Last Friday's announcement that the Big 12 and SEC decided to hook up for a postseason game starting in 2014 was significant on a number of levels.
And, frankly, the game itself is way down the list.
The conferences announced that their champions would meet in a bowl if neither team was in the four-team national championship playoff, which is scheduled to begin in 2014. That the Big 12 and/or SEC champ wouldn't be in the playoff is hard to fathom: Since the beginning of the BCS in 1998, only twice (in 1999 and 2002) has the title game not included a team from one of those leagues. And at least one of the league champs has been in the top four of the BCS standings each season; indeed, both league champs have been in the top four in seven of the 14 BCS seasons.
So, while a matchup of the Big 12 champ vs. the SEC champ in a bowl sounds great, it rarely, if ever, is going to happen. But the announcement is still huge for two reasons, neither of which has to do with the fact that these two conferences have created a built-in guarantee of a huge postseason payday.
1. The biggest might be that it was the leagues announcing the matchup, not a bowl announcing it had reached agreement with the leagues. Consider this the first salvo in the conferences taking total control of the postseason, not the bowls running things. In other words, the tail won't be wagging the dog anymore.
Further, the statement from the leagues said they would be bidding out the bowl, more evidence that the money is going to flow at a tremendous rate. The SEC has a deal with the Sugar Bowl and the Big 12 has been aligned with the Fiesta Bowl. Presumably, both those games will do everything in their power to be associated with the four-team playoff, as those two (along with the Orange and Rose) make up the four BCS sites.
But with their announcement, the Big 12 and SEC have let it be known that regardless of the hosting model of the playoff system, they expect big bucks from this new postseason process, which means the Outback, Gator, Capital One, Chick-fil-A, Cotton and any other bowl better begin trying to develop a bigger war chest in order to be a player in the new system. This is the ultimate pay-to-play move for the conferences, and numerous bowls risk becoming irrelevant if they don't pony up.
The Big 12/SEC announcement came on the heels of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany saying at the close of his league's spring meeting that perhaps it was time schools had to have a winning record to play in a bowl (i.e., no more 6-6 teams). That's another way of telling the bowls (currently, there are 35) that the tide has changed; there would be fewer bowls in that scenario, but you can bet there would be more money flowing from each of the bowls that survived.
2. The move by the Big 12 and SEC ratchets up the pressure on the ACC and Big East. The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have their famous postseason deal. Is an ACC-Big East bowl next to be announced?
The problem, of course, is it would be met with a figurative shrug of the shoulders from the vast majority of the college football world. The Big East is distinctly down the football pecking order, and the ACC appears to be in danger of falling closer to the Big East than remaining close to the top four. There used to be the "Big Six" conference distinction; it's becoming more and more possible that becomes the "Big Four."
All of this gives Florida State (and, conceivably, Clemson and Miami) something to think about. FSU has been linked with the Big 12, though the school and the league have been quick to say there have been no formal discussions. This is another reason for FSU folks wanting out of the ACC to rise up and make their voices heard. (Still, if FSU and Miami of 2012 were the FSU and Miami of the 1980s and 1990s, the ACC would be awash in TV money. Neither school plays must-watch football these days, which hurts the ACC as a whole.)
In some respects, the Big 12/SEC deal is saying to those not in the Big Four leagues, "Wow, this is good. Does anyone else want some?" (And, yes, this includes Notre Dame, which still seems safe as an independent.) There already is a sharp distinction between the teams in the current Big Six leagues and those that aren't. Imagine the gulf/gorge/monstrously deep ravine that potentially could develop between the Big Four and those outside.
The number of have-nots figures to grow. The irony, of course, is that a playoff was supposed to lessen the distance.
The one potential saving grace for some of the have-nots is that the four-team playoff won't be a four-team playoff for long. It is going to grow rapidly, perhaps up to 24 teams. That would mean more playoff access, but the financial figures for schools like Rice and UNLV are still never are going to be within sniffing distance of the financial figures of the likes of Ohio State, Florida and Texas.
And no one should be surprised: Why would power schools willingly cede power and money – the money, truthfully, is the key – to lesser-light programs?
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