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Sun Belt finishes first (in non-AQ revenue) in last year of BCS

Louisiana-Lafayette and the Sun Belt had success on and off the field in 2013. (USATSI)
Louisiana-Lafayette and the Sun Belt had success on and off the field in 2013. (USATSI)

How much did it cost the Mid-American Conference missing out on a BCS bowl? Only $6 million.

That's among the conclusions from the final revenue distribution among the four non-BCS conferences in 2013. CBSSports.com obtained documents (seen here and here) detailing the revenue split among those four leagues -- Sun Belt, Conference USA, MAC and Mountain West.

The Sun Belt led those leagues, taking in almost $4 million in BCS revenue. However, the MAC went from potentially first among the non-automatic qualifying conferences to last among the four when it lost an undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game, then went 0-5 in bowl games.

Had the Huskies beaten Bowling Green in that MAC title game, they would have almost certainly played in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season. That would have earned the school an extra $6 million from that BCS pool.

BCS bowl contender Fresno State lost its first game on Nov. 29, a week prior to NIU. Northern Illinois and Fresno each dropped from a possible BCS bowl to lesser postseason bowls -- Poinsettia for the Huskies and Las Vegas for the Bulldogs.

A non-AQ school failed to qualify for a BCS bowl for only the third time in the last 10 years.

The revenue difference between first and last among those four conferences was significant, approximately $1.7 million. The Mountain West was second in the revenue distribution taking in $3.4 million. The MWC was followed by Conference USA ($2.8 million) and MAC ($2.28 million).

Performance-based revenue totaling approximately $6 million was dividing by shares. By finishing first, the Sun Belt got four shares, the Mountain West got three, etc.

The take for those schools goes up significantly with the beginning of the College Football Playoff next season. The five power conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC) will split 71.5 percent of the approximately $400 million revenue in the first year of the playoff's 12-year deal.

The five non-AQ conferences -- the American Athletic Conference drops down after losing automatic status -- will split approximately $86.5 million in revenue from the new playoff poll. That's up from a maximum of $28 million in the BCS. The Sun Belt, for one, will see a 10-fold increase in revenue, from approximately $100,000 per team to $1 million.

Also beginning next season, the highest ranked of those 59 schools -- as decided by the selection committee -- will get an automatic berth in one of the four playoff bowls below the two national semifinals.

The revenue standings were kept by averaging the rank of each school in the six BCS computers. The Sun Belt was No. 1 with average team rank of 77.39. Its top team, Louisiana-Lafayette, averaged 52.5 in the computers. Co-champ Arkansas State finished at 55.66.

Arkansas State jumped from 73 in those average computer rankings after its GoDaddy Bowl win over Ball State. Louisiana-Lafayette went from 66thto 52.5after beating Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Sun Belt was consistent despite not having a team in the top five average computer ranking among the non-BCS conferences. However, the Sun Belt (with one) was the only non-AQ league without multiple teams with an average rank below 100 in the computers. Not bad for a conference that -- from 2004-2007 -- was dead last in average computer ranking.

It's been an impressive couple of years for Karl Benson. The Sun Belt commissioner held the same position in the WAC for 18 years, leaving for the Sun Belt in February 2012. The WAC finished first in non-BCS revenue distribution that year. The league disbanded in football after the 2012 season.

“I'm looking forward to the competitiveness of [the playoff era],” Benson said. “Whatever competitive gap there had been in the past is definitely lessened.”

Sun Belt membership changes significantly next season. It loses Western Kentucky while welcoming former FCS powerhouses Georgia Southern and Appalachian State as well as independents Idaho and New Mexico State.

With the loss of the WAC prior to the season, the non-AQ split went from 9 percent to 7.2 percent in 2013. With WAC money still left in the pool, $285,000 for each of the 10 FBS conferences was divided equally.

Had Northern Illinois -- or any other non-AQ team -- made it to a BCS bowl, that would have added another 9 percent to the revenue pot.

Top five non-BCS conference teams based on average of six BCS computers

  1. Fresno State, MWC, 32.3
  2. Northern Illinois, MAC, 36.5
  3. East Carolina, CUSA, 46.2
  4. Rice, CUSA, 47.3
  5. Utah State, MWC, 50.2
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