The bowl open market is officially open and conferences are already cashing in. The SEC and Big 12 got an early jump with their Champions Bowl agreement, and the Big Ten and Pac 12 have extended their deal with the Rose Bowl and the ESPN hype machine. Not to be left too far behind, the ACC has latched on to the Orange Bowl for a 12-year deal. We are beginning to get a better idea of who is coming out ahead in the new era of the four-team playoff and who is being left behind. So, how is your favorite conference doing?
The most dominant conference in college football got just about exactly what they wanted out of all of this. The four-team playoff will be played on neutral fields instead of home fields, possibly in the north, and it appears as though multiple teams from a conference will be eligible to be participating in the format, which would allow non-division winners to get in. Granted, the exact details for the selection committee's requirements or agenda are not known, but the momentum i certainly rolling down the SEC's hill.
SEC fans are already filling out four-SEC team playoff grids for years to come and while we will not go so far it does all play in the SEC's favor. If the SEC can handle the competition as they have in recent years then the chances we see another all-SEC championship game appear to be in good shape more often than not.
The SEC is in store for a very bright future in the four-team playoff era. The conference continues development on their own network, a la Big Ten Network. The Champion Bowl will result in a very nice paycheck (more on that next). The TV deal that will carry the four-team playoff could result in even more pay for the SEC with multiple teams in the mix.
Looking at everything right now, it is difficult to find anything that plays against the SEC.
Many previously laughed at the idea of the Big 12 sending their champion to the Champions Bowl to face what could be the third best SEC team on an annual basis. The odds that the Big 12 ego gets bruised when the third best SEC teams beats a Big 12 champion are probably fair, but even in hind sight this four-team playoff looks to be a good deal for the Big 12. The conference and SEC will negotiate for their own television contract for their new postseason game and that means a nice payday. No matter how you slice it, the four-team playoff era should be rewarding for the Big 12, who could still secure a bowl spot in other high-profile games such as the Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl on the bowl market.
The Big Ten came up small in the whole process by quickly caving in to the pressure and forfeiting the possibility to have home-site games. It may have been a bluff in hopes that Mike Slive and company would give up something as well, perhaps to ensure the Rose Bowl would remain untouched in all of this. Well, the Big Ten went all in with a weak hand and Slive and company called the bluff.
The Big Ten does remain tied to the Rose Bowl, which really is something special when you really look at things. Being able to send their champion to the Rose Bowl (more on that next) is nothing to cry about as the ESPN machine that comes with it is well worth it. But all is not rosy for the Big Ten with this four-team playoff.
By yielding on home- field advantage the Big Ten could be the conference hurt most by playing games on neutral fields. The Pac 12, SEC and Big 12 could all be in position to play semifinal games within their own foot print. The only way a Big Ten school would get a chance to stay close to home in the four-team playoff would be if they can win a game in another conference's territory and play a championship game in Indianapolis or Detroit, and there is not yet any sign either of those cities are ready to bid to host a championship game just yet (they could be coming though).
Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 hitched their wagon to the Rose Bowl train and they come out in good shape because of it. The Rose Bowl is not going anywhere and the importance that will ride on the game will continue, especially with the potential heightened emphasis from being a site for the four-team playoff. There could be seasons in which the Big Ten and Pac 12 champions could be in the four-team playoff, although it is unknown if those schools would be able to stay in Pasadena or would have to move to another pre-determined semifinal location.
The Pac-12 is going to be in great shape. The Pac 12 Network debuts this season and should turn in some profits the way the Big Ten Network has. With this and the Rose Bowl and the marketability to perhaps sign another lucrative bowl deal, the stock is definitely rising in the Pac 12.
The ACC will have an excellent chance to compete in the four-team playoff, but only if they can see one of their members rise to the occasion and become dominant within the conference. The last team to finish in the AP Top 10 from the ACC was Virginia Tech (2009 season). The last time two schools finished in the top ten was 2007, with the Hokies finishing No. 9 and Boston College rounding out the top ten. If the ACC can see a school like Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson or Miami put together a 12-1 season with an ACC Championship game victory, then the chances would be very good that the ACC would send one team to the final four of college football.
Until then the ACC champion will have to settle in with playing in the Orange Bowl, which may have lost its luster but still looks like a nice destination for the conference champion as long as West Virginia is not lining up on the other side of the field. It also depends on who becomes the Orange Bowl's other bowl partner. Notre Dame? Big East? SEC? Big Ten? Yes, there are plenty of options on the table right now, so we can reserve final judgement until more information is confirmed, but the previous thought remains the most important.
Until the ACC gets back to having a dominant program ready to compete at an elite level, the four-team playoff means little. The opportunity is there for the ACC to work their way in, but somebody will have to earn it.
