College football’s new era begins in 2014, sort of. The system will be sold as the long-awaited playoff, but what’s emerging bears an obvious resemblance to the present system. It won’t be the “Bowl Championship Series,” but a series of bowls will determine the champion. Bill “Bowl Game Experience” Hancock will be retained as its executive director. The only true differences are the one extra game, the increased revenue and the heightened disparity it will create.
The counterculture is dead. Conference realignment has decimated the “Group of Five.” The less politic would term it “the Kids’ table.” Utah joined the Pac 12. TCU joined the Big 12. The Big East, picked apart for a second time, swallowed up Boise State and every other viable program. The only past “BCS Buster” that has yet to be co-opted is Hawaii. If the Warriors ever make noise again, they may end up in the Big East West.
The new system will grant those decimated conferences less access than they have now. The SEC and the Big Ten are securing as much access for themselves as they can. Under the present system, the Big East champion receives an automatic bid and Non-AQ conferences have a plausible route to qualify. Under the future one, they share one automatic bid, most often going to the Big East.
Even that reduced guarantee went against the prevailing wind. The Big East tried to create its own anchor bowl with a seventh game. The Big 12 and Pac 12 had interest. ESPN, setting the postseason market in an exclusive negotiating window, set it low ($25 million compared to $80 million). The game was deemed unfit to host a semifinal. The proposal was shot down. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), said seventh bowl would have enhanced the value of the Big East, a conference that just turned down an ESPN offer to leave for one of its competitors. The ACC, with a 15-year ESPN deal, was able to lock down the less lucrative Orange Bowl and get it included.
That’s just the competition. There’s still the money to fight over. The deal could be worth as much as $600 million per year, more than triple the current BCS revenue. The five major conferences, justifying their preeminence with their past preeminence, will receive an equal and ample share. Having a representative in the playoff will warrant a bigger payout (power conferences). The payout will also be affected by APR rating. Having academics involved does send “a nice message.” It will also result in more money going to the major conferences.
The reported figure for the “Group of Five” conferences is 20 percent of the revenue. If it’s $600 million that would be $120 million or $24 million per conference (We can presume the Big East will fight for a greater share). That’s no small sum. It will cover a lot of the revenue lost playing bowl games. It is, indeed, “more.” The big conferences, under that scenario, would also be getting “more” from this, potentially between $6 million and $9 million per school. For major Big Ten and SEC programs, that’s profit.
Curmudgeons such as Jim Delany fended off a playoff for many years. The root fear was not making way more money. It was the prospect of way more money and fair access leveling the playing field. This new playoff system leaves the major conferences with the vast majority of the money and, in most seasons, 11/12 spots at the table. This will not only preserve but enhance the concentration of wealth and power at the top.
True revolutions don’t proceed with this little strife.
[Photo via Getty]