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SEC, Big 12 agree to bowl matchup; champs will play if not in playoff

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With the anticipated arrival of a four-team playoff to determine the national championship in 2014, college football is getting ready to enter a new world order.

The SEC and the Big 12 staked out a big chunk of real estate in that world on Friday by announcing a five-year agreement for their champions to meet in a Jan. 1 bowl game that will be determined at a later date. The first game will be Jan. 1, 2015.

If one or both of the champions are in the four-team playoff, then "another deserving team" from those conferences would get the slot.

In the 14 years of the BCS, either the SEC or the Big 12 champion has been in the title game 11 times. They have met twice for the BCS title -- after the 2008 (Florida-Oklahoma) and 2009 (Alabama-Texas) seasons.

"We're excited because it creates a matchup of the two most successful conferences in the post-season," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said from his office in Birmingham. "Given the fact that we're transitioning into the four-team playoff, we thought it was a good chance to create a very meaningful game."

The relationship between the SEC and the Big 12 will essentially mirror that of the Big Ten and Pac-12, whose champions play in the Rose Bowl if they are not committed to the BCS championship game. There is no question it consolidates the power into those four conferences and puts two other original BCS conferences -- the ACC and the Big East -- in a weaker position.

It will also add fuel to the fire of speculation that ACC member Florida State should consider jumping to the Big 12 if an invitation is offered.

Slive said Friday the SEC has not determined which of its bowl partners will host the game. The Sugar Bowl has hosted the SEC champion since 1976 and is "the No. 1 option" to host the game industry, sources told CBSSports.com.

This cannot be good news for the Fiesta Bowl, which has hosted the Big 12 champion since the BCS began in 1998.

"The Fiesta Bowl has had a long and successful partnership with the Big 12 Conference and we look forward to continuing that relationship," Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said. "As college football leaders work out the details of the postseason, we know that they value the Fiesta Bowl's strength in hosting elite bowl games, including seven national championships, and in providing an unmatched experience for visiting student-athletes, coaches and fans."

Why did the SEC and Big 12 want to do this? To protect each other and to increase the likelihood of a quality matchup in the bowl game. Under the current BCS format their champions were guaranteed a spot in a big game but the opponent on the other side was uncertain. In 2007 No. 5 Georgia faced Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. In 2009 Florida played Cincinnati. Both were blowouts.

This agreement guarantees an SEC/Big 12 matchup in the New Year's Day bowl. If a four-team playoff had been in place last season, this game could have hosted No. 6 Arkansas (whose only losses were to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama), and No. 8 Kansas State (10-2).

"We feel this is an example of how conferences can work together to make the system better," Slive said.

There is currently an SEC/Big 12 matchup in the Cotton Bowl, which gets the No. 2 team from the Big 12 and the No. 4 or No. 5 pick from the SEC. It is not known how this agreement will affect that bowl.

Which bowl will actually host this SEC/Big 12 matchup will be determined after the structure of the new four-team playoff has been determined. The BCS commissioners are scheduled to meet again on June 20 and are expected to settle on a format at that time. Then the SEC will determine its bowl agreements after that.

This issue has not been resolved, but there is support from the Big Ten and others to use a rotation of the current BCS bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta) as semifinal sites in the four-team playoff. So the question becomes what if the Sugar Bowl is chosen to host this SEC/Big 12 game, but also is in the rotation for a national semifinal?

Those answers will come later, Slive said.

"We are committed to the four-team playoff and have been for four years. So we want to sit down and go through those conversations," said Slive. "This game is intended to work successfully within the new post-season structure. Once we understand what the structure is, we'll figure out exactly how our game fits."

The SEC/Big 12 agreement also signals the beginning of the anticipated end to the automatic qualifying status in the post-season. Under the old BCS, the champions of each of the six major conferences were guaranteed a spot in a BCS game. In the New World Order, the conferences will strike their own deals with the bowls. The SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten are set. The ACC has an agreement with the Orange Bowl. The Big East has no such deal.

The irony of this agreement is that not long ago the conferences were clashing swords as Texas A&M and Missouri were leaving the Big 12 to go to the SEC. But in college football's New World Order, an enemy today can be a business partner tomorrow. This agreement gives the Big 12, which seemed to be on life support a year ago, greater stability moving forward.

"I think everybody involved was focused on the future," said Slive. "It's the world we live in."

CBSSports.com College Football Insider Brett McMurphy and Senior College Football Columnist Dennis Dodd contributed to this report.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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