Complete overhaul. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Given the general backlash against the current BCS system, it has been exceedingly clear in recent months that some form of a playoff would be implemented in the near future, and the uncertainty was just the specifics of the post-BCS landscape. However, with the news that, beginning in the 2014 season, the champions of the SEC and Big XII will meet annually in the so-called Champions Bowl on New Year's Day, the specific playoff structure seems to be in place and the dawn of an era of superconferences now looks more inevitable than ever.
So, for starters, why the pairing of the SEC and Big XII? Part of the reasoning likely involves geographic proximity and prior relationships between several of the member programs, but the bigger driving factors were likely necessity and the influence of the Rose Bowl.
To outsiders and the rational-minded, the Rose Bowl is an anachronism, an over-hyped event that lost most of its relevance many decades ago. The parades are nice and the picturesque Pasadena setting even better still, admittedly, but the games themselves were typically irrelevant in the national championship discussion even before the dawn of the BCS, and snoozers were especially common. It's frequently unremarkable football and even worse television.
But good luck getting far with that argument when dealing with self-congratulatory Rose Bowl apologists, who view the annual event as the nearest mere mortals can ever hope to transcend the space-time continuum. And, given that many people and institutions holding such views also wield tremendous influence in college football, for better or for worse the Rose Bowl and its Big Ten versus Pac-12 match-up will be largely preserved in the post-BCS landscape.
With the Rose Bowl effectively immovable, then, by pairing together the SEC and the Big XII guarantee their own post-BCS standing. No worries over complex mathematical formulas, voter biases, at-large bids, strength of schedule, margin of victory, or any other similarly nebulous consideration. Bottom line, as a matter of right, every year at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on January 1st, your conference champion will take the field with only sixty minutes separating them from a berth in the national championship game. Is it a more difficult road what members of these conferences face now? Arguably so, but such is the trade-off for certainty you get under the new system.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have to feel like this is Christmas morning. Not only do they get to preserve the traditional Rose Bowl format, they get to play among themselves with no regular season concern for what is developing in the SEC and the Big XII, both of which have been historically stronger conferences that have routinely been selected over the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions in the current BCS format. Now come January 1st every year, they, too, will only have sixty minutes separating them from the national championship game. And if that entails 11-2 Ohio State going against 10-2 Oregon, while, say, later that night 13-0 Alabama squares off against 13-0 Texas, so be the luxuries of the system. No small consideration, mind you, for two conferences that have combined for only about four national championships -- three of which were split titles -- in the past thirty years.
And with that basic model implemented, everything else falls easily into place, even if not smoothly so. Superconferences quickly form, simply because there is no alternative to being on the outside looking in at the Big Four championship format. There is no room for a fifth conference in a Big Four environment, and whichever conference, or conferences, are tainted with that status will be effectively mid-majors, even if they are called by another name.
The ACC will be the obvious casualty, and on short notice it should effectively go the way of the Big East. The few viable programs that it has will have to go elsewhere to maintain their own viability. To that end, Florida State is already publicly searching for the exits, and programs like Virginia Tech, Miami, and Clemson will have to quickly follow. What will be left will be also-ran programs like Wake Forest and basketball schools like Syracuse and Duke.
The BCS as we know it is dead. Superconferences will become the norm, and with the inability to expand the regular season schedule further, divisions within superconferences become more solidified with fewer games being played less frequently between inter-divisional conference members. The conference championship games become a final four play-in game, which means the Big Four format creates a de facto eight-team playoff, which should sit very well with those who believe a four-team playoff does not go far enough.
Even the white whale of conference expansion, Notre Dame, is now more isolated than ever, and independence may no longer be the answer. It is possible that there could be an at-large trigger in the Big Four format, where even a conference champion of one of the Big Four conferences does not get a spot at the table when they are below a certain ranking, for example, but the specter of potentially being on the outside looking in could simply be too big of a risk in South Bend, assuming they can ever finally transcend their Champs Sports Bowl tradition of the past two decades.
Some details have to be worked out, but on the whole the landscape is relatively easy to envision even at this early stage. A de facto final four championship playoff, even if it is not expressly called a playoff, comes into being with the Champions Bowl and the Rose Bowl, the effect of which leads to a massive premium placed on membership in the four major conferences, which will lead to another bevy of conference realignment as independents and members of the ACC search for a place in one of the four major conferences. Like it or not, expect this to be the format of college football in the aftermath of the BCS.