So it’s Friday and I’m at the hospital giving blood. (Men, as a prostate cancer survivor, let me encourage you to get your PSA checked. That simple blood test saved my life.) While sitting and waiting… and waiting… and waiting… the texts began to roll in: ”New SEC deal with Big 12 to be announced shortly!”
Great. A lunchtime Friday gift for the media guys hoping to get a jumpstart on the weekend.
After finally having the blood drawn, I zipped home to put together a quick summary for you. Only I soon realized there is no quick summary for this story. This story is just part of a much larger, still developing story: the complete and total reshaping of college football as we know it.
For all the details, you can turn to long-time SEC scribe and all-around good guy, Tony Barnhart of CBSSports.com. But here’s the basic gist:
* The SEC and Big 12 announced today that beginning with the 2014 season (January of 2015, that is), the regular-season champs of those two leagues will meet in a bowl game that is not a part of what’s expected to be a brand new four-team college football playoff. Consider it the answer to the Big Ten-Pac-12′s Rose Bowl alliance.
* That’s if the SEC and Big 12 champs aren’t invited to the playoff, of course, and during the BCS era there have only been two occasions in 14 years when either the SEC champ or the Big 12 champ hasn’t made the national title game. The last time both leagues were shut out was way back in January of 2003.
* If one or both league champions make the playoff field, then league runner-ups would get the nod.
* The site of the game will be determined by a bidding process. The Sugar Bowl has been the home of the SEC champ since 1976. The old Big 8 was traditionally tied to the Orange Bowl, but the Big 12 locked in a deal with the Fiesta Bowl. For now, however, it looks like Jerry Jones and his Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas will be the top competition for the Sugar Bowl crew come auction time.
Now, for some very quick reactions, thoughts, questions, and observations (in no particular order):
1. This looks to be good news for the Big 12 and bad news for the ACC. At the moment there appear to be five major football conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. The Big 12 was wobbling just a few months ago after losing four major brand name schools in the span of a couple of summers. Now the Big 12 appears locked and loaded for the future (if its schools can all continue to play nice together). The ACC? Uh, well, not so much. After delivering yet another punch to the Big East by grabbing Pittsburgh and Syracuse last year, John Swofford’s league now appears to be the odd conference out if we ever find ourselves living in that four super-conference universe that’s so often been discussed. How can the ACC guarantee its survival as a big-time football league now? By raiding the Big East for Rutgers and UConn or South Florida? There are now two power blocs when it comes to future votes on college football matters: Big Ten-Pac-12 and SEC-Big 12. The ACC doesn’t have a dance partner.
2. Florida State, you now have another reason to move. President Eric Barron might not like it and it might not make the most sense to the faculty and staff at FSU, but the Big 12 now looks more secure than the ACC. The perception of many will be that the SEC chose to partner with the Big 12 because it’s in better shape going forward. We don’t deny that, but an SEC-ACC bowl could have also yielded rematches thanks to rivalries between Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech. Regardless, many FSU trustees and fans were pushing for a Big 12 move based on perception anyway. Now the perception of Big 12 > ACC is even greater.
3. Business rules. Forget emotions. Forget one conference grabbing teams from another conference. Harsh words and threats of lawsuits just don’t matter when it comes to money. The SEC and Big 12 weren’t the best of chums less than 12 months ago as Texas A&M and Missouri packed their bags and departed the latter league for the former. Well, the hatchet has apparently been buried. (You might say the tomahawk — in this case — has been buried in the ACC’s head.) Dollars rule in college athletics. Mike Slive and Swofford have had a good working relationship for a while. But when it came time to toss a rope to one league or the other and help pull them into the boat with the three most stable conferences — SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 — it wasn’t Swofford’s ACC that got the call, it was Chuck Neinas’ Big 12.
4. Earlier this week we wrote that FSU’s power play could force Swofford to reverse field and join the Pac-12 and Big Ten in pushing for a champs-only or a champs-mostly playoff format. He did just that in part to exert some pressure on the Seminoles to stay in the ACC, an easier league to win than the Big 12. But now it appears that the SEC and Big 12 were already planning ahead. We don’t believe Slive learned of Swofford’s flip-flop and picked up the phone to Neinas and new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week. Barnhart says the two leagues have been discussing such a plan for years. But the fact remains, Swofford abandoned the SEC’s push for a 1-2-3-4 playoff system and Slive appears to have had another partner already lined up on that front.
