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Sporting Comment: Another View Of The Conference Realignment Saga

Officials of the Big 12 Conference and the Southeastern Conference are holding separate spring meetings this week, and for the first time in quite a while, both conferences have a lot in common to discuss.

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Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops

In the ever-changing landscape of college football, the bigger land barons keep getting richer and more powerful while the rest of the pigskin population is forced to live off the scraps or become part of the scrap pile. That's admittedly a relatively crude way of saying that the earth is rapidly shifting in the world of big-time college football.

A week ago in this space, we pointed out that forward progress is finally being made toward a college football playoff system among the schools that makeup what is currently known as the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly NCAA Division I.

This week in Kansas City and Destin, Fl., officials of the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are meeting separately for their annual spring meetings. Certain to be high on the agendas for both conferences is the issue of conference realignment and, in particular, the integration of two new schools who will be joining both conferences.

For the first time since the formation of the Big 12, Missouri and Texas A&M will not be attending the Big 12 spring meeting. Instead, both schools are in Florida participating in their first SEC spring get-together. Likewise, representatives of TCU and West Virginia are new faces at the Big 12 meeting this week.

As part of the realignment discussion, both conferences are sure have further discussion about the recent bowl partnership announced between the Big 12 and the SEC. Beginning in 2014, the football champions of each conference will meet annually in a Rose Bowl-like (Big Ten vs. Pac-12 champions) New Year's bowl game that is currently being called the Champions Bowl.

With wide support among the Bowl Championship Series conferences for a playoff system to replace the current BCS as the means for determining the national championship participants, the Big 12-SEC bowl agreement immediately triggered thoughts about a whole new way of thinking about a playoff format.

As a quick refresher: With bowl agreements in place between the four best football conferences in the land, a case is being made that the Rose Bowl and Championships Bowl (which probably will replace the Cotton Bowl or Sugar Bowl) could serve as the national semifinals in a four-team playoff system, with the winners of these two bowl games to meet for the national championship. On the plus side, this format would be a much cleaner and more objective way of qualifying the playoff participants, but on the flip side, it would eliminate teams from other conferences, such as the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big East - and what about independent Notre Dame? - from the process and preclude them from national championship consideration other than via the human polls.

Not surprisingly, the conference commissioners of the Big 12 and SEC, have indicated that the athletics directors and coaches in their leagues have expressed a strong preference for a four-team playoff to determine a national champion. They also understand, of course, that there is a huge cavern to cross in the national landscape on exactly how to get there.

With anyone with an interest in at least reforming, if not completely replacing, the current method for defining the pathway to the national championship dividing up and taking sides, here's yet another approach to consider: Instead of four super conferences of, say, 12 to 16 member teams, why not on truly super conference, perhaps designated as the Super 50?

This is where economic as well as political considerations come into play and why the financial disparities leading to disturbing performance differences on the field have created such a wide and continually growing division between the so-called haves and have-nots in the college game. Let's face it, the huge majority of the schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision are not and probably never will be in a position to regularly compete with the Texases, the Oklahomas, the Alabamas, the Ohio States, the Floridas or the USCs in college football.

According to data obtained by USA Today in an analysis of 99 public FBS schools, the top 50 revenue producers (the largest percentage of which is generated by football), led by the University of Texas (with a reported $150.2 million in revenue in 2010-11) produced an average of $81.5 million. The other 49 schools averaged a little more than $28 million in revenue.

The financial figures obtained by USA Today also showed that only 22 of 229 FBS schools produced enough top-line revenue (from media contracts, ticket sales, donations, etc.) in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 to cover their annual operating expenses. All 22, incidentally are members of the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12 conferences, which further supports the argument for a football playoff format involving this four power conferences.

Back to the notion, though, of one Super 50 Conference within the FBS, by adding the aforementioned 22 schools to the remaining 24 that constitute the current structure of the four predominant football conferences it brings you to 46. The remaining four spots could be reserved for additional conference expansion by one or more of these conferences to bring in Notre Dame., for example and three additional schools from perhaps the ACC or Big East to bring the total number to 50.

The obvious drawback to consolidating several conferences into one super-duper power league of 50 is that it would bring us right back to where things stand right now. Outside of overall record, ranking the teams would be arduous and somewhat arbitrary without the basis of head-to-head and strength of schedule comparisons, which wouldn't solve anything insofar as coming up with a more equitable means of the best, most deserving teams to compete for a championship.

A Super 50 approach does level the playing field more in terms of available resources and the means to become and remain competitive, but it doesn't really resolve the bigger issue: Finding a cost-effective, time-conscious, less controversial and more objective means of determining the pathway to the football national championship.

That is, unless you were to subdivide the Super 50 teams into, say, four geographically proximal divisions, similar to what we have now with the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Ah, even more ammunition with which to attack the naysayers of a Big Four Conferences playoff structure.

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