Let’s begin with a short instructional video:
That big lion, the one that zoomed to the head of the pack? That’s the SEC. The slightly slower lion is the Big 12. The Big 10 and Pac-12 are the lesser lions, doomed to leftovers. The ACC is offscreen, toothless, napping under a tree.
The Big East is the tree.
The wildebeest, of course, are big pulsing stacks of money. And just after this clip ended, the SEC and Big 12 chased them down and dined like kings.
College football’s top two conferences have up and created their own bowl game — a five-year experiment starting in 2014 that matches up the champions of both leagues, unless one or both are playing for the national title.
It’s not clear yet if the new game will absorb an existing bowl (probably the Sugar or Cotton) or be a brand-new thing. With the SEC states plus Texas and Oklahoma involved, it doesn’t matter which financial services firm buys the sponsorship; in reality it will be the Whiskey and Fireworks Bowl, endorsed by Black Cat and Pappy Van Winkle. (I am putting in today for credentials.)
So why did this happen?
— The SEC doesn’t want to end up with a crappy game once the BCS roulette wheel spits out its bowl matchups. The SEC is almost always going to have a team in the national title hunt (especially once the BCS goes to a four-team playoff), so the new game will generally fall to the SEC’s #2 team. Under the BCS, that team has ended up with Sugar Bowl matchups like Florida-Cincinnati (51-24), Georgia-Hawaii (41-10) and LSU-Notre Dame (41-14). (Yep, Notre Dame fans, these days Cincinnati and Hawaii are your comps.)
The new bowl will give SEC #2 a game against Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, except for the occasional year a Baylor or K-State gets chesty. Better matchup all the way around. Good for TV ratings. More money.
— The Big 12 gets to brand itself as one of the top four conferences, which is important, because the four teams in the playoff will often be the top team from those four leagues. So the Big 12 was willing to align with the SEC, even though the SEC just broke-and-entered the Big 12 and walked away with Texas A&M and Missouri. The Big 12 had to add TCU and West Virginia just to get back to 10 teams — and that’s still two short of the requirement for a conference title game. The SEC matchup replaces the payday from the conference championship and then some. More money.
— The Big 10 and Pac-12 appear committed to the Rose Bowl, because sticking with what worked 30 years ago is what granddaddies do. One playoff scenario might include the Rose Bowl and the SEC-Big 12 bowl as playoff games, which would make no sense, but the “making sense” button, when it comes to the BCS, is just one of those old Staples “that was easy” buttons with loose wires dangling underneath.
Besides, ABC pays $30 million a year to broadcast the Rose Bowl, the Rose Parade, and various pregame events that most likely involve Ryan Seacrest. Either way, lots of money.
— The ACC and Big East have pretty much stopped playing big-time college football. ACC football died in a terrible industrial accident in 2006, when Wake Forest played Georgia Tech in the championship game and the final was 9-6. Survivors include basketball, Danny Ford and the Bowden family.
Nobody involved in college football can tell you which teams are in the Big East. The Big East doesn’t even know. Who won the Big East in football last year? Possibly Marquette.
There’s no point in the SEC and Big 12 messing with the ACC and the Big East in bowl season. Those games won’t draw. No money.
College football is in the midst of continental drift. This SEC-Big 12 bowl is a minor but important piece — two tectonic plates clinking together and settling in. In a few years, when the shuffling is done, we’ll have four power conferences — the SEC, Big 12, Big 10 and Pac-12 — with 14 to 16 teams apiece. Everybody else will be Opponents. Every year some team from the Opponents will rise up and challenge the power teams. (Wake up the echoes!) It will be entertaining to watch. The Opponents will not often win.
Is this bad for the college football fan? Maybe. Is it bad for the spirit of competition? Probably. Does it further separate Football Schools from regular universities, with all the trouble that implies? Definitely.
Right now, though, only two things are clear.
One, the Whiskey and Fireworks Bowl will be one hell of a tailgate.
And two, it’s all about the wildebeest.