5. This move seems to guarantee that by the 2014 season the BCS will be gone. There’s still a lot of work to do before a playoff format is agreed upon and — let’s face it — that whole thing could still blow up in everyone’s faces. But whether there’s a playoff or not, it looks as if we are definitely heading back to the days of conferences cutting their own bowl deals. Come 2014 the bowl line-up could look a heckuva lot different for everyone. (Earlier this week, Big Ten commish Jim Delany said he’d like to see the bowl eligibility standard raised to seven wins and he even suggested his league might go down that road on its own, by choice.) In just two years, there could be fewer bowls and those bowls could have completely differently conference tie-ins.
6. Delany also suggested this week that perhaps it’s time for the bowl games to pay less money to the teams they invite… with the caveat being that those games would no longer require schools to buy tickets by the bushel (which leads to most schools losing money on their bowl trips). At Big12Sports.com today, Neinas mentioned in a video interview the possibility that the new Big 12-SEC game could be run simply by the leagues and not by a bowl at all. So not only could bowls look different — in number and in tie-ins by 2014 — but they could start to go away altogether, replaced by games run by the conferences. Or at least that seems to be an idea that more than one commissioner is tossing out for leverage purposes, if nothing else.
7. As for the Big 12-SEC game, here’s hoping the good people in New Orleans can raise enough cash to outbid Jones and Arlington. No offense to the Metroplex, but would you rather spend New Year’s in the French Quarter or in chilly mid-Texas?
8. And before anyone tosses out St. Louis as the perfect fit for the new game, would you rather spend New Year’s in the French Quarter or in even chillier Missouri?
9. Back to Florida State for a second, does this new power play now guarantee a Seminole move to the Big 12? Or is there a reason FSU trustees have continually mentioned the SEC as a league they’d like to hear from? If the SEC wanted to help stabilize the ACC it could have. Instead, it partnered with the Big 12 and tightened the noose around the ACC’s neck. If Slive isn’t worried about destabilizing the ACC, then perhaps he knows the age of the super-conference is here — like it or not — and he’s willing to grab FSU his own self. That’s pure speculation, but what in the past three weeks has not been pure speculation?
10. What was Slive’s ultimate goal here? To help stabilize the Big 12 — a league he didn’t intend to destabilize last year — while at the same time partnering with what has been the nation’s second-strongest league during the BCS era? (Championship game berths by league: SEC – 9, Big 12 – 7, ACC – 3, Big East – 3, Big Ten – 3, Pac-12 – 3.) Did he want to deal a death blow to the ACC? Or was he simply looking to do what was best for his own conference, consequences be damned? Personally, I’ve never heard a peep from anyone at an SEC institution suggesting that Slive would for any reason “attack” Swofford’s ACC. Therefore, it seems much more likely that this was Slive’s way of saying, “You can have the Rose Bowl, we’ll partner with the Big 12 and recent history says our bowl will feature higher-rated teams than your bowl.” It’s strictly business.
11. Though Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick says he doesn’t think the new SEC-Big 12 deal deal will have “significant near-term consequences” for his school, rest assured he’s puckering up a bit more today. Unless Notre Dame and the ACC can reach an agreement to merge, both bodies will continue to become more and more irrelevant by the hour.
12. Kudos to Neinas and the Big 12. Dan Beebe took the fall for a league that was built on a fault line and part of the league’s turnaround can surely be attributed to the fact that its members were looking over the edge of a cliff just a few months ago and that scared them straight (at least straight enough to share their media rights for 13 years). Still, the Big 12 is a perfect example of how the college football landscape is changing and morphing and shifting day after day. One day the Big 12 looks doomed. The next, it looks strong as can be. Who knows what the future holds? But Neinas deserves a lot of credit for grabbing the reins of his league’s wild horses, stopping them, and ultimately pulling them and the Big 12′s wagon back from precipice.
So what conclusions can be drawn from all this?
The Big 12 appears stronger. The ACC appears weaker. The likelihood of Florida State moving looks somewhat greater. And the SEC just continues to roll right along with an answer for every problem, a yin for every yang.
Other than those, no one should draw any conclusions. There’s a battle over a new playoff and what form it will take. Will it include existing bowls? Will bowls start to disappear, replaced by conference-owned games? What about bowl eligibility standards? Will more schools move from their current leagues? What about those $2,000 stipends for players? How can the NCAA preserve a level playing field when the biggest leagues are pushing to give players extra cash while more and more small schools (Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, Georgia State, etc, etc) jump to the FBS level?
Think you’ve got a read on what’s coming next? Think again. The powers-that-be don’t even know what’s coming next. There are too many variables in too many equations for anyone to feel confident in their beliefs about the future of college football.
Today’s news? Yeah, it’s big. But what it means long-term for all the parties concerned? That’s anybody’s guess.