is the winner of a conference championship game more worthy of a spot than a team that won its league by playing every other member?” every league must be required to host a title game.

If the conference has no divisions, the two best teams meet again at the end of the season for what becomes an uncontested title.

If the conference has two divisions, the best team from each faction plays for all the marbles. Under the new regime, with two huge divisions, now it’s the only way the two division winners could ever possibly meet in the regular season.

That is, unless a cross-division game was played under the auspices of a non-conference game. It’s a scenario that already has precedent via a future Wake Forest-North Carolina game being classified as a non-ACC game.

The looming question with this requirement is what to do with the independent teams. Though this extends to BYU and Army, Notre Dame is always the primary concern.

The simple answer is: No more independent teams. Notre Dame joins the ACC as a full-football member, BYU finds a Power-Five home and Army, well, it joins a conference that will welcome it and its storied history.

It comes down to equality trumping tradition, meaning no one team is more important than the others.

Somehow, we’ve been bamboozled into believing that if Notre Dame wins 11-12 games, it, because it is Notre Dame, doesn’t have to win a conference, or play a regulated schedule to compete for a national championship.

It’s wrong, plain and simple. And that’s true whether you love the Irish, or hate them.

Enforcing the Changes

How do we get teams to buy in to the new scheme?

Again, it’s simple, if not harsh: Limit CFB Playoff slots to teams from conferences that abide by the amended “Scheduling Code.”

Amy Daughters is a contributor to

Comments (36)

I hope these changes never happen, if they do it means amateurism has been entirely rejected and college football has officially become a set of football minor leagues.

What are you even talking about? I can understand if you think that this article suggests too many rules, but at the very least, adding some consistency to scheduling for the power 5 teams (and/or any team that seriously would like a chance at making the playoff) would just make sense. Not only would it help to make comparisons, if not apples to apples, at least apples to pears instead of comparing apples to salmon like they have to now when it comes to rankings and the playoff… but it also would be better for fans! Why would Baylor fans even want to watch 3 of their games with a schedule like that… much less pay for tickets? Big match ups are good for fans and for the sport! And more even scheduled are better for figuring out the playoffs!

That really has nothing to do with amateurism.

I like it (but I’m not a fan of a P5 league so maybe that’s why). I’m not sure how these changes to scheduling would mean “amateurism has been entirely rejected”.

I find many of your example dubious. It’s funny you use OSU as an example on 8 game conf schedule neglecting to mention the fact the B10 is in the last year of that and will be going to 9 in 2016. You also praise. laughable the SEC and ACC for having a rule to play P5 OOC. You do know that the SEC plays the least P5 OOC and lowest % of OOC’s, They made the rule b/c they have a lot of dodgers in their conf…look at SEC West last year…4 of the 7 played no P5’s OOC. They also made the rule b/c they are cowards and don’t want to play 9 conf games b/c they know playing 8 while B10, B12, P12 play 9 gives a statistical advantage.

The part about everybody plays everybody is illogical and completely ludicrous with 3 conf already with 14 teams. A much more logical way for 14 team conf to schedule is what the B10 will do starting in 2016, 9 games with no permanent cross overs. The ACC and SEC are scared to go to 9 games and why is mentioned earlier. Also, btw the B1 model alleviated your example in the SEC of having a hard permanent cross over vs an easy won traditionally. It also would alleviate the asinine scheduling of ACC and SEC of 6-1-1 format with 14 teams which means you play 6 conf members just twice over 12 years. Btw, 20 team conference is silly…14 teams requires 9 games conf schedule. 16 teams would require 10 conf games. The talk of 16 is overblown IMO b/c frankly their are not enough teams that add value(markets, tv money, conf network money) to the current 14 team conferences, The reason the b12 survived is b/c nobody wanted any of their teams besides OU and TX, the rest didn’t add enough value to prevent the solid P5’s SEC, B10, P12 from taking a revenue cut. The B12 schools realizing they would be orphans in a mid major like the AAC circled the wagons.

