published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Greeson: SEC-Big 12 deal rivals Rose Bowl for power play

Be it for political or peer pressure, college football was headed for a playoff. You knew it; I knew it; even Smokey knew it.

An offseason of discontent -- truthfully brought as much because the all-SEC BCS title game than fairness, equality or any sense of fair play -- has produced a committed group of college sports administrators vowing finally that the sport should crown its champion on the field.

It's coming now, a four-team playoff no later than 2014.

Little more than that has been settled, however. The sites, the invitation list, the structure -- all of it is still open for discussion, and the posturing from overeager athletic directors and conference commissioners would embarrass an ostentation of peacocks.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was the lead bird in this parade, leading the drum beat of ideas and suggestions that were cloaked with supposed good intentions but filled with narcissistic interests. Delany has been weighing the odds and playing, be it suggestions that only conference champions be invited or that the Big Ten's smooch-fest love affair with the Rose Bowl should be part of the foundation of the new playoff system.

Delany's unyielding love for the Rose Bowl is not without its merits. It's the Granddaddy, after all, and it's the last bowl standing with the tradition and the fortitude to remain a player in the playoff talk and even a viable commodity regardless of the outcome.

Delany and the Rose Bowl were something of a speed bump in the shaping of the playoff. That changed Friday, however, when the SEC and the Big 12 announced a bowl agreement to have their conference champions face off, provided those teams are not in the four-team playoff.

Granted, more times than not, the runners-up or even the No. 3 teams from the SEC and Big 12 will play since those two leagues have won every BCS title since 2005 and have had at least one team in all but two of the BCS title games. But the new bowl -- some even have dubbed it the Champions Bowl -- is nothing about playoff. It's about payoff.

The Champions Bowl is less about a power conference and more about a power play.

The agreement between the SEC and Big 12 just changed the game. Again. In a new era when the future of bowls is uncertain and the agreements are unstable, the SEC took the Big 12 under its wing and said, "Come along for the ride. Let's have a little fun."

Delany's concerns about the Pac-12 and the Big Ten and their relationship with the Rose Bowl have been tapered in large part because the SEC and Big 12 now have a similar arrangement that has nothing close to the tradition but at least the same buying power.

Plus, this allows the SEC and the Big 12 the extra financial security of a second big-dollar payout beyond the four-team playoff. Because, rest assured, the Sugar Bowl or Jerry Jones and the Cotton Bowl will bid top dollar in an effort to host the Champions Bowl.

It's another move of genius -- and power -- from the SEC, which needed a dance partner and added the Big 12, which has the most upward mobility during the next wave of conference expansion that will come at some point.

Now Kentucky and Ole Miss or Iowa State and Kansas have an inside track to two of the biggest paydays in the sports. Winners of the Big East or the ACC can't say that. Nor can Notre Dame or Boise State.

In the short term this strengthens the SEC's position in shaping the playoff and adds another heavy payday to a conference that is flush with them. In the long term, this is going to force every nonmember of the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten to look long and hard at trying to become members of the inner circle.

This type of top-heavy structure -- that will now include a playoff -- even could pave the way for a possible secession of the power conferences if they do not like the shaping or the reshaping of future deals. And now with the Rose and the Champions, those four leagues conceivably could take their bowls and go home.

In fact, now that the four most powerful football conferences appear to have pole positions into the four-team playoff and fall-back plans with the Rose and the Champions bowls, it appears the strong will get stronger and the rich will get much richer when the college football postseason becomes a college football playoff.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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