Commentary

New bowl a death knell for ACC?

Originally Published: May 18, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

It might not be the start of Armageddon in college football, but Friday's announcement that the Big 12 and SEC are forming a partnership, which would pit their champions in a future New Year's Day bowl game, has sent even more conference realignment ripples throughout the sport.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Saban and the Tide are just the latest success story from the SEC.

Some industry insiders suggested Friday that the Big 12 and SEC are only protecting themselves in case the sport is eventually reduced to four power conferences. Given the current state of the Big East, further contraction to four megaconferences seems more possible than ever before.

If the Big East can't survive on life support, where will its teams go? And if the Big 12's latest power move makes it even more appealing to a school such as Florida State, would the ACC survive without one of its most high-profile members?

"This could be Day 1 of Armageddon in terms of four-conference conglomeration," a college football power broker told ESPN.com on Friday.

The Big 12 and SEC's version of the Rose Bowl won't have a midafternoon kickoff in front of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, Calif. It won't have more than 100 years of tradition and won't be called the "Granddaddy of Them All."

But the new Big 12-SEC bowl game might end up being a better football game. Since the BCS era began in 1998, Big 12 and SEC teams have combined to appear in 12 of the last 14 BCS National Championship Games and won 10 times. If you haven't heard, the SEC has won six BCS national championships in a row.

Starting on New Year's Day 2015, the champions of the Big 12 and SEC will meet in a New Year's Day bowl game. Acting Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said the leagues hope to play the game on New Year's Day night, but the site of the game is still to be determined.

The game might be played at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., or the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, which have been the traditional BCS hosts for the Big 12 and SEC, respectively. Or the new Big 12-SEC bowl game could be offered to the highest bidder -- i.e. Atlanta or Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"The two conferences may just build their own bowl," Neinas said, in an interview published on big12sports.com on Friday. "I wouldn't say that's the primary idea, but the point is the two conferences are working together and will explore it thoroughly and come to an agreement as to what we feel is in the best interest of the two conferences moving forward. It's a true partnership."

It sure seems to be a short trip from bitterness to partnership these days. Not too long ago, the Big 12 was peeved the SEC raided its league for Missouri and Texas A&M, which are joining the SEC this coming season. Now the SEC is helping the Big 12 re-establish its power in college football.

"It's a time when postseason football is undergoing some changes," Neinas said. "It's an opportunity for two conferences, both of which are very proud of their football programs, to get together in a partnership and establish what should be an exciting and high-quality annual postseason game."

What's the ACC going to do? Is its champion going to play the Big East champion in the postseason? That matchup has really worked out well for the Orange Bowl. Maybe they'll increase the stakes by giving the winner an at-large invitation to the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Where's Notre Dame? Will this latest merger of power finally force the Fighting Irish to do something? Like maybe join a conference? ACC commissioner John Swofford's first phone call Friday should have been to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The ACC and Notre Dame might really need each other if they're going to survive in the post-BCS era.

[+] EnlargeJohn Swofford
AP File Photo/Susan WalshJohn Swofford has his work cut out for him to keep the ACC in the mix.

And what about the depleted Big East? It's pretty clear the Big East is no longer sitting at the same table with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, after it lost Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia to other leagues. Now the Big East might not even be sitting in the same room as the other BCS conferences.

"Right now, you'd have to make an honest assessment and say since the BCS era has begun the two conferences which have produced the teams to play for the national championship more than any other are the Big 12 Conference and the SEC," Neinas said. "The quality of play is well-established and as the postseason unfolds, what better way to conclude New Year's Day than with a prime-time game between the champions of these two conferences?"

Will this merger cause another round of conference expansion? It's too early to tell. But the Big 12 probably never looked better to Florida State. And how long will the Big 12 sacrifice millions of dollars in lost revenue by having only 10 teams and not playing a conference championship game?

Odds are we'll probably never see the champions of the Big 12 and SEC play each other in a New Year's Day bowl game. The chances of seeing even one of them playing in the new bowl game are probably slim to none because the champions of those leagues will undoubtedly be participants in the aforementioned four-team playoff. If that happens, the No. 2 teams from those conferences would play in the new bowl game.

Two of college football's strongest conferences just got even stronger. And the ACC, Big East and possibly Notre Dame lost much of their footing in the post-BCS landscape.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

ALSO SEE