Conf scheduling should be:
1)9 games mandatory
2)no permanent cross overs
3)no FCS games
4)atleast 1 P5 OOC
5)conf champ game for all conf with 12 or more members…the B12 talk about getting a conf champ game is stupid, they already have a tie breaker, and all play the same conf schedule b/c they only have 10 teams

Leave it alone. The diversity is what makes it interesting. Otherwise it’s a pro league.
However, drop cross-divisional locked rivals that aren’t historic rivals. For example, Auburn-Georgia should stay. Florida-LSU, not so much. The only interesting idea out of the proposal I see is this: Divisional standing could matter more if every league had 16 teams in two divisions. Your 7 divisional games would matter for placement in winning your division. Cross-divisional games would fill out 3 more games but not count to win your division, only break three-or-more-way ties. Then everyone has 10 league games. Then who you play with the other 2 could be one P5, and one G5. That keeps the various SEC-ACC games, etc.

Money makes this impossible.

First he SEC-ACC in state rivalry games are not going away: Louisville-Kentucky, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina. These schools still schedule OOC games with P5 schools beyond these traditional games. And they all want 7 home games since that extra home game means an extra $3-12m (depending on the school) in revenue. A “balanced and fair” schedule would cost them a lot of money.

Which brings up the question, who exactly is going to pay Ohio State $12m to sacrifice a home game and play a road game at Baylor for this balanced schedule you want?

Another point is Baylor’s decision not to play any P5 opponents out of conference, while Oklahoma, Texas, and Iowa State always do is their own fault. The game is not about equality but about each being free to make their own choice. The market, which is the form of the selection committee, determines the value of those choices. Those who choose well and do well are rewarded, those who don’t are not. This is a necessary process to continually improve the product.

Step back and look at what has happened. A couple decades ago the SEC played all of 6 conference games. Schools would load up with “traditional rivals” like Tulane always visiting LSU, along with three or four other patsies, so these schools could play 7 of 11 games at home, and all rack up 8-10 wins every year. Now they have to play 8 of 12 games against SEC schools, and the need to keep top rankings forced the conference to put in a 8th P5 opponent requirement, and several of their schools now play 10 P5 opponents. In fact the average for the entire P5 is nearly 10 of 12 games against P5 schools.

This all happened in the open market, responding to monetary pressures, and without any central authority. If anything the NCAA has weakened and the CFA, which is now the for all intents and purposes the P5 group, does what it wants. CCG is about to be deregulated because the P5 wants more freedom to adjust to the market.

What you are calling for is a Statist system. A central authority, a czar to decide things and override the hidden hand of the market. This is a horrible bureaucratic concept, picking winners and socialist engineering. It is based on the concept of static value and zero sum. Who is the person picking these winners? Who is smarter than the colleges themselves, given those who pick right win, those who pick wrong lose. Darwin is at work, and it is giving us more and better match-ups. It continually improves. What do you want to mess with it? Are you secretly an Elizabeth Warren supporter?

“Which brings up the question, who exactly is going to pay Ohio State $12m to sacrifice a home game and play a road game at Baylor for this balanced schedule you want?”

Your example is more central to your larger point than most may realize. That’s because almost everybody gets bogged down in a thicket of football issues. The problem with that is that this isn’t principally about football for a number of schools, because of the need to satisfy Title IX. There are certain powerful schools who MUST have that extra money, because they participate in far more varsity sports than do most others. Among these are tOSU, USC, UF, U-M, Texas… Most folks would be surprised how much political juice some “minor” sports have. Often, that’s got a lot to do with the affection which certain wealthy prospective donors have for that sport. That affection is a two-way lever, the fulcrum of which is their potential willingness to fund a new physics lab or auditorium.

There are so many things that are not even, you cannot make it that way. FCS teams depend on those games to play for their team. Money is money. Leave it alone, it’s the best.

Please stop the fake argument on FCS schools needingt he game. The game is 500-800K. If you’re entire program depends on that the economics of fball at your school don’t exist. Playing FCS schools is like a MLB team playing their triple A farm team and it counting in the MLB standings. It’s plain stupid.

It’s seldom “plain stupid”, schoup. It’s just that their priorities aren’t yours.

My proposal:
-Get rid of the power 5/non power 5 distinction
-Conference championship games only happen if the #1 in that conference did not play the #2 team in that conference. Having one does not benefit you, and not having one does not lower your ranking
-Each team plays 9 conference games
-Get rid of divisions. Instead, each school chooses their permanent teams and their rotating teams. However, they must play each school in their conference at least once in a three year period, and they must play at every stadium in their conference once in a six year period.
-OOC Scheduling: at least one true road game. I’m tired of SEC teams not scheduling true OOC road games (not including ACC rivalries)
-FCS scheduling: games do not count in a team’s win or loss total, can still be played since it gives FCS schools money.

