I was thinking as Scrappy started waking me up this morning about division I (i.e. FBS) football. You have 6 automatic qualifying conferences for the BCS- the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and the Pac-10. And then you have the also-ran conferences- the MAC, Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt. The fuss kicks in when good also-ran schools like Boise State and TCU fight to get into the BCS (the so-called "bowl busters). These schools have to move heaven AND earth to get a shot at the national championship, whilst a less deserving school from the AQs only has to move one or the other.
My idea is the soccer system of relegation. To do this, Let's assign each big conference an also-ran conference to be its "relegation group". The Pac-10 gets the MWC, the Big 12 gets the WAC, the Big 10 gets the MAC, the SEC gets the Conference USA (and can split the Sun Belt with the Big 12). Pull, say, Pitt and West Virginia from the Big East and give them Duke and Wake Forest and they become the ACC's feeder. Make it so if a big conference school has 2 years in which they manage only 3 conference wins total, they get relegated if their feeder has a team that's lost only 3 times in those two years. If nobody meets the requirements, nobody moves. If the number is uneven, look at the total record. For example, Michigan's record in 2008-9 would have them relegated, along with Indiana. But only Central Michigan meets the requirement in the MAC, so you look and see that Michigan had more overall wins in those 2 seasons, and thus are spared.
With that accomplished, then you have an 8-team national championship playoff, and say a 4-team relegation league championship. This would give a Boise State a chance in the big show, and an Indiana could be more competitive in the relegation league. My research shows that if 2010 was the first "relegation year", that the ACC and SEC would be safe, the Big 10 would indeed switch IU for Central Michigan, the Big 12 would flip Baylor for Boise State, and Utah would have come to the Pac-10 a season earlier, dumping Washington State, while TCU would have been about 1 Washington win away from joining them.
Now I know Michigan's close call and TCU's bridesmaid status probably will rankle some, as would the idea of, for example, Hawaii having their 2 good June Jones/Colt Brennan years and sneaking into the Big 12 only to lose coach and quarterback and falling flat on their face. But if they get raised to the next level, perhaps the coach doesn't look for the better job right away, perhaps the star recruit signs with the team, or the star qb stays for his senior year instead of trying the draft as a sophomore. The administration cleans up problems before the NCAA investigation knocks them into the relegation tier, and the struggling team in the big conference is able to build itself back up against lesser competition.
The local flaw in the ointment would be the independents Army, Navy, and NOTRE DAME. They would have to find themselves a conference if they wanted to compete. Not such a big deal for the service academies, but a huge honkin' deal for Notre Dame, who would presumably go grovelling to the Big 10 or the reconstituted ACC who they have treated with disdain all these years. BYU, who goes independent next year, would likewise have slit its own throat; but the stupid merry-go-round we had this season as Nebraska, Mizzou, Texas, BYU, Utah, Boise, etc. played "follow the money" would be replaced with a much more stable arrangement.