It’s now ‘Big 4’ … and everyone else

There has always been a significant divide between college athletics’ haves and have-nots.

In this Bowl Championship Series era of college football, it’s been the difference between being in an automatic qualifying conference and a non-automatic qualifying conference.

But with Friday’s seismic announcement that the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences’  respective champions will play each other in a New Year’s Day bowl starting in the 2014 season, a new standard rocked the college landscape. It’s now the Big Four (the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) and everybody else.

Never mind that if one or both of the Big 12 and SEC champions play in the forthcoming four-team playoff that the conferences will pick other teams for the game. Because now they have their own marquee game, just as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have the Rose Bowl.

Except the Big 12 and SEC’s could be better, not just because of their teams but also financially if they decide to produce the game themselves and have cities bid to host it — a possibility that would be a major blow to the bowl system (a topic for another day).

"This is a landmark agreement between two of the most successful football conferences during the BCS era," acting Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said. "The creation of this game . . . will have tremendous resonance in college football."

Neinas is right, because the big picture in the aftermath of Friday’s announcement is this: College football’s power has consolidated once again after a dizzying past two years of conference realignment — and this time, left out were the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East, the other two of the current six automatic qualifying conferences.

Of course, neither league will admit that, but the reality is that neither has been on the level of the Big Four for years. Now, with Friday’s announcement, it’s as obvious as ever.

But even clearer is the importance of being part the Big Four. You are either a part of their money and power or you’re not.

And if you’re the latter, good luck cracking the four-team playoff once it is likely implemented for the 2014 season.

That means it’s gut-check time for the ACC — and even Notre Dame’s football independence.

Because, depending on whom you ask at Florida State, that school already is disenchanted with the ACC’s new television contract, which pays each member $17 million annually. FSU is more in favor of seeing what the Big 12 could offer.

The potential $25 million per year each Big 12 team could get as part of the league’s new television deal has to look even more attractive to the Seminoles after Friday’s news.

And if you are the Big 12, which has rallied back amazingly after it teetered on the brink of extinction last summer during the throes of conference realignment, why not Florida State? And how about other ACC members Miami, Virginia Tech and … wait for it … Notre Dame?

If the Fighting Irish were really thinking about joining the ACC as a full-fledged member, as has been speculated, they have to reassess. Otherwise, their prized football team that once was so mighty could become even more irrelevant than it already is.

The ACC’s days of relevancy seem numbered nonetheless in the dawn of this new era of the Big Four. Even the unlikely Hail Mary addition of Notre Dame might not even be enough, because who would the ACC partner with for its champion to play in the new big game?

The beleaguered Big East?

Ha. That already happens in what is perennially the worst BCS game of all, the Orange Bowl.

It’s not as if there’s much hope for the Big East, which seems destined for the same mediocrity as the new-look Mountain West and Conference USA, the latter of which it raided for a majority of its new members.

The league fired its commissioner earlier this month, was able to offset its eventual defections of four schools only by desperately expanding from coast to coast and is trying to get a new television deal amid the chaos.

Not that it really matters. Because, as of Friday, if you are not part of the Big Four, you are a have-not anyway.