Also, get rid of the playoff and instead implement a plus-one system. In this regard, we would have had last year:
Rose Bowl (P12 VS B10): Oregon vs Ohio State
Cotton (B12 VS SEC): Baylor vs MS St
Sugar (SEC VS At-large): Alabama vs TCU
Orange (ACC VS At-large): Florida St vs Michigan St

If Ohio St beat Oregon, Baylor beat MS St, TCU beat Bama, and MSU beat FSU, we likely would’ve had Ohio St vs Baylor/TCU in the championship game.

How about Baylor stop whining and play a better Non-Conference schedule. If mostly every school is playing a solid team in their non-conf. Baylor should too.

The overall criticism of Baylor’s non-conference schedule is unfounded. Baylor plays 9 Power 5 opponents every year that it does not also play an additional OOC Power 5 opponent. Neither Mississippi State nor Texas AM played 9 power 5 opponents in the 2014 regular season, and that’s just for starters.

The above issue should be resolved by forcing every conference member play every other conference member in each conference, as even if the SEC went to 9 conference games, plenty of its members would still avoid playing the big dogs in any given season (look at Missouri’s schedule last season). The Big 12 prevents that.

GEG is right just because Baylor playing. a nine game conference schudle is no excuse playing an fcs,buffalo,and smu is no out of confernce to be proud of.

William McHenry, color me unimpressed that Baylor plays Iowa State and Kansas every year.

The system needs to be made fair and given everyone a chance. It should be structured just like the NFL, NBA, or even college basketball where any team big or small if it has the talent can win the whole thing. Anything else is a farse. And creating schedules that give more opportunities for select teams to beat high ranked teams on the AP poll, then letting some committee put them in. Is so unfair. Think about it. It’s not rocket science. The system is better but let the players play for a real contest and find a true winner. Heck. I even think some community colleges if good enough should be invited in – lets say the winner of a national championship JC college gets a slot in the NCAA tournament. A true NFL style playoff or college basketball type tournament would bring in more money and validity in the long run.

What is this “system” to which you refer? Who went and made your sense of “fairness” relevant to the decisions that other people make with the schools which they represent? Why, pray tell, should the “everyone” whom you would give “a chance” not also include Elizabeth State College and Tuskegee? Baylor is included to meet the needs of Texas and Oklahoma to have a vehicle to keep their respective pots of gold and rivalry intact. Apart from that, no one besides their alumni give two farts in a West Texas dust storm.

I agree with everybody playing 9 conference games but it’s unlikely anything will ever force a conference to change so ALL I want to happen in CFB is to make it mandatory for every P5 school to play 10 regular season games against P5 opponents (before CCG/bowls/playoffs). If you have 8 conference games, you’ll add 2 P5 OOC. If 9 then you’ll only have to add 1 P5 opponent.

That way you have 2 games you can do WHATEVER you want with. That is more than enough games to play against overmatched competition. You don’t need 3 or 4 of these type of games, EVER.

Also, teams will be easier to compare by their P5 record since everybody will have the same guidelines. Now I am not asking to change much. I know money is the biggest and most important thing to these universities. But this change is definitely reasonable and should make the competition level better and help with fairness in CFB in general.

Last but not least, this is better for the fans too. Fans want to see more games against bigger universities. The more control you give the universities with scheduling, the more they will try to take advantage of the system. Their are plenty of schools out there that schedule tough and already follow this 10 game idea annually. But there are several that don’t as well. I think this would be great for CFB and the fans, hope they can put something like this in place.

I’m confident that YOU find your own desires and proposed solution to some of your own discontents “reasonable”. Doubtless you are an eminently fair, judicious, and thoughtful fellow. But, so what? I want Oreos with Mint Chocolate centers, but it almost certainly ain’t happening. That said, it’s several orders of magnitude MORE LIKELY than what you propose.

People can be unreasonable that way, always doing what THEY deem fit, rather than what those of us who “know better” would have them do.

Require out of conference games to have equal visits to both teams’ home venue. No one and done games.

Schedule Equality:
Road games are harder to win than home games, allowing unequal balance in home/away also allows for a systematically higher win percentage. Playoffs/Rankings/SOS/Bowl-eligibility are all based off wins and losses. In 2014 the average home win pct was 61.3%.

One and done buyout games may seem like windfalls for G5 teams visiting an OSU or Texas-type team who pays 1million plus, but having a return home game will lead to more ticket/venue revenue for the G5 team when hosting and higher value in television contracts as their conference’s overall slate will increase is both inventory and appeal.

