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Playoff revenue sub-committee getting down to nitty gritty

Who says there is no more BCS?

More than two months after major college football's playoff was announced, the hard work has just begun. A revenue sub-committee will continue work later this month on dividing the annual playoff revenue which could approach $600 million per year when the new playoff model debuts in 2014.

At issue, among others, is whether the five remaining non-BCS conferences will receive any money from the three so-called “contract” bowls -- Rose, Champions and Orange – in years when those bowls don't host semifinal or championship games.

“The contract bowls [and] the conferences keep it,” former Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas said of that scenario. “The conferences were able to go out and contract [bowls] on their own. Whether there's a BCS or not we have a bowl game.”

Neinas helped create the Champions Bowl in May along with SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

However, a BCS source told CBSSports.com that contract bowl revenue is one of the main issues when the sub-committee meets Sept. 18-20 in Chicago. To be decided for the surviving MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and Big East conferences are how much access will they be willing to sacrifice in exchange for some the estimated $600 million per year in revenue.

All the major issues are coming to a head as an exclusive negotiating window to televise the playoff began for ESPN on Saturday. In a way, it's hard to distribute revenue when you don't know exactly what your property is going to be worth.

There are two playoff entities to be bid on. The Rose, Champions and Orange are separate from a bundle that includes the Fiesta, Sugar and a bowl to be named along with the annual semifinals and championship game.

“I think people left on June 26 [the date the playoff was announced] and said, ‘Let's take a breath…,” one source said. “The devil's in the details.”

Those “Group of Five” conferences will technically be eligible for the playoff if they finish in the top four (playoff) or top 12 (six major bowls) as decided by a human committee. But in that sense, not much will have changed from the BCS. Tradition will likely influence those humans on who belongs at the top. In 2011, a non-BCS school did not play in a BCS bowl for the first time in five years.

“I'm sensing my peers are thinking, ‘What do we want -- access or revenue?,' said one source from outside the five power conferences. “We're going to fight to get both.”

The Fiesta Bowl, for example, has been approached about taking the best team of that Group of Five. When the SEC and Big 12 partnered to create the Champions Bowl, the Fiesta was left with openings in both of its slots. The bowl has been sent a Request For Proposal (RFP) but did not formally apply to host the Champions. Most insiders believe that is a three-horse race between Dallas, Houston and New Orleans.

The Fiesta, then, has become an “access” bowl along with the Sugar (for the moment) and a bowl to be named later. It would concentrate on bidding on hosting semifinals and championship games. In years when it doesn't host those games it would have those open slots to fill in eight of 12 years. Without saying it publicly, the Fiesta doesn't want to get stuck with another Connecticut (2010) and Pittsburgh (2004), two former Big East champions. That was part of the momentum in getting rid of the BCS/non-BCS designation beginning in 2014. Bowls and conferences wanted more freedom.

The Orange Bowl became a contract bowl when it tied up with the ACC. The Big East champion, a No. 2 team from a power conference and Notre Dame have been mentioned as possible tie-ins for the other open spot. The reconstituted Big East also began an exclusive negotiating window on Saturday to determine its worth going forward.

All of it reinforces that the line between the haves and have nots going forward looks a lot like it does at the moment. Conferences with guaranteed spots in bowls – Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC and ACC – will try to keep the overwhelming majority of the new playoff revenue. Those former non-BCS conferences – the WAC will dissolve after this season – currently get only 15 percent of the BCS revenue.

Outside sources have argued that part of the windfall ought to go directly to athletes and/or academic enhancement.

The difference this time, there is going to be a whole lot more revenue to distribute -- perhaps more than three times as much. That revenue sub-committee includes Slive, ACC commissioner John Swofford, MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

Depending on the year as the contract bowls pass through the semifinals and finals, that could leave as few as two open spots in the top six bowls. Currently there is a maximum of four open spots in the BCS.

That's why the new system almost looks almost more restrictive than the old system. Currently, the Rose Bowl pays between a $6 million-$8 million rights fee per year to the BCS. Whether that money will go into the pot beginning in 2014 is part of the discussion.

“The Champions Bowl has neither a site nor has it been played but it's going to get the same money as the Rose Bowl,” Neinas said.

That would be $80 million per year that the Rose Bowl got from ESPN in July for 12 years beginning in 2014.

 
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