As Oregon State and Washington State prepare for their top-25 matchup Saturday amid the strong possibility of being stripped of their Power 5 status next season, OSU athletic director Scott Barnes indicated he is curious about the possibility of promotion/relegation in college football.
A promotion/relegation model, which is used in most professional soccer leagues around the world, allows teams to move up and down through different divisions or leagues based on their on-field performance each season. A proposal to adopt a similar structure within college football was recently drafted by Boise State associate athletic director Michael Walsh, according to Front Office Sports.
“As you think about the future of even media rights, I think a sort of relegation model, either in unequal distribution, a contraction of teams and/or peer relegation will take place. I think that’s coming,” Barnes said in a joint news conference with presidents and athletic directors from OSU and WSU on Thursday. “In terms of the model itself, I think there’s some merit to look at some form of hybrid model that does support that. We see it working in a similar fashion in Europe, and certainly it’s worthy of our study.”
Without an invitation to another Power 5 conference in the wake of the Pac-12’s demise, OSU and WSU are the poster children for the merits of a promotion/relegation system. They have been left without a Power 5 suitor primarily because of the size of their media markets in remote outposts in the Pacific Northwest, not because of the quality of their teams. OSU (3-0) has won 10 of its past 11 games and is ranked No. 14. WSU (3-0) is ranked No. 21 with a convincing win against Big Ten power Wisconsin.
However, there are several significant hurdles that make the possibility of promotion/relegation across college football very unlikely, most of which are tied in some way to media rights contracts.
“I don’t know how you practically move to these particular models that you could even get a lot of people to sit around and agree to,” WSU president Kirk Schulz said. “There’s going to have to be some other disruptors that are going to force it, and I’m just not sure we’re going to see a lot of movement in this space in the next four to five years just because people are locked down into particular media contracts.”
Schulz said if change were to come, it likely would have to be driven by the bigger brands in the sport.
“I just don’t see a great easy pathway to get there without a major market disruptor coming in with a lot of financial resources to say, let’s do something different,” Schulz said.
Recent events in European soccer suggest large brands do not believe a promotion/relegation model benefits them. In fact, the ill-fated Super League proposal shows the lengths Europe’s biggest soccer clubs were willing to go to enter a model more consistent with how American sports leagues operate.