I think all 5 power conferences should play a 9 game conference schedule, and play 1 FCS school, 1 mid-major, and a team in a Power 5 conference. It is ridiculous to have the 5 power conferences play by 5 different rules. Why have a Conference Championship game? Can anybody here tell me the greatest Conference Championship ever played in College Football? Just my 2 cents.

makes sense. I think that should happen for all conference, even the G5s.
I also don’t like Conf Champ games.

I’d agree. But make it 8 games, instead of 9. A lot of the athletic budgets at the bigger schools require 7 home games. This means every other year, one of said schools is forced to play all three non-conference games at home. This effectively allows for only one home/home series in any given year, and the rest become pay-check games. For instance, the University of Iowa is now stuck between maintaining it’s rivalry with Iowa State or ditching it to have a series with another team. They were able to enjoy both before the Big Ten started doing a 9 game conference schedule.

I am waiting for Florida to have a home and home OOC game with a school other than FSU or Miami. That hasn’t happened since 1991, when they visited Syracuse. That is a joke. I don;t care how tough the SEC is. What maked them special to play by their own rules?

Why penalize them for having to play tough FBS games with teams in their own state? It’s not their fault Ohio, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states have only one Power Five team in their state… Plus they are trying to protect their turf. Home-and-home series are overrated anyway.

Everyone plays by their own rules. Except those who must play by those of someone else. Lions eat bunnies, never the other way around.

Tell you what would make things more fair and more interesting: Keep the ACC, BIG10, and the SEC at 14 teams. Have the BIG12 add 2 teams(BYU and Notre Dame) and host a championship game. Keep the PAC12 as is. Have the AAC add two teams(Georgia Southern and NDSU) and consider them a power conference. Have all power conferences play 9 conference games, a power conference team, AND a mid-major, and a FCS team if they choose or either another power conference team or mid-major. Expand the playoffs to at least 8 teams with the 6 power conference champions and 2 wildcards or 12 teams with the 6 power conference champions and 6 wildcards as well as having the top 4 getting a bi-week in the first round.

Oh also have the top ranked mid-major conference champ have an auto bid as a wildcard.

“CONSIDER them”? Gee, I didn’t know that the world could be ordered about so cavalierly. Hey, girls, going forward, y’all have to consider my sexual overtures as though I looked like Brad Pitt, had Warren Buffet’s money, and was hung like Mr. Marcus.

Should I clear my dance card?


amaturism is the biggest joke, ncaa football is a minor league for the pros wake up old man.

Lets have 4 power conferences,East,West, North and South.20 teams each conference.2 divisions.each team plays 9 division games.. let the realignment look like this
east 1 =penn st,pitt,syracuse,bos col,cinn,west vir,louisville,ct,temple,marshal
east 2=nc,ncs,duke,clemson,virginia,maryland,geo tech,wake,east car,virtech
south1= Alabama,auburn,ole mis,miss st,ark,lsu,txa&m,houston,southern miss,memphis
south2=florida ,geo,tenn,kentucky,vanderbilt,south car,fla st. Miami,mid tn,lou tech
west1=ucla,usc,ariz st. ariz,texas,tcu,oklahoma,oklahoma st.texas tech,baylor
west2=Washington,oregon ore st.boise,utah,byu,wash st.stanford,cal,utah st.
north1=ill,wis,neb,iowa,iowa st. Kansas,kansas st. Missouri,minn,northwestern
north2=Michigan Michigan st.ohio st.noterdame,purdue,indiana,navy,northern ill,toledo,rutgers

The NCAA should take over nonleague matchups. Not scheduling, but just who plays who, where. Every FBS team should play 8 league games, and four non-league games (home and away games against a big money team and a small-money team.

Example, Florida. Hosting Florida state and Toledo, visiting New Mexico and Wisconsin.

Example 2, North Carolina. Hosting Texas and UL-Lafayette and visiting Akron and Ole Miss

Example 3, Penn State. Hosting Rice and Alabama, visiting Pittsburgh and Georgia State.

Road revenue should be split with the home team getting 75 percent (rewarding teams that build large stadia and have huge followings) and the 25 percent road share split 128 ways.

Big XII and Pac-12 would alternate the extra nonleague game between home and away or play a neutral-site game. That way, they could keep the 9-game leage slate.