Auburn won the title, but which conference is king?

Auburn won the title, but which conference is king?

It’s that time of year again, when Southern pride swells after the SEC claims another BCS National Championship, this time as a result of Auburn’s 22-19 victory over the Oregon Ducks on Monday night. Fans of other conferences can look forward to another year of the grating sounds of those incessant “SEC! SEC! SEC!” chants.

Now, after all bowls are completed, let the debate over the ranking of the six automatic-qualifier conference begin. Big East fans will argue that their conference had the best bowl record by winning percentage (4-2, .667). The ACC can beat its chest after getting nine teams bowl eligible, with four bringing home victories. The Big 10 can hold its head high as its bell cow Ohio State shot down the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl. And the Big 12 won a BCS bowl game when Oklahoma ended its big-game slump by routing Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

Those are the on-field winners. While ranking conferences is great fodder for debate, a consensus is virtually unattainable. However, dollars and cents are neither subjective nor arguable.

Bowl games promise payouts to universities for their participation. A full list of projected payouts for each bowl is available here and here. On field success is nice, but here are the real winners and losers of the bowl season, with their projected payouts:

1. SEC, $41.925M

2. Big 10, $35.3M

3. Big 12, $30.725M

4. ACC, $29.905M

5. PAC 10, $25.95M

6. Big East, $23.73M

A few quick notes: As Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs explains, if a conference places a second team in a BCS bowl game, as the Big 10, PAC 10, and SEC did this year, the second team only brings in $4.5M. Also, these are projections based on past years and some official announcements regarding this year’s payouts. There is a chance some payouts will change slightly, but a change large enough to shift the above rankings seems unlikely.

Looking at the figures, clearly the SEC’s strong performance the past few years has paid dividends. Periodically bowl committees meet with conference representatives to discuss automatic tie-ins and payouts; it is evident the SEC holds significant leverage due to its on-field success and passionate fan bases, and therefore has been able to negotiate  favorable contracts. Bravo attorneys for the SEC.

The Big 10 settled any debate over which is the second most powerful conference in the land, with a resounding multi-million dollar victory over the Big 12, ACC, and PAC 10. The PAC 10 numbers suffer in part because of USC’s bowl ban after the Reggie Bush fiasco. And perhaps as would be expected, the Big East is an also-ran.

Each conference has contracted with its member institutions to determine the manner in which these revenues will be split. Typically the team appearing in the bowl gets the first cut to recoup expenses incurred in preparing for, traveling to, and playing in the game. Then the money is split among the members of the league. However, sometimes the expenses to participate in the bowl exceed the payment received, and the league receives nothing.

Looking Ahead — A Playoff?

As previously discussed here on JETLawBlog, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has threatened to bring an antitrust suit to break up the BCS. And anti-BCS organizations have proven eager to blow the whistle on potential legal missteps by the BCS and its bowls. If these litigants prevail and a playoff results, it would be interesting to see the effect on these payouts.

In an eight-team playoff, it seems reasonable to believe that the value of the non-playoff bowls, and consequently their payouts, would slip slightly; but that cost could be offset by an increased value in the playoff games. However, the loss would be fully borne by conferences that fail to place a team into the playoff, while any conference that placed two teams in the playoff, and certainly any conference that had teams advance to play in multiple playoff games would enjoy a boon. Thus, the SEC’s and Big 10′s of the world would probably receive at least the same financial gains, if not greater. The non-automatic qualifying conferences seemingly would stand to lose the most.

In a 16-team playoff, it seems very likely that the non-playoff bowl games would take a large hit in value, and thus payouts. But more teams would make the playoffs, allowing more conferences to be represented and therefore enjoy the financial windfall of the payouts from the valuable playoff games.

Clearly the monetary consequences of the potential antitrust litigation are vast. But at least for the time being, financially it is the SEC, the Big 10, and then everyone else.

Joe Cesta

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