Playoff revenue distribution was supposed to be the hardest problem to solve in the new college football playoff landscape. It is getting to that point in the process now where the issue cannot be ignored.
Upset that the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame were able to tie up the other half of the Orange Bowl, Big 12 and Pac-12 officials are still pressing to be part of a contract bowl that would accommodate the so-called Group of Five non-BCS conferences, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com.
At issue is a perceived inequity in guaranteed bowl slots in the new playoff structure. As currently structured, the Big Ten and SEC each have access to two contract bowls while the Big 12 and Pac-12 each have guaranteed access to only one. That difference came about when the Big Ten and SEC locked down a spot in the Orange Bowl opposite the ACC champion.
"It's no secret I wasn't entirely happy with that," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told CBSSports.com last month.
ESPN.com first reported earlier that it is "unlikely" a seventh bowl would be created for that matchup. However, CBSSports.com has learned there have been discussions about the game being played within the current six-bowl structure. That would take away two open spots in the so-called “access” bowls -- playoff bowls not contracted to a conference.
As unlikely as that is, all of it goes back to one of the most difficult aspects of establishing a playoff -- distributing revenue. The playoff might be worth as much as $600 million per year. The major conferences will get their share. But the Group of Five beginning in 2014 -- MAC, Big East, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA -- want to be compensated fairly for their participation. In the BCS, those conferences -- the Big East has BCS designation for two more years -- currently share from a pot that includes 15 percent of the revenue.
Multiple sources say Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott have opposite opinions on the subject, even though they are partners in the Rose Bowl. Neither returned requests for comment.
One source said the current situation would not have developed if the "Orange Bowl [tie-up] hadn't happened." CBSSports.com reported in September that the highest-ranked team among Notre Dame, an SEC and a Big Ten team would play the ACC champion in Orange Bowl beginning in 2014.
"It's very sensitive," said another source involved in the playoff discussions. "This is sensitive stuff. It's going to be a very interesting meeting."
BCS commissioners will next meet (along with the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee) on Nov. 12 in Denver.
The SEC and Big 12 changed the postseason paradigm in May, when they partnered in creation of the Champions Bowl. That meant conferences owned their bowl for the first time and would keep all revenue. Even the Rose Bowl, with the Big Ten and Pac-12, currently pays $4 million-$6 million annually into the BCS pot.
Of equal importance is fair revenue treatment of that Group of Five. The commissioners have said from the beginning that revenue distribution will be one of the most difficult aspects of establishing a playoff. The major conferences believe they have a much bigger financial and historical stake in college football than non-BCS leagues that don't produce as much a) revenue and b) historically Top 25 programs.
The commissioners -- including Delany and Scott -- aren't necessarily against access for the Group of Five. It's about how it should be done. A seventh playoff bowl (or one inserted into the six-bowl structure) would provide a guaranteed spot for the highest-ranked Group of Five schools. But the marketability of such a matchup (Group of Five vs. a Pac-12 or Big 12 team) is part of the reason why such a game, to this point, hasn't been attractive to TV partners.
"TV doesn't want it," said one official intimately involved in the process.
The value of any new contract bowl, the source explained, has to be based on the fact that game might not ever “pass through” national semifinals at any point. In a six-bowl structure -- if distributed equally -- each playoff bowl would be a semifinal host four times within the 12-year existence of the new setup. (The Champions and Rose bowls have yet to decide how many times in those 12 years they want to be national semifinals.)
The more a contract bowl passes through as a semifinal, the less money that ESPN -- or any rightsholder -- has to pay to conference partners. In the case of the Rose and Champions bowls, that means $80 million per year. In essence, the rightsholder is going to want those contract bowls to be national semifinals the maximum of four times in 12 years.
In the current marketplace, it seems that a Group of Five game would not have enough worth to a rightsholder when it stands alone. CBSSports.com previously reported that such a game might be worth $20 million per year, one-fourth the worth of the Rose and Champions bowls.
"Are four [semifinal] games going to be played there?" one industry source said of a possible Group of Five bowl. "But that has nothing to do with its value to television."
With contract bowls ranging in value from $55 million (Orange, approximate) to $80 million (Rose, Champions), it's easy to understand why the Big 12 and Pac-12 might feel slighted. On his end, ACC commissioner John Swofford merely partnered with SEC and Big Ten when the opportunity came up in the Orange Bowl.
Whether it has a dedicated bowl or not, a possible access point for the Group of Five is also undecided. It could be the highest-rated team regardless -- whether it be No. 15 or No. 68 -- or there could be stipulation that a Group of Five qualifier be ranked in the Top 25.
A human committee will rank and place teams in the various venues beginning with the first playoff in 2014.