What The SEC-Big 12 Bowl Agreement Reveals About the Future Shape of the BCS

Apparently the SEC wants their own version of the Rose Bowl, because they have announced that they have reached an agreement with the Big 12 that will pit their respective conference champions against one another in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

That’s right. Their conference champions. I didn’t even think they could do that outside the confines of the BCS.

The first thought I had involved the structure of the BCS bowls outside the playoff. It had sounded like the BCS would be adding two more bowls to the BCS collection, while this move contracts the number of bowls needed to capture all the BCS conference champions, especially if, as other reports suggest, the ACC and Big East make the Orange Bowl their own champions’ bowl. But one thing this does is allow the BCS to at least attempt to officially give second tie-ins to the BCS conferences. If there are two “champions'” bowls, that leaves four bowls completely free for any second tie-ins to be distributed among, the ACC and Orange Bowl aside. Assuming the new SEC/Big 12 bowl is the Sugar Bowl, you could see a situation where Big 10 #2 plays SEC #2 in another Florida bowl (the Cap One or Gator), Big 12 #2 goes to the Cotton Bowl, and Pac-12 #2 goes to the Fiesta Bowl (with all other spots being at-large). Alternately, Big 10 #2 could play ACC #2 in the second Florida bowl while SEC #2 goes to the Orange Bowl, which keeps the ACC from being faced with the choice of sending their #2 to Texas at the nearest or officially becoming second-class BCS citizens. Conversely, if the SEC/Big 12 bowl is the Cotton Bowl, you could see some tie-in do-si-do with Big Ten-SEC in the Cap One or Gator and Pac-12 #2 v. Big 12 #2 in the Fiesta.

The bigger question, though, is what this means for the four-team playoff the BCS honchos just agreed to. If they simply pick the bowl tied-in with the conference of the higher-seeded team, that will be at least one and possibly both of the Rose and SEC/Big 12 every year. They could take advantage of the #2 tie-ins to have backup if both semifinals would go to the same bowl, but I think they instead create two tiers of BCS bowls and inoculate the Rose and SEC/Big 12 from ever being semifinals unless one game pairs both conferences’ champions (or a pairing of both champions is possible in the semis without being 1 v. 2). It’s worth noting that in the tie-in structure that splits up SEC #2 and Big Ten #2 to different bowls above, each of the four remaining bowls would have about the same chance of hosting a semifinal, assuming the Big Four conferences are equally likely to produce a playoff team.

More to the point, if this had been in place when the BCS honchos met I think it would have changed their plans, and it may yet end up changing them long-term. A format that preserves the Rose Bowl matchup looks more palatable to the SEC and Big 12 if they can get the same deal for their own bowl, with far more sinister implications for everyone else. It’s easy to see this as the starting point for a plus-one that turns these two bowls into de facto semifinals, suggesting the dream of 16-team superconferences is not quite dead yet. That could change the landscape of college football tremendously over the next few decades, potentially signalling the death knell not just to the Big East but even the ACC and independence for Notre Dame. College football is entering the next act in its evolution, but the final act hasn’t arrived by a long shot.

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