Conference commissioners from the so-called "Non-Power Five" leagues in college football rejected a notion put forward by Southern Methodist University head coach June Jones to move their schedule to the spring. Jones suggested the move, which would make those leagues something of a USFL-style schedule, as a radical option to an alternative future where he saw teams dropping programs.
Commissioners Mike Aresco of the American, Craig Thompson of the Mountain West, and Jon Steinbrecher of the Mid-American Conference all vehemently rejected the notion of moving their schedules to the spring as a way of competing by not competing with the Power Five leagues, according to an ESPN report.
As the SEC and ACC host their Media Days over the past week and a half, one of the underlying storylines of 2014 is how the mid-major football conferences will compete against the growing chasm created by the Power Five leagues. This year is the first season of the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament whose participants will be selected by a committee of "experts." One of the voting criteria for the committee is strength of schedule, which automatically places any non-power league at a distinct disadvantage.
The strength of schedule component already led to the SEC adopting a new "strength of schedule" scheduling component, sticking with an eight-game conference schedule but mandating that one non-conference game be played against another Power 5 conference opponent -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or Notre Dame. The ACC also considered adding another conference game but instead adopted a similar "strength of schedule" component that can be satisfied by either its scheduling arrangement with Notre Dame or another Power 5 conference opponent.
This whole scenario all but locks out the MAC, American, Conference-USA, Mountain West, and Sun Belt leagues from participating in the national playoff and the financial windfall it would entail. In years when the bowl games are not part of the college football playoff, each league retains an automatic bid to a particular bowl. In terms of the power leagues, the ACC retains a tie-in with the Orange Bowl, while the SEC and Big XII retain the Sugar Bowl. The Big Ten and Pac-12 remain tied with the Rose Bowl. As for all those other non-power leagues, only one team from any of those five leagues is allowed to take part if the group's best team is not in the playoff. For bowls not included in the non-playoff games, assignments were given out that's designed to protect the bigger leagues. For example, the Orange Bowl will include the ACC Champion against either the second place SEC team, the second place Big Ten team, or Notre Dame. But the Group of Five is only tied to either the Cotton Bowl, the Peach Bowl, or the Fiesta Bowl.
In plain English, that means one team from each of the Power Five will make the bowl games, but only one team, chosen at large by the committee, from the list of "other" teams gets in. There is also virtually no chance the Group of Five gets a team into the college football playoff because their strength of schedule gets destroyed by playing in mid-major conferences. In short, those teams get hosed by the fact that the bottom of their leagues are substantially worse than everyone else.
Under last year's BCS standings, 15th-ranked Central Florida won the American and went to the Fiesta Bowl, which they won, but Alabama lost the SEC Championship Game and retained third place. If the top four teams went to the playoff, Alabama would be in one semifinal; Central Florida finished the BCS rankings behind two teams that didn't even make their conference championship games.
Despite all of this, it of course boils down to money. ESPN invested over $7 billion in this new College Football Playoff, meaning the financial windfall of getting a team into that bracket will substantially benefit a conference. The Power Five leagues will earn a baseline of $50 million. Each league that gets a team into the bracket will get an addition $6 million. Each league that gets a team into a non-bracket bowl receives $4 million. The leagues then get their other allocations from non-playoff bowls.
It's very confusing, but the bottom line is that the bigger leagues are guaranteed more of the pie in a roundabout way. As a result, the non-power leagues are searching for a way to get into the pie. For the American, that means trying to compete and earn back a way as the sixth power conference. For June Jones, that wasn't enough.
Jones coached wide receivers for the Houston Gamblers during the 1984 USFL season. With a lack of spring football, the league proved it could provide entertainment and begin slowing financial losses by 1986. But prior to the 1986 season, despite the objections of a consulting firm, the USFL moved to a fall season to directly compete against the NFL. Despite failing in markets largely controlled by the NFL, the USFL proved that football could be successful in Sun Belt, southern markets. It is widely agreed upon that the league would have eventually become financially solvent if it had been able to remain in the spring, especially given the talent that was accruing.
Jones entered the argument that because scheduling support by those power schools to the mid-major teams is dwindling, the stranglehold will eventually cause some of the 120-plus FBS programs to drop football. While the so-called "Division IV" succession is among the suggestions, it's interesting that the coaches of the lower tier are floating some ideas and that the commissioners do not support that idea. Instead of competing by not competing, the mid-major teams are still trying to get some of the pie as opposed to none of it.
It's a discussion that's not likely to die any time soon, and it's one that's so complicated and so deep, it's almost impossible to fathom. As a member of a power conference, Boston College fans should feel satisfied by their school's financial solvency, especially since it's a helluva lot better to be in than it is to be on the out. But this is a talk that will long exist and isn't going away no matter how many times the SEC or ACC plays itself.