When we proposed an ambition-based scheduling system for college football, several readers pointed out one problem: non-conference games are often scheduled so far in advance, it’s hard to tell how good either side will be when the games are actually played. Texas A&M and Louisville, for instance, are supposed to play each other in 2028 and 2029. Are you confident you know what either of those teams will be by then?
So it’s a fair point. When a school schedules a big game seven years down the road, they’re not thinking, “hey, we might have a new head coach that season. Maybe we shouldn’t saddle him with a really tough Week 1 opponent!”
Conversely, another school might end up with a lackluster home conference schedule that year and want to make their ticket holders happy with an interesting non-conference game.
These two schools could solve each other’s problems, but there’s currently no efficient way to make this happen.
Athletic directors have to spend a lot of time on the phone, dealing with complex contracts in an environment largely closed to the public.
This is how we used to buy and sell used treadmills. Put an ad in the newspaper and hope somebody calls you, while neither party really knows how much the thing should go for.
But! Then we invented eBay, where buyers and sellers can swap thousands of used treadmills. They can browse prices, models, and conditions in one place without having to drive to someone’s garage.
We can mirror this marketplace by creating NOM: the Non-conference Open Market.
NOM would facilitate the exchange of non-conference opponents to everyone’s benefit. Think about how the Transfer Portal has taken player movement out of the weird, unnecessary shadows. NOM is that, but for games.
Here are the ground rules:
- With the exception of weather cancellations and the like, existing games cannot be canceled, and no swaps can happen outside of NOM. This is where we’re all doing our trading, and we will not tolerate a black market. (This is college football, so a black market will naturally happen anyway.)
- NOM will only be open from June 15 to June 30. We’re not moving games a week before they happen, so if you want to change this season’s schedule, this is your window.
- Like the Transfer Portal, any game up for trade must be publicly listed, along with what the trading team is looking to get back in exchange. (The opponent being traded must also approve of this in writing.)
- You don’t have to trade an entire series. UCLA and Georgia, for example, are scheduled to play in 2025 and 2026. If they want to find new partners for one of those years, but not the other, that’s allowed.
- So long as everyone involved signs off, you can trade multiple games at once. If Clemson and NC State wanna trade their entire non-conference schedules one year, they are welcome to do so. If you want to trade multiple games for one game, you can do that. If you want to just buy a game off someone and not give them a game in return, that’s ok.
- The only games that cannot be traded are conference games. Everything else — traditional rivalries, neutral site games — is up for grabs on NOM. (Including that time Wake and UNC played a non-conference game.)
- The transfer of cash to facilitate trades is not only allowed but encouraged.
- Any violations of the first rule will be punished with a mandatory game at North Dakota State.
Making non-conference games exchangeable assets improves scheduling in several ways.
NOM means athletic directors can adjust instead of being bound by agreements made under different circumstances (and possibly by different ADs).
Take 2015 TCU, coming off a season when they finished sixth in the CFP rankings with a light non-conference schedule. Maybe they call up Texas and try to pry away the 2015 opener at Notre Dame; the Longhorns could certainly use an easier opponent after Charlie Strong’s rocky first year. Now Week 1 has Texas at Minnesota and a massive Playoff-implications game featuring the Horned Frogs and Fighting Irish.
Scenario: You are an FCS AD sitting on a road game with Random SEC Team, who’s paying your program a lot of money for a win. Random SEC Team gets a new AD who wants to replace that game with something that will get better TV coverage. He needs you to sign off on a trade that will pair you with another buy-game opponent instead. Congratulations, you now have leverage! Take whatever Random SEC Team was going to pay you and add 15%. Tell Random SEC Team that’s what you want to make this happen.
Scenario: You’re in charge of Random MAC Team. Random ACC Team is desperately looking to offload Big Ten Titan they stupidly scheduled; they already have an offer from Random Pac-12 Team, who also wants $500,000. Maybe you counter with $400,000, or you offer to take Big Ten Titan for free if Random ACC Team plays you at your house.
These are just two possibilities. The second we make non-conference games things that can be valued and traded, people are going to figure out new ways to make money off them.
Proof of cowardice
Think a rival school’s schedule is perpetually butt? Think one half of a dormant rivalry is dodging the other? NOM gives you evidence in your favor. Overrated College could have played a real team instead of that program at the bottom of FCS, but they got outbid by School With No Boosters! That shows they’re trying to coast on cupcakes. Honorable Ex-Rival had a home date available at a reasonable price, and Disgusting Ex-Rival didn’t bite! That proves they’re scared.
Actual offseason excitement
There’s only so much to say about scheduling. We note when a game gets arranged or moved. When it’s a long way off, we shrug and joke about who the coaches might be.
NOM gives us a whole new angle. We can track asking prices, break down rumors over possible transactions, and propose theoretical swaps. Hell, we can figure out who’s going to NOM to sell a game so they can pay the coach they’re going to fire later that year!
I mean, imagine this dude yelling at you through the television about why the market is dumping Arkansas games and why he thinks it’s smart to invest in Arizona State futures.
Of course you’d watch that! If the stock market’s already on TV all year, we can televise the NOM too. You’ll be sitting at an auto repair shop when BANG, Washington State buys two South Carolina games from Clemson! Everybody argue over who’s a moron!
Eventually, NOM will become something amazing. It won’t just be the place where existing games get bought and sold. NOM will be where all new games are scheduled, on TV, in real time, aided by a competitive market.
FCS schools looking for a payday can shop themselves out to the highest bidder. Aspiring G5 powers can tell Michigan they’ve got Michigan State on the other line offering a home-and-home, so the Wolverines have five minutes to beat that offer ... and they might be bluffing, but the clock is ticking, and this is all happening on television. Don’t screw up, Michigan!
NOM is the perfect blend of “free-market capitalism” and “athletic directors looking uncomfortably sweaty” that college football desperately needs.
Want to continue your Bad Scheduling Idea Time? Proceed to these proposals to eliminate conference ties from bowl bids.