With a four-team playoff now imminent and the face of college football's postseason about to undergo a reconstructive makeover, the SEC and Big 12 made a bold statement Friday, proving they'll most definitely be at the center of it. While the Big Ten and Pac-12 continue their long-standing alliance with the Rose Bowl, their power-conference counterparts are essentially starting their own Rose Bowl.
In a press release touting an agreement to pit their leagues' champions in a New Year's Day bowl beginning in January 2015, the SEC and Big 12 dubbed themselves the kings of the BCS era, having both placed teams in the final top four 11 times in the system's 14-year history. Now, they're about to use that track record as leverage in BCS 2.0. In a sign of the bowls' rapidly declining clout, SEC commissioner Mike Slive proclaimed, "A new January bowl tradition is born," and Big 12 acting commissioner Chuck Neinas touted "a New Year's Day primetime tradition," before actually signing a deal with any bowl or television network.
Most of the details (chiefly, where the game will be played) are still to be determined, but the ramifications of the leagues' partnership are vast. Start with the fact that to this point in the playoff discussions, the Big Ten and Pac-12 seemed to hold the most cards due to the unique partnership between them and the Rose Bowl. Much grumbling arose earlier this week when Big Ten athletic directors publicly backed off their earlier support to hold playoff games at on-campus sites, presumably because of the belief that it would hurt the Rose Bowl.
In reality, the league simply realized it was in the minority on that issue. The SEC in particular has been adamant about playing all playoff games at neutral sites, despite the fact that there seems to be almost no comparable sentimentality in that league toward its own long-standing partner, the Sugar Bowl. Similarly, Big 12 fans have long seemed indifferent toward the Fiesta Bowl, which is neither the traditional destination of the Texas schools (Cotton) nor Oklahoma schools (Orange).
Now, those two leagues truly have a vested interest in a particular bowl game, first and foremost because they currently control it. Which means all remaining playoff debates -- be it about host sites, conference champions, selection committees or what not -- will be a turf war between two factions. Note: They're not the ACC and Big East.
Based on public and private comments about the proposals being considered, it seems increasingly certain that the semifinal games will be played within the bowl system rather than on campus. Following the BCS commissioners' meeting in late April, the most popular plan involved the No. 1 and 2 teams hosting the No. 3 and 4 teams at their conferences' respective anchor bowls. But that was based in part on the assumption that the leagues would maintain their current partners. "This could change things," a high-level BCS source said of the SEC-Big 12 announcement.
Will the SEC and Big 12 push for this new bowl to serve as their designated semifinal host? If so, will the other conferences fight against it, seeing as those leagues have produced a No. 1 or 2 team nine straight years? Or do the SEC and Big 12 envision the game more as a comfortable backup should one of their champions fail to reach the playoff?
Friday's release left things intentionally vague, saying: "The champions of the two conferences will be in the matchup unless one or both are selected to play in the new four-team [playoff]. Should that occur, another deserving team from the conference(s) would be selected for the game." If that's the case, we could see a move toward rotating the semifinal sites annually on a predetermined basis.
One thing's for certain: It's going to be a trying and nerve-racking year for the current BCS bowls. The conferences are expected to announce their chosen playoff format in late June or early July. Whichever one they choose, they'll do so before beginning negotiations with specific bowls. The Rose Bowl is its own animal. It will do whatever best suits the Big Ten and Pac-12. But now, none of the other current games -- Fiesta, Sugar and Orange -- are guaranteed anything.
Neinas strongly hinted that the SEC and Big 12 will open up the bidding for their new game to any interested party with a deep enough wallet. It's reasonable to assume that includes Jerryworld in Dallas, but it may not even be an existing bowl. It could be some other geographically sensible city (Houston, San Antonio, etc.). It could rotate. The conferences could theoretically start and operate the game themselves, thus retaining all the revenue, though more realistically they'll simply work out a more favorable distribution agreement with an existing organization.
Having said that, the potential host cities have a decision to make. The commissioners have made it clear they're moving away from double hosting, and that the championship game will be bid out nationally. As much as it makes sense geographically for the Cotton Bowl to host the Big 12-SEC game, Mr. Jones may be more interested in throwing his cash at the title game. The Cotton and other bowls may still open their war chests for a shot to regularly host the semifinals, and if in fact the new Big 12-SEC bowl will serve as a de facto host, it could engender a massive bidding war.
If, on the other hand, the game is independent of the playoff ... well, as Berry Tramel of The Oklahomannoted, it won't be much different from the current Cotton Bowl, a game that frequently pits the leagues' runners-up (or worse). Certainly, this new bowl will be marketed as something more glamorous.
As previously reported, BCS 2.0 will likely be a multigame television package centered around New Year's Day and restricted to teams that meet a certain ranking. But a game like the recently beleaguered Orange Bowl will have to decide whether it's willing to pony up for another go-around with the ACC's champion, or whether it makes more sense to drop down and simply host a Capital One-type game between modestly ranked brand names.
Either way, BCS 2.0 will no longer require six games, as previously reported. With the SEC and Big 12 partnering up, it will need at most five if the anchor bowls serve as semifinals (Big Ten-Pac-12, SEC-Big 12, ACC and two open spots).
In reality, with this latest consolidation of conference power, two bowls will now trump all the others: Rose Bowl West and Rose Bowl East.