Of all of the BCS automatic qualifying conferences, the Big East has taken the biggest hit so far. Despite some upcoming expansion within the conference, the Big East still has an image to repair and boost back up. Of course, this will take some time and the Big East may be in a similar position to the ACC. That is, the Big East will have to have one school rise above the rest and put together a one-loss or undefeated season in order to place a team in to consideration for the four-team playoff. Even with Boise State joining in 2013, the Big East looks to have a slim chance of sniffing the four-team playoff if the bias on the selection committee looks down on the strength of schedule of the entire conference.
Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference may have benefited more under the old system than the new system that will be used in the future. With schedule strength now likely to be more of a factor, that means schools like Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii (all joining the conference this season - Boise State and San Diego State will be in the Big East when this all goes down) will have an extremely difficult time convincing the selection committee they deserve an opportunity unless they happen to schedule road games at Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Florida State every year... and win.
Instead, the Mountain West Conference will have to be satisfied with potentially sending their champion to the Holiday Bowl or do everything they can to work out some sort of deal with the Fiesta Bowl, perhaps getting a spot in the game every so many years.
When it comes to the riches though, the Mountain West Conference looks to be taking a step back overall, especially with the fact that their own television network has gone off the air.
Conference USA is in a very similar situation to the Mountain West Conference. Some of their top brands are moving to a new conference (Big East) in 2013, which elaves the conference overall losing some punch in terms of competition. Without a big-money television contract and with the height of the postseason coming in the Liberty Bowl or Hawaii Bowl. In other words, the chances Conference USA reaps any benefits from the new playoff format appear to be bleak at best.
MAC and Sun Belt
Both conferences will continue to play in the virtual shadows of their bigger conference neighbors from the Big Ten and SEC, respectively. Lacking a national presence beyond the cult following of Tuesday night MACtion and weeknight Sun Belt games, neither conference will have what it takes to crack the four-team playoff any time in the near future.Where Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference have a slight chance to get a team in to consideration, even an undefeated team form the MAC or Sun Belt would struggle to convince they belong in a four-team playoff grid compared to undefeated, one loss and even two loss options from the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac 12 etc.
So, what can these conferences do to thrive? Essentially continue what they already do when it comes to scheduling, and have conference members schedule games against Big Ten and SEC opponents where possible. Feeding off of these conferences is not all bad, and with the Big Ten Network and plans for an SEC network the chances of getting the conference some exposure by any means necessary could help out over time.
Our first likely casualty of conference realignment and the changing landscape. Come 2013 the WAC is only projected to field two football programs, Idaho and New Mexico State, which means WAC football as we know it appears to be taking their final bow. This season the WAC has just one bowl tie-in (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), so we can already determine that the WAC is in big trouble moving forward.
Ahh, the Fighting Irish. Future ACC members. Or future Big 12 members. Future Big Ten members? At this point, who knows? In reality Notre Dame can manage to be a big winner in this new format by securing various bowl partnerships for their program, and it could help keep them an independent and continue to reap the benefits of independence. I recently discussed an idea in which Notre Dame would secure a bowl deal with the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, and if they were to do that the Irish would have two big-name bowl games working with them and sending some nice paychecks their way, which obviously do not need to be split with nine or 11 (or 13) other schools.
If you think Notre Dame needs to join a conference (I once was with you), think again.
BYU wants to follow the Notre Dame model but they should focus on a smaller scale. BYU is a recognizable brand name in college football but far from being considered a power. If the Cougar decide to remain independent, then securing a decent bowl partnership will be absolutely necessary, and they need to think big despite possible rejection. Begin negotiations with the Fiesta Bowl and Holiday Bowl. Work out a deal to have your team play in those games every so many years. Perhaps work in cooperation with the Mountain West Conference to set up a bowl tie-in with one of these games.
BYU believes in being an independent, but just how long can they manage to set up their postseason future by themselves? Might they run out of steam and become dependent on another conference? All things considered, it might be difficult to assess what this all means for BYU, although their chances of breaking in to the four-team format will be tough.
When Navy moves in to the Big East (2015), brace yourself for Navy's potential return to college football's big stage. We already assessed what this all means for the Big East, and if Navy can manage to capture a Big East championship then it would send the Midshipmen back to one of the big name bowls for the first time since the 1963 Cotton Bowl. Yeah, it has been that long for Navy.
Of course, this may mean different things for Navy than it would, say Boise State. Navy may take advantage of the extra coverage by getting to share more recruiting ads for the United States Navy, and when it comes to our country that is significant in a whole different realm. Navy wants to win football games but they will never be able to recruit the kind of talent that the Alabamas and Ohio States will be able to recruit, even with the advantages that should come being in the Big East. That is just the way it is for Navy.
But hey, anything that will provide our armed forces with a little extra recognition should be considered a win. Will Army decide to join a conference once their rivals from Navy abandon the independence ship?
But as long as we still have the Army-Navy Game, we all win.