A modest proposal: One man's quixotic quest to remake men's college basketball conferences into an ideal alignment

A modest proposal: One man’s quixotic quest to remake men’s college basketball conferences into an ideal alignment

Last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert said it’s time to consider restructuring the NCAA and delegating power to the schools and the conferences. It might be time to go one step further. Let’s dismember the organization but keep its golden goose – the NCAA Tournament – alive. Then let’s separate college football from the rest of college sports and allow football to build its mega conferences while basketball returns to a setup where geography, rivalries and fun are the foundation for forming basketball leagues.

With name, image and likeness and the adoption of the transfer portal, the enforcement arm of the NCAA is no longer really necessary. Throw out the rulebook and focus all the attention on handling championships. In men’s basketball, put current NCAA Senior VP of Basketball Dan Gavitt in charge, and let’s make the regular season even better.

Football and the urgency to chase television money has not helped men’s basketball at all. The Big 12 just had the best basketball league in the country, one that consistently won, put a higher percentage of its teams in the NCAA Tournament than any other league and had a round-robin setup that coaches and fans loved. And none of that mattered because the leaders at Oklahoma and Texas wanted to chase dollar signs. After all, bringing in the most revenue and spending the most money already – hello, Texas – wasn’t enough.

So I’m here to make college basketball better. To make the sport even more desirable to those who apparently matter most: television executives

This is my simple three-step plan and proposed realignment for college hoops that’s only goal is to make college basketball better.


Step 1: Fire Emmert. Promote Gavitt. Gavitt is already in charge of the men’s NCAA Tournament, and that’s the priority in this restructuring.

Also, let college football hire its own boss. Greg Sankey would probably be up for it.

Step 2: Get rid of NCAA enforcement and compliance at the university level.

Emmert and enforcement’s biggest goal seemed to be preserving the sanctity of amateurism, particularly making sure student-athletes did not get paid. They will likely want to make sure everything with NIL is done above board, but that will be an impossible task. Emmert knows this, which is why he’s suggested delegating more to the conference level. Let’s skip that and burn the rulebook.

At the university level, there would no longer be a need for compliance. Let’s repurpose the money spent on compliance to help student-athletes by hiring people who can help them navigate a world in which they actually make money, from taxes to investment to making sound decisions on what deals to accept. Sounds a lot better than hall monitors who want to make sure too many coaches aren’t coaching the players on the floor, huh? (I hate slashing jobs, but I’m sure athletic departments could find new roles for the fine folks in compliance.)

The NCAA has always wanted to create a level playing field, but there’s never been one. So let’s focus on educating students on how to manage their careers and their money, and then put our attention toward creating an even better and entertaining product on the floor.

Step 3: Conference realignment that makes sense, makes the NCAA Tournament selection process easier and makes the regular season matter.

Here’s the setup:

  • Every conference is made up of 10 or 12 teams. Each conference has a partnering conference. (This will make sense later.) There are 14 conferences made up of 10 teams and 18 made up of 12 teams. That gets us to 356 D-1 teams, which is the current total after Hartford announced it will drop to Division III. The high-major leagues are capped at 20 teams. (You can find who goes where for the high-majors below.) Every team plays a round-robin schedule against its conference. The smaller leagues are bigger and also play round-robin schedules. This makes it so they play fewer non-conference games, and there is less need for buy games.
  • The NCAA sets aside a fund for small schools to help make up for the loss in buy game revenue, which is usually used to help fund their athletic departments. Bigger schools save money by no longer needing to pay for these games.
  • NCAA hires Michigan State associate AD and KPI Sports founder Kevin Pauga as its scheduling guru. Schools are still able to schedule their own non-conference games and multi-team events (like the Maui Invitational) will still exist, but for any team still with an incomplete schedule by Sept. 1, Pauga has the power to schedule those games. A rivalry committee will also be created to determine if any old conference rivals have been split up by this new alignment. Those teams are required to play each other every year, rotating who hosts.
  • In 10-team leagues, the top eight teams advance to the conference tournament. In conferences with 12 teams, a two-day tournament is held for the final two spots for the eight-team tournament.
  • The partnering conferences play a pre-Christmas tournament that kicks off conference season. (Pauga, Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin seed the fields.) The winners of the conference tournaments in March also play the winner of their partnering conference’s for what’s essentially a regional champ.
  • The NCAA Tournament Selection committee is made up of old coaches and a collection of basketball data specialists, including Pomeroy, Sagarin and Pauga.

How we award NCAA Tournament auto bids will be decided by a vote by the 356 head coaches. Here are the three proposals:

  1. NCAA auto bids are awarded to each conference champ in the regular season. That gets us to 32 auto bids. If the conference tournament winner is a team that did not win the regular season and that team does not receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs, the tourney champ receives a bid to the NIT.
  2. At least one bid is awarded between conference pairs. If the team with the best conference win percentage between the two leagues does not win the regional tournament, that team also is rewarded an auto bid. That would make it so there’s a max of 32 auto bids but the possibility of fewer auto bids. This could potentially lead to a more competitive field.
  3. Every conference tourney champ receives a bid, sticking to the auto bid tradition.

Conference realigned

Kentucky and Louisville in the same league? Yes please. These schools hate each other already and now we get them playing twice and with something on the line other than pride and bourbon bets.

Conference media day should be fun with the addition of Chris Mack to Nate Oats, Bruce Pearl and Frank Martin. And doubtful one Clemson fan cares about (or notices) leaving the ACC.

(SEC and ACC are conference partners.)

Maryland is back where it belongs. The move to the Big Ten never made any sense in hoops.

Adding Florida to an old-school ACC would be fun. The Seminoles now have a real conference rival in hoops. If they had one before, forgive me.

The pre-Christmas tourney and regional title game could be awesome with this setup. Imagine Duke or North Carolina playing Kentucky right before the NCAA Tournament. Think the TV execs would like that?

Welcome home, Missouri and Nebraska. If you gave truth serum to every basketball coach at these two programs since Texas and the Longhorn Network drove their schools away, they would tell you they wished they were still playing in the Big 12.

The Border War and Bedlam are two of the best rivalries in sports, and that’s why conference realignment just plain sucks. Those four schools belong in the same league. Even though the Border War is returning this year, it’s not going to be the same. If OK State ever agrees to play Oklahoma again, those two schools will find out that truth.

Wichita State could potentially be a big loser in conference realignment if the Big 12 raids the American, but this arrangement would allow the Shockers to play with the big boys. The Roundhouse would go absolutely bonkers if the Jayhawks came to town every year.

Nebraska and Creighton belong in the same basketball conference, and the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry would be even better if those schools were in the same league. Who says no to this hoops arrangement? Maybe Iowa. But the Hawkeyes hate Iowa State and Nebraska, and they’re both here.

(Big 12 North and Big 12 South are conference partners.)

Moving schools like LSU and Vanderbilt out of the SEC is where some might take exception to the 10-team max, but trust me, round-robin is just better. Arkansas has always made more sense in Big 12 country, and it’s also a good fit for LSU geographically. Vandy was a throw-in because the SEC ran out of spots, and is anyone really going to notice?

Houston has earned a spot at the big boy table, and the other Texas schools just belong together. The only downside to this arrangement is there have been years where the KU-Texas games were awesome, and the KU-Baylor games in recent years have been really good. But our scheduling coordinator Pauga could make those matchups happen, plus there’s the chance they meet in the pre-Christmas tourney or regional title game.

If Iowa, a Big Ten member since 1899, really gripes, we could move Penn State (a member since 1990) to another league. Other than that, this one was as simple as it gets. An old-school Big Ten with a round-robin schedule is just better than the current arrangement.

(Big Ten and Big East are conference partners.)

Put these schools back in Madison Square Garden, and let the magic return.

This would end the most annoying argument in college basketball: “Gonzaga plays no one and isn’t good.” This version is also better than the current Pac-12.

(Pac-10 and Mountain West are conference partners.)

I was tempted to put San Diego State in the Pac-10, but who do you take out? If football was part of the equation, some of these schools might not love this arrangement, but it’s not. This is a good basketball league. I’d be willing to bump Nevada for other current Mountain West members like Boise State, Fresno State or Wyoming. The three Utah schools and two Colorado state schools all belong together.

It would be cool to get Marquette with Wisconsin, but again, the old-school Big Ten schools just make too much sense together. This is more like the current Big East arrangement. I’d say the current Big East is better than this, but sacrifices had to be made to get Syracuse back in.

(The Catholic 10 and Conference USA are conference partners.)

This is sort of a mishmash of schools, but that is the tradition of the Conference USA. Memphis and Cincinnati stick together, and while Memphis in a league with Tennessee would be very entertaining, our scheduling guru Pauga will make sure Memphis and Tennessee play each other every year – Penny Hardaway and Rick Barnes will be required to hold their postgame pressers together. Also, let’s start a feud between Temple coach Aaron McKie and UMass coach Matt McCall. Purely for historical reasons.

(Illustration with Getty Images: John Bradford / The Athletic)

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