The SEC and Big XII stunned the college football world on Friday by announcing that they've reached an agreement to pair up their conference champions in a bowl game starting in 2014. Paired with the Rose Bowl and their agreement with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, these four conferences have now separated themselves from the ACC and Big East. Conference expansion may be ready to enter round three as Florida State is now considering jumping from the ACC to the Big 12. Suddenly the conference that everybody couldn't wait to abandon now is now the conference that everybody wants to join. That's the wacky world of conference realignment.
No doubt about it that this agreement raises the viability and visibility of the Big XII. Matching up the conference champions in a bowl game brings the Big XII prestige and a huge payday. The SEC is currently on top of the college football world, and when this bowl game goes out to bid, it'll command rights fees that will undoubtedly dwarf what the Rose Bowl pays. Yeah, there won't be the tradition of the Tournament of Roses parade, but the potential of matching up Oklahoma with LSU or Alabama in a bowl game automatically trumps what the Rose Bowl usually provides.
Except that college football is currently looking at a four team playoff. And frankly, the SEC champion is almost guaranteed to be involved with that. The Big XII champion is a likely candidate as well...which means this game will probably feature the runners-up of those two conferences. Unless, of course, this is a plan to bring us back to the Big Ten's confusion "Semi-finals Plus Rose Bowl Playoff System". Think about it, take the top four conferences and set up defacto semi-finals in the Rose and the new SEC/Big XII bowl game. Yes, sometimes the #1 and #2 teams will meet up in this first round of bowl games, but there's no doubt that these two bowl games will rule the college football world.
But wait, what about Notre Dame and the other conferences? That takes us back to the original Big Ten proposal, where we match up the top two teams in the country after the bowls. If another school jumps into consideration, a third BCS bowl game would provide that opportunity to enter the national championship picture. That could be a Boise State, for example. It also could be the opening to allow a conference runner-up (such as Alabama) to remain in the national championship picture
That whole idea seems preposterous, but the whole national championship seems to bounce from one idea to the next. We've gone from bowl games for semifinals to campus semi-finals to neutral sites and back to bowl games, all in the matter of a few weeks. Last week, the Big Ten took a lot of criticism for abandoning the idea of campus playoff games to save the Rose Bowl. What looked short-sighted and surrender last week might actually be a calculated compromise. The SEC was never going to agree to any plan that could possibly send one of their teams outdoors to Lincoln, Ann Arbor, or Columbus in winter time. And if the SEC and Big XII were working on this deal, there's no way Jim Delaney gives up on the Rose Bowl.
But does this agreement suddenly make the Big XII right again? The outflow of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri stands as an indictment of Dan Beebe and Texas, and while Beebe is gone, Texas still remains. All it takes is another wild idea from Austin to send the Big XII into disarray again. But for schools like Florida State, the Big XII is still attractive as it may be the only opening into what could soon become a very exclusionary club.
Remember when some people thought that college football was headed towards four 16 team conferences? Well, those four conferences now have been identified. Now it's just a matter of how many schools get to play in this new world.