Big 12, SEC champs to meet in bowl game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Don’t look now, but the Charlie Brown of the Bowl Championship Series is now its Lucy van Pelt. You won’t catch the Big 12 with its pants down anymore — unless, of course, it’s had a little too much to drink at the party.

Because, let’s face it, The Little Engine That Couldn’t keeps coming up with reasons to celebrate. Already rolling in the reported influx of cash from television deals with FOX and ESPN, the introduction of longtime NCAA power-broker Bob Bowlsby as its new commissioner and a slew of rumored flirtations with Florida State, the Big 12 plopped another feather in its cap Friday with this announcement: The league’s champion is slated to meet the champion of the Southeastern Conference in a New Year’s Day bowl game starting in 2014.

First Bowlsby, now the SEC. Last May, it was teetering on the edge of the bridge, about to bid a tearful farewell to Bedford Falls. Now the Big 12 has a promise ring from the prettiest girl in the class.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had a pretty good Friday, all things considered. Chuck Neinas wasn’t that far behind, though.

“Our goal is to provide the fans across the country with a New Year’s Day prime-time tradition,” Neinas, the Big 12’s interim commissioner, said in a statement. “This is a landmark agreement between two of the most successful football conferences during the BCS era to stage a postseason event. The creation of this game featuring the champions of the Big 12 and SEC will have tremendous resonance in college football.”

It already has. Once the cat was finally out of the bag, you could see eyebrows raising from Pasadena to Poughkeepsie. When SEC commissioner Mike Slive referred to a “new four-team model” for determining a national champion in the press release, it was as close to a definitive word as we’ve gotten that the playoff dream has moved from an “if” to a “when” — and that “when” appears to be less than three years down the road.

And though the wording of the announcement would seem to indicate otherwise, some pundits are even speculating this new Big 12-SEC bowl game might wind up turning into a de facto national semifinal, with the annual Big Ten-Pac-12 Rose Bowl — a game the former refuses to surrender — serving as the other. Considering the four leagues have accounted for 12 of the 14 BCS champions to date, that concept isn’t so far-fetched. A member of the Big 12 or SEC has won nine of the last 12 title games. So, it fits.

Heck, worst-case scenario, it’s the Rose Bowl East. Or maybe, assuming the two leagues have to send their second-best representatives to the dance, it’s Cotton Bowl II. The devil’s in the details, and the big ones — including the site; Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans and Atlanta have all been floated as possibilities — have yet to be announced.

But even if this new bowl is nothing more than just another January tilt tossed into already overcrowded mix, it’s symbolic of something else, something larger: The Big 12 means business.

The conference keeps solidifying its position as the fourth major player standing in the game of political “Survivor” the BCS has become. Considering the angry rhetoric coming from some inside the Seminoles’ inner circle, and suddenly, it’s the ACC that seems to be slipping further into the abyss.

When speculation over 16-team super-conferences came to a head a few years back, there were always going to be three pillars — the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The only question was: Of the Big 12, ACC and Big East, who was going to be the fourth?

That picture seems a little bit clearer now. The ACC and Big East are proud of their basketball traditions, and rightfully so. But football drives the train, fills the coffers, sets the bar. It’s the tide that lifts all boats.

In March, the Business Of College Sports blog (www.businessofcollegesports.com) ranked the BCS athletic departments with the highest net income during the 2010-11 school year. The Big 12 placed eight of 10 members among the top 48 (Texas, at $24.318 million, was fourth in the country; Kansas State, at $23.395 million, was fifth). The SEC had 91.6 percent of its membership (11 of 12 schools) among the top 48; The Big Ten had 83.3 percent (10 of 12).

The ACC? Just 67 percent. The Big East? Only 25 percent.

Florida State president Eric Barron and former football coach Bobby Bowden may not want to leave the ACC, dadgum it. But at some point, you wonder if they’ll have a choice. Charlie Brown is holding the football now, and the blockhead has no intention of giving it back.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com