Duer Sharp, Commissioner
Southwestern Athletic Conference
2101 Sixth Avenue North, Suite 700
Birmingham, AL 352013
Dear Commissioner Sharp:
Something is amiss in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, something that may result in further embarrassment for the league and its 10 member institutions.
That something might be a team with a losing record advancing to the Celebration Bowl to take on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s representative.
In the SWAC’s Eastern Division, defending conference champion Alcorn State (3-5, 3-4) and Jackson State (3-6, 3-4) are tied for first. Meanwhile, Alabama A&M (3-6, 3-5) and Alabama State (3-6, 3-5) are still mathematically in the hunt.
There is a strong possibility a .500 team could come out of the East, just like there is a strong possibility of a 5-6 team making its way to Houston for the SWAC Championship Game Dec. 3.
Meanwhile, the SWAC’s Western Division is coming down to a three-team race between No. 20 Grambling State (6-1, 6-0), Southern (6-2, 6-0) and Prairie View A&M (6-3, 6-1).
Now, I know it’s too late to change the rules. I know things are cyclical in sports. However, I strongly suggest a course change as the conference’s football schedule goes from a 9-game round-robin to a 7-game slate in 2017. Please, just hear me out. There is so much at stake here.
Before I go further, do you remember the chaos caused by your conference members during the previous 7-game conference schedule days? The chaos of playing conference opponents in games that didn’t count toward conference honors. Or that time in 2004 Arkansas-Pine Bluff tried to move their home game with Southern (divisional foes) to St. Louis for a bigger pay day, only to have Southern rebuff the move and the divisional opponents didn’t play at all?
We cannot afford to have that kind of shenanigans going on in the future. However, you guys singed on for foolishness starting next season. So I have a couple of solutions to help you out in the future.
My first solution is to financially discourage conference teams from scheduling each other in games that do not count toward conference honors, or to declare the games exhibitions and not have the statistics or records of the games count toward conference and NCAA statistics (I don’t know how possible the latter is, but damnit you gotta try something).
A far easier solution: get rid of divisional play and adopt an 8-game conference schedule.
Hold up! Don’t throw this away yet. Let me finish.
In this 8-game conference schedule format without divisional play, we will let the strongest team(s) survive. The top two finishers at the end of the regular season move on to the SWAC Championship Game, with that winner heading on to Atlanta for the Celebration Bowl.
Also, it increases the SWAC’s chances of fielding a competitive representative at the Celebration Bowl that is not under some kind of NCAA postseason ban. C’mon mister commissioner … we know the conference stands a snowball’s chance in hell of landing an at-large spot in the FCS playoffs, regardless of records and nonconference schedule. So just play the hand you’re dealt.
What about rivalry games? The only games that will be protected in this format will be the following: Southern vs. Grambling State; Jackson State vs. Alcorn State; Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State; Texas Southern vs. Prairie View A&M; and Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Mississippi Valley State.
For example, the only permanent game on Alabama State’s conference schedule in this proposed format will be the Magic City Classic. The only permanent game on Southern’s schedule in this proposed format will be the Bayou Classic. I hope that clears up that portion of the discussion.
Under this format, a team would roll off a schedule annually. Let’s say Mississippi Valley would have Jackson State roll off one year, Grambling State the next, Prairie View A&M in the third year and so on and so forth.
This also sets up a possibility of a fresh matchup for the conference championship game. What if Grambling State and Jackson State run the table, but didn’t play each other in the regular season? What if there’s a logjam for one of the two top spots in conference play? That will add intrigue to the conference race.
Now, what if two teams that played each other would up in the top two? Due to the nature of the 9-game schedule, the SWAC couldn’t help but to have rematches. However, under this proposed format, there would be a built-in revenge factor.
What if Prairie View ran the table, only to meet up against Grambling in the SCG to avenge an early-season loss in Dallas? That could happen.
One more thing, what if one of those “protected rivalries” involved teams that finished in the top two? A second Magic City Classic? A second Bayou Classic? A second Alcorn-vs.-Jackson?
I know, I know. This is just a pipe dream. It sounds too logical, and the SWAC oftentimes doesn’t do too well with logical. However, you have an opportunity to make a change for the better of the SWAC. With all of the potential turnover amongst the leadership of your schools, you have the power to make the conference better for everyone involved. Question is, what are you going to do about it?
Thanks for your time and consideration reading this letter.