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The Big Picture: A split between the AQ and the non-AQ is inevitable

Could a split between the haves and have-nots of college football be in the works?

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That's what CBSSports.com columnist Tony Barnhart wrote in his column Thursday and it's hard to disagree with his logic.

Let's be honest, there's already a stigma between the big six conferences and the nonautomatic qualifying schools. No matter how well some of the non-AQs do on the field, they simply aren't regarded in the same light as the powers that be. A lot of that has to do with money, but it also has to do with perception. There's already a mental divide between the big and small schools and no matter how much the smaller conferences protest and fight for equality, that mental perception will always be there.

Barnhart makes two great points in his article:

• Both Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive have both endorsed a potential rule change that would allow their conferences to pay an incidental living expenses stipend to its student-athletes. Most of the big conferences, thanks to television deals and ticket sales, can afford to do this. The remaining five conferences -- the WAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, Conference USA and MAC -- don't have nearly the revenue to compete with whatever stipend figure the bigger conferences are contemplating.

• The BCS is probably on its way out, leaving teams to fend for themselves monetarily. The best way to do that is to band together and make a profitable product for television. The teams in the major conferences can pull of that type of branding without the non-AQ leagues.

      CNN Money published a story last December citing the monetary discrepancies between the top six conferences and the five non-AQ leagues for 2010. The story states that the big six revenue was up 11 percent and that each of those major teams earned an average of $15.8 million per year. The non-AQ schools from the other conferences split $26 million and eight of those schools lost money.{YSP:MORE}

      Texas led the way with $94 million in revenue while Alabama and Georgia followed. TCU and Boise State were among the big winners among the non-AQ leagues, but TCU's $20 million placed it 47th on the revenue list and that $20 million just allowed the school to break even.

      I think that all of us, on some basic level, knew that an eventual separation between the AQ and non-AQ teams was possible and even likely especially after the Mountain West's best teams were either picked up by bigger conferences or decided to go independent. It was like picking out the best while leaving the rest in the minor leagues. It's unfortunate that a team such as Boise State might end up being left behind, but like any divorce, there are always casualties.

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      Barnhart proposes that the six major conferences and the independents -- Army, Navy, Notre Dame and BYU -- would form a 70-team group called the College Football Association. The non-AQ teams would have to ban together with the I-AA schools (or FCS) to stay afloat.

      I think the most damning quotes in Barnhart's article come from Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb, whose school has been going through a feasibility study since 2009. The school is trying to determine whether it's financially stable enough to move from I-AA to I-A. When Appalachian State announced that it was doing a feasibility study, it raised questions about where the school might be looking to jump. It's in Conference USA territory, but the Big East was also a blip on the radar. Cobb said he feels like his school is on par with those from the non-AQ leagues.

      "When we look at the WAC, the MAC, the Sun Belt and the others we compare very favorably to what they are doing," Cobb told CBSSports.com. "So we decided that if things change dramatically we need to be prepared.

      "What the Big Ten said last week got everybody's attention. What it really showed is that the gap in college football is not between Division I-A and I-AA. It's between the BCS schools and everybody else Division I-A."

      While attention will be on the big six conferences, which have no doubt already talked about this type of change in the college landscape, a watchful eye also has to be kept on the Mountain West. This is the conference that raised the fuss with the BCS for inclusion and also prompted the federal government's involvement. Could that ultimately backfire on the Mountain West? If the BCS ceases to exist that might leave the Mountain West -- arguably the best among the non-AQ leagues -- on the outside looking in.

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