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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter February 7, 2014

What if statisticians ran college football? A re-conceptualization of the football bowl subdivision

  • Jonathan A. Jensen EMAIL logo and Brian A. Turner


Conference affiliation is an important consideration for institutions of higher learning, both athletically and academically. Traditionally, conference affiliation in the NCAA has been determined based largely on geography. However, recent events beg the question of what would be the result if conference affiliation, and classifications such as being a Bowl Championship Series Automatic Qualifier, were re-configured based not on traditional aspects of geography, tradition and like-mindedness, but solely on the financial and on-field performance of an institution’s football program. This paper utilizes a multivariate statistical technique (cluster analysis) to re-conceptualize conference affiliation, as well as the current Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) hierarchy, based solely on data reflecting the performance of each FBS institution’s football programs. The analysis results in a total of 23 programs being relegated from their current status, while several programs (such as Boise State, Louisville and Rutgers) have been promoted into the highest tier of the FBS based on their performance. The paper also presents a new clustering of four “super” conferences based on this same performance data, resulting in four conferences consisting of programs with similar on-field and financial performance over the past 10 seasons.

Corresponding author: Jonathan A. Jensen, Department of Human Sciences, The Ohio State University, A220 PAES Building 305 West 17th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1234, USA, e-mail:


The authors would like to thank Dr. Richard G. Lomax for his review and critique of this manuscript.


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Published Online: 2014-2-7
Published in Print: 2014-1-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

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