How Might the Gators Fare In SI's Hypothetical College Football Realignment?

Demetrius Harvey

The NCAA has not had a change in the alignment of its conferences since 2014 when several teams shifted around or were added to, various conferences across the nation. This week, Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde made an attempt to change just that, filling out a well-thought-out plan that will give fans much to consider.

An idea forged, Forde says, out of the ever-changing current climate (COVID19 pandemic) that has grossly affected, or will affect many Universities across the nation translates to a well-suited, economically and geographically, feasible network of collegiate programs that could re-shape sports in America.

Forde's model goes above and beyond what anyone would perceive as a reasonable expectation - if only due to the NCAA's reluctance for dramatic change-, however, it still draws many ideas that are plenty logical and interesting enough to continue examining.

For example, in Forde's plan, there would no longer be conference championship games, teams will instead be seeded based on how they finished in their brand-new conference, with schedules that would be round-robin plus one nonconference opponent.

Make sure to check out Forde's full plan which covers much more ground.  

Major tenets of Forde's changes:

  • "A 120-school ecosystem, with 11 current FBS members relegated to FCS and one elevated from that level. Congratulations to North Dakota State; condolences to UTEP, Texas State, UTSA, South Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Bowling Green, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Coastal Carolina, Troy and Liberty. (Relegation/elevation can be revisited every three seasons.)
  • Ten leagues, each with 12 members, each designed to maximize proximity and reduce travel demands and costs. All current conference structures are broken and reassembled. There are no more than eight Power 5 programs in a single new conference, and no fewer than four. And there are no independents—yes, Notre Dame is in a conference.
  • In football, each school will play a full round-robin schedule plus one nonconference game (no FCS opponents). The nonconference opponent will be locked in for a minimum of four seasons before there is an opt-out to schedule someone different. There will be no conference championship games.
  • All 10 conference champions, plus two at-large teams chosen by a selection committee, advance to the expanded College Football Playoff. The teams are seeded by the committee. The top four receive a first-round bye, while seeds 5–8 host seeds 9–12 at their home stadiums the first weekend of December. Quarterfinals are played the next week at the home stadiums of seeds 1–4. The semifinals and championship game are conducted under the current CFP format.
  • There still will be bowl games for the teams that don’t make the CFP. Just fewer of them, which nobody should mind.
  • The conferences will work for basketball and other sports as well—in fact, it will be better for nonrevenue sports in terms of travel cost savings. The 230-odd non-FBS programs that are part of NCAA Division I will remain aligned pretty much where they already are, with a few exceptions." - Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated

Here is the projected "new look" of the FBS:

Sports Illustrated NCAA Realignment
Credit: Sports Illustrated

For the Florida Gators, they'll be in a dramatically different conference than what the current SEC East looks like, except they'll retain their rivalry with Georgia and Florida State - something Gators' fans will surely enjoy. Coincidentally, the Gators' most-consequential opponent will likely also be the Bulldogs, at least initially.

The alignment, Forde says, would also allow for more rooted-geographical rivalries. For example, the Gators fans and UFC Golden Knights fans have had a strange, but, intriguing rivalry - although it would be argued to be one-sided. In any event, the realignment would enrich new elements of rivalries we haven't seen for quite some time.

Another positive for regional realignment would be travel, not only for fans but for the team's themselves, cutting costs in various ways in which weren't necessarily realized prior to this hypothetical realignment. For example, seven out of the team's 11 opponents in the Deep South reside in Florida.

With the changes to the College Football Playoffs alignment, 12 teams competing for the right to be crowned the National Champions would allow for a fair game between all conferences, no longer at the mercy of a committee picking just four teams of - mainly - highly-competitive conference participants. One of the major criticisms of the current system is the lack of play between less-competitive markets, not necessarily due to overall play.

In the Gators' new Deep South Conference, they'd play the aforementioned Seminoles, Golden Knights and Bulldogs, while also playing the FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Miami Hurricanes, UAB Blazers, USF Bulls and Georgia State.

While the teams would rotate nonconference opponents, Forde has the Gators playing LSU in their first year, a likely-welcomed opponent considering the team's past, and present history. While the Deep South wouldn't be as competitive as the current SEC East, it would remain one of the most competitive conferences in the country, giving the Gators an intriguing path to glory.

Overall, this realignment has its positives and negatives, which Forde is astute to point out. While it may be unrealistic, it is an interesting idea that perhaps in another universe which allows for more creativity, could become reality.

The only question which remains is: how reasonable is this realignment and would the Gators benefit or be disadvantaged in the long run?