Smaller conferences crafting plan to share playoff revenue

The “group of five” conferences are working to finalize a three-tier playoff revenue distribution system that rewards the conference with the best team and the conference with the best overall performance, has learned.

In this proposed system, more than half the group’s roughly $86-million playoff pot would be distributed among the Big East, Mountain West, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and Sun Belt as guaranteed base shares, according to a source