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Conference Realignment Auction: Introducing the American Belt Conference

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Stretching from sea-to-sea, the American Belt Conference brings a new power to the table that rivals the biggest names from the past.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Facts:
Conference's name:
American Belt Conference (The ABC)
Northernmost school: Buffalo Bulls
Southernmost school: Houston Cougars
Easternmost school: Boston College Eagles
Westernmost school: California Golden Bears
Which two teams have the longest driving commute? UCLA to Boston College (1 day, 19 hours, 18 minutes; 2,993 miles)
Where is your football championship venue? Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Where is your basketball championship venue? United Center, Chicago, IL
Where is your baseball championship venue? Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Introducing the American Belt Conference:

New England Division
Boston College Eagles
Buffalo Bulls
Connecticut Huskies
Villanova Wildcats

Great Plains Division
Iowa State Cyclones
Kansas State Wildcats
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Northern Iowa Purple Panthers

Cowpoke Division
Baylor Bears
Houston Cougars
Oklahoma State Cowboys
TCU Horned Frogs

Gold Coast Division
California Golden Bears
Stanford Cardinal
UCLA Bruins
USC Trojans

So yeah, this is a strange conference.  It wasn't what I had planned, but based on how the auction went, it's the best conference I could assemble.  More on that later, but with enough big names, and with regional rivalries, this conference can survive the large areas between schools.

Let's start at the beginning for the breakdown.  In the MAC portion of the draft, getting the three-slot was nice.  However, since Justin took our alma mater (WMU), I was left to start from scratch.  Getting Buffalo was a solid consolation prize, as their football program isn't terrible and their basketball program has won back-to-back MAC titles.  Hard to pass them up on that alone, but take into account that Buffalo is a solid media market (53rd in Neilsen's April figures) and they were a no-brainer to me.

After that, the auction began.  I nominated Notre Dame, hoping to center around the Great Lakes region, but it was quickly apparent how other bettors would play this game with highly aggressive betting strategies.  After Notre Dame jumped roughly $30 in 5-10 minutes (or 10% of our overall budget), my strategy became "wait and throw bids".  For the next week or so, my nominations included some bigger names (Duke, North Carolina, Arizona), but with no intention to bid after my opening figure.  This worked, as the schools that sold went for figures of anywhere from the mid-30's up to an insane $60 winning bid for Kentucky.  KENTUCKY!

With either everyone's strategy revealed through name/region grouping, or their budget approaching the mid-to-low 100's, it was time to strike and fill my Northeast area with some pals for Buffalo.  Getting UConn and Villanova were a must, as their football programs are solid on the mid-major level ('Nova being a solid FCS school), and their basketball programs historic from their days in the Big East.  Boston College would be a later add after missing out on Syracuse, but the Boston media market is a solid Top 10 market in the US, so if we can improve their athletics, they'll do nicely.  Even if they remain a bottom feeder, every conference needs one, right?

After that, I knew anything near the Great Lakes would be impossible to grab.  The big names were picked clean by now from the aggressive bidders, so I had to decide how to build the rest of my conference.  I eventually settled on big names in big media markets, and targeted the Oklahoma/Texas region and California as options.  Knowing I wanted a 16-team conference, getting these two filled out to make 12 would be nice, and would give me some flexibility on how to get the last division.  Either the Midwest or Southeast would be the final, but getting the names early for the two primary areas would be the main focus.

I started out West.  I spent $37 on USC right before the trade deadline to lock down the #2 media market in the US, with #1 already locked up via Buffalo and UConn.  To keep them happy, I got UCLA as a rivalry game, and fully secured the eyes of LA.  Additionally, the Bruins bring a plethora of National Championships to the table in all sports, so a big plus.

And you know who also does well in non-major sports?  Stanford.  The Ivy of the West would be top target, and a surprisingly easy get.  Couple them with Cal, and I have the two top rivalries of California, and four solid programs in football.

Going back to the Texas/Oklahoma area, getting the Longhorns and Sooners were obviously a big priority.  However, I was unwilling to pay a steep price for both, losing them to Keith for a combined total of $94.  Still, with my bidding coming later in the process, I was able to grab Houston, TCU, and Oklahoma State for $5.  All steals.  I added Baylor before all of the fallout happened with their football program.  Still, for the price I paid, they still have a ton of talent and their basketball program is good enough to support going forward.  Obviously, Baylor is less than ideal after what we've learned, but with them, I have three schools in Texas, the hotbed for football recruiting.

By this point, the Southeast was cleaned out.  Both major and mid-major schools were nearly gone, so instead of going around the coast as I had intended, I went with my Midwest strategy for my last division.  I quickly got Nebraska at a relatively low price, and snagged Kansas State and Iowa State as well - both having a solid program in football and basketball, respectively.  To finish my conference off, I went after Northern Iowa, a solid FCS program in football and one of the better mid-majors in basketball.  I ended up spending way more than I wanted to for them, but since I had a surplus of money, the Purple Panthers were mine at whatever price I wanted.

In hindsight, I could've spent way more than I did.  I ended up with $121 leftover, enough to have gotten Texas, Oklahoma, and Syracuse instead of Baylor, OK State, and Boston College.  I also could've used that money to invest in the Southeast where I was hoping to grab schools like Miami, Florida, Georgia, and Duke/North Carolina.

Still, after everything is said and done, according to Neilsen, I have 7 of the top 10 media markets in the US (New York, Los Angeles, Philly, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Boston, and Houston), which is more than good enough to start with.  With a solid mix of big names and good programs, this conference should thrive and put butts in seats.

Oh, and you know.......it's a truly national conference.  Can't beat that.

Scheduling

Rivalries.  There's a few rivalries here.  Obviously UCLA-USC and Stanford-Cal are the big ones.  Some smaller ones like Baylor-TCU and Villanova-UConn are there.  With time, we'd see Iowa State-Northern Iowa develop, as well as the Northeast seeing those four schools fight each other for supremacy in an otherwise middling area.

Football.  Each school plays 7 ABC games in the "regular season".  The first three are divisional opponents with home-and-away games rotating every other year (similar to MAC divisional games now).  The other four are cross-division play, with each division playing the other three on a rotating basis.

After that, then we get into the weird.  Each division leader (based on ABC record, then divisional record, then head-to-head record) is entered into the ABC Tournament.  However, since this would require two additional games, and the NCAA only allows for one conference title game, we use this as an 8th "conference game".  To balance this, we allow for the other conference members, where the similar seeds would play each other at the higher ranked team's stadium (i.e. New England-2 vs Cowpoke-2, Gold Coast-4 vs Great Plains-4, etc).  The match-ups will be set so that the games are unique and no two schools play each other twice in the same season.

Winners of the tournament games advance to the ABC Championship Game at Soldier Field in Chicago, another large hub in the US.  Playing in Chicago allows for cheap travel among fans, and its central location is ideal for balance.

Basketball. Welcome to the 18-game schedule.  Six games against regional rivals followed by twelve games against the other ABC schools.  9 home, 9 away.  Pretty standard.  What will be unique is that for the East and West coast meetings, there will be stipulations to avoid multiple flights across the country.  Each New England team will either play Stanford and Cal or USC and UCLA over the period of a week, staying in California between games.  For the Gold Coast teams, Buffalo and Villanova are one pairing and Boston College and UConn are the other.

The conference tournament will look like the ACC's tournament.  However, the divisional winners all get byes to the quarter-finals instead of the top four teams in the ABC.  After that, each school is seeded 5-16 by their conference record, with ties being broken by head-to-head records then divisional records if need be.  Again, the tournament is in Chicago, with the United Center playing host.

Closing

So that's the American Belt Conference.  Is it perfect?  No.  But is it good?  It has two athletic powers in UCLA and Stanford.  It has the reigning National Champion in basketball.  It has footholds in fertile recruiting grounds in California and Texas for football and the Northeast for basketball.  It sits in great media markets.  Nobody else can claim the power of the ABC, and we look forward to running the athletic shows in the near future.