- Kristi Dosh, Sports Business
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Current non-automatic qualifying conferences might receive better access on the playing field under college football’s new playoff system, but it doesn’t sound as if they will have better access to the cash. Although there is expected to be more money to go around -- projected at anywhere from two to four times the current television revenue of $155 million per year -- how revenue would be distributed proportionately under the new system might not be all that different.
Under the current system, non-AQ conferences split approximately 18 percent of BCS revenue if one of their teams is selected for a BCS bowl game, and 9 percent if not. The AQs take home the rest.
“I think it’ll be adjusted modestly, but the five conferences are still going to get the lion’s share, it’s just how big of a lion are we talking about,” said Gary Ransdell, president of Western Kentucky University and a member of the Presidential Oversight Committee, which meets this week to finalize playoff plans.
Ransdell’s reference to the “five conferences” encompasses the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC -- the current AQ conferences, minus the Big East.
Despite his school not being in one of those conferences, Ransdell said he doesn’t oppose them taking home larger shares of revenue.
“It’s those five conferences who have invested the most, have the largest stadiums, and create the television marquee. We just want to be sure we get a little more proportionate share. For the BCS to survive it’s going to take all 120 institutions. The 50 to 60 in those five conferences can’t just play each other. There has to be competition across all the conferences going forward.”
Asked if the current non-AQ conferences would continue to pool their revenue as they do under the current system, Ransdell said, “I would prefer each conference receive whatever is determined. Now that AQ has gone away, I see no reason to have a pooling or gathering of revenue.”
A report last week by CBSSports.com indicated one proposal commissioners discussed in terms of revenue distribution would involve division based on each conference’s past performances. Top 25 finishes in the BCS rankings since 1998 would be the measuring stick, meaning the SEC and Big Ten would receive the largest slices of the pie, followed by the Big 12, ACC, and Pac-12.
Ransdell said although no revenue distribution model has been decided upon yet, “there will be some premium on historic success and the value the five conferences bring to the marketplace.”
Still up for discussion, according to Ransdell, is whether schools participating in the semifinal games would be rewarded financially.
“I think there will be an inclination for those teams in the semifinals to be rewarded for that,” he said. “The championship game I’m not so sure about.”
Not awarding financial compensation for the title game wouldn’t be unique to college football. Schools in the men’s basketball tournament are awarded a unit for each game they play, with each unit being worth a pre-determined amount of money. However, no units are awarded for participation in the championship game.
Others, like the Knight Commission, are advocating for academic components in the new system, both in terms of how money is distributed and where that revenue lands within a university.
William “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and co-chairman of the Knight Commission, said the upcoming decisions by the Presidential Oversight Committee, a group of presidents who must approve a final playoff model, are, “a real test of presidential leadership.”
“We have to say enough. Our academic institutions in the public sector are starving. They’re struggling to meet their core mission,” Kirwan said. “I just feel so strongly that we cannot allow this money to be distributed as it has been in the past, basically to inflate the salaries of athletic personnel and commissioners and continue the arms race with respect to athletic facilities.”
Kirwan and other members of the Knight Commission have been calling university presidents, urging them to push for an academic component to any new playoff system. How receptive have presidents been?
“It’s been mixed, which has been disappointing,” he said. “A lot of them don’t want to rock the boat.”
Ransdell said he had the discussion with “our conference presidents, and yes we find value in the Knight Commission report, and I would be in favor of an academic performance variable to some degree rolled into the revenue distribution formula.”
As far whether a portion of the revenue would be directed to the university for academic use, that remains unclear. Ransdell says the Presidential Oversight Committee has not discussed distribution in that manner.
“I don’t know how a committee could make that decision for individual campuses. There’s merit in that, but I’ve also got to make sure our athletic department has a balanced budget year in and year out. It wouldn’t do any good to have money that could balance that go to the academic side of the house and then have the athletic department operate at a deficit.”
Asked if he believed academics would receive any revenue under the new system, based on his conversations with presidents, Kirwan said, “Based on what I’ve seen from past revenue enhancements and what I’m hearing around the country I’m not optimistic.”
Current non-automatic qualifying conferences might receive better access on the playing field under college football’s new playoff system, but it doesn’t sound as if they will have better access to the cash.