Big 12 gaining strength with new bowl game

The Big 12 and the SEC’s decision to pair their football champions in a
bowl game could mean everything. And it could mean very
little.

Whatever happens, it’s a major boon to the
Big 12, a league nearly shredded by conference realignment scenarios and
defections the last two years.

But let’s start with
the “very little” part first.

Beginning with the 2014
season when the new four-team playoff replaces the BCS, the Big 12 and
SEC will match their champions in a bowl game, name and site to be
determined, on New Year’s Day in prime time.

Yet how
often will this bowl game really match conference champions? Maybe once a
decade.

The kicker is that if either league’s
champion is selected for the four-team playoff, it will be replaced with
“another deserving team” according to the press
release.

The Big 12 and the SEC have each had a team
in the top four of the final standings in 11 of the 14 years of the BCS.
Both conferences have produced 14 teams that finished in the top four
of the final BCS standings.

From one aspect, this
bowl will be a nice landing spot for the champions – should they be left
out of the four-team playoff – and runners-up from the SEC and Big 12.

So if the Big 12 and SEC pledge to match their
champions and the champions never meet, it means very
little.

The format for selecting the four playoff
teams, and how to stage the games, is still to be
determined.

That’s where “this could mean everything”
angle comes into play.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have
been a thorn in the side of the playoff formulation because of their
staunch protection of the Rose Bowl. Obviously, any national
championship formula that doesn’t include the Big Ten and Pac-12
champions is invalid, but they are determined to keep their traditional
Rose Bowl matchup alive.

Now the SEC and the Big 12
have their own primetime, New Year’s Day matchup to protect. It doesn’t
have the tradition of the Rose Bowl, but money from sponsors and TV
could be astronomical.

The new “Champions
Bowl”  — a working title for the matchup — would
also create a nice fit for a college football playoff. Make the Rose
Bowl and Champions Bowl the
semifinals.
 
Remember all those rumors about
four super conferences eventually ruling college football? There ya
go.

In other words, Florida State’s interest in
joining the Big 12 may have just been raised a notch or two. Cell phones
may be blowing up at Miami and Virginia Tech,as well .

Would the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC simply
leave the ACC and Big East out of the national championship equation?

And, well, there’s also Notre Dame.

Unless the Irish can
be convinced to join a conference, there will likely be some
accommodation for a team from outside the big four conferences to earn
its way into the four-team playoff. That could leave an opening for an
ACC or Big East champion as well.

Regardless of
whether the new “Champions Bowl” becomes part of the playoff structure,
the Big 12 and the SEC are leveraging their strengths to consolidate
power in the post-BCS era.

For the Big 12, this is
huge news. The conference was on life support twice in the last two
years because of realignment fever. Now, aligned with the undisputed
king of football conferences, the Big 12 looks like it has its
legs back.

The move has outgoing interim commissioner
Chuck Neinas’ fingerprints all ove itr. It’s the kind of bold move the Big
12 would not take during its earlier era of infighting and
jealousy.

As for where the game will likely end up,
there are a number of great choices already in place. The Cotton Bowl
already pits the Big 12 against the SEC and has a premier facility. It’s
also in both leagues’ footprints, now that Texas A&M has
switched to the SEC.

But there’s also the Sugar,
Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowl that have huge payouts and are
already aligned with the SEC. Or it could be some new
entity.

The Sugar and Cotton should be in the running
for some role in the playoff, perhaps even as sites for the national
championship game.

Once the playoff format and sites
are completely worked out, the details for the “Champions Bowl” will fall
into place.

Things have already moved the right way for the once-shaky
Big 12.

Follow Keith Whitmire on
Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire