- It's working for one of the Power 5 conferences, so should the rest adopt a divisionless model? Elsewhere in this week's #DearAndy mailbag: Will anyone give Lane Kiffin a high-profile head coaching job? And is Florida or FSU more likely to be bowl eligible?
As we hit the season’s stretch run, the attention turns in four Power 5 leagues to divisional races. That’s not the case in the Big 12, which looks a lot more interesting than the rest. So maybe the others should think about making some changes...
From Colin: With the seven-team divisions being lopsided most years, should the conferences drop them and play five-plus-four or three-plus-five (permanent opponents plus alternate opponents) with top two then in the championship game?
This Big 12 season has changed my feeling on divisions. I used to be a staunch supporter of divisions because they create and/or nurture some intense rivalries, but the Big 12 playing divisionless football has shown how much fun that model can be. Do you know who is playing in the Big 12 championship game yet? Nope. We don’t know the identity of either team. We do, however, know that it’ll be a great matchup. The concept is going to make November tremendous every year in that league.
Now translate this to other leagues. The larger leagues can’t play a true round robin like the Big 12 does, but they can create some dramatic dynamics by eliminating divisions. It also would eliminate situations like the one Wisconsin is dealing with right now. The Badgers’ strength of schedule is awful because they have to play the other teams in the Big Ten West. If they had three (or four) fixed rivals and their other six conference games came from a random draw of the other 10 (or nine) Big Ten teams, they’d have a stronger schedule every season.
The SEC has a similar problem. The West champ has won the conference every year since 2009, and the West has been a consistently deeper division. So imagine a scenario where teams have three or four fixed rivals and rotate through the other teams by playing home-and-home series. Alabama, for example, could still play Auburn, LSU and Tennessee every year. Auburn could play Alabama, Georgia and LSU. (And either bring back the annual Florida game or keep Mississippi State if the league chose four fixed opponents.) With this system, football players who spend four years at their school would get to play every conference opponent. That isn’t the case now.
Meanwhile, this would eliminate some silliness. There is no reason NC State shouldn’t play Duke every year in football. The schools are in the same conference, and they’re 24 miles apart. Getting rid of divisions would allow all the Research Triangle schools to play one another every year. But the most important reason to ditch divisions? It would be so much fun.
From Mike: Should the B1G think about abandoning the divisions or at least consider switching Purdue and Michigan State? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this post.]
From Craig: Why don’t more schools consider hiring head coaches in their 50s and 60s? Why does it always seem like schools want the hot young coach?
This was a question I got on my Sunday morning show on SiriusXM, and I thought it was a great one. There does seem to be a lot of age discrimination when it comes to hiring head coaches these days, and it might be wise to look past the birthdate occasionally. Nick Saban was 55 when he got hired at Alabama, after all. But on the flip side, Jim McElwain was 52 when he was hired at Florida, and he’s already been fired.
The hottest head coaching candidates in this year’s carousel range in age from 36 (Mike Norvell of Memphis) to 53 (Chip Kelly), so it’s possible we see both ends of the age spectrum represented.
What’s more important than the age of the head coach is the age mix of the staff. Every staff needs some old heads who have seen everything and some young hotshots who would rather recruit than sleep. Dabo Swinney mixed these masterfully when he was named the permanent head coach at Clemson in 2008 shortly after his 39th birthday. He kept Jeff Scott (then 28) as his receivers coach/ace recruiter. He went out and hired his former Alabama position coach Woody McCorvey as his operations director/consigliere. He hired former Florida and Tennessee assistant Dan Brooks (then 57) as his defensive line coach. He also kept Jeff’s father Brad Scott (then 54) as the offensive line coach. It was a great combination of hard-earned wisdom and youthful energy, and it set the table for what was to come.
From Nick: #DearAndy with so many jobs likely to open up, does someone take a flyer on Lane Kiffin? Seems like the best coach no one is talking about.
This is a very interesting question, because Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team has won five in a row (all in-conference) and could win Conference USA if the hot streak continues. The real question is this: Which Power 5 athletic director would hire Kiffin? Kiffin’s history—on and off the field—is still going to be tough to overcome for most ADs, but winning at FAU will help erase doubts stemming from his tenure at USC. If Kiffin can prove he can handle the recruiting/schematic part of the job, he just needs to find an AD who can handle him.
Most ADs at Power 5 schools would not react well to their coach joking about manipulating the score so their team failed to cover the Las Vegas point spread. (And I do believe Kiffin’s tongue was planted firmly in cheek when he tweeted this last week after beating Marshall.) This isn’t completely a critique of Kiffin, though. He hasn’t been accused of violating NCAA rules. His players have behaved, even though he took some chances on transfers who had been kicked out at previous schools. If an AD doesn’t want to hire Kiffin because he doesn’t believe Kiffin can win, that’s a valid reason. If an AD doesn’t want to hire Kiffin because Kiffin’s tweets or interview comments are too edgy, that’s on the AD.
While Kiffin may not have thought through all the ramifications of the point spread statement, he knew he’d draw a reaction. (This is a recurring theme for Kiffin.) He has always been good at keeping whatever team he coaches in the news. We wouldn’t talk about FAU at all if not for Kiffin. Some school further down the totem pole in a Power 5 league that wants coverage and attention might take a chance on him. That may not happen this year, but another good year at FAU likely would put to rest doubts about whether he can win consistently. If he can prove he can do that, some AD will be willing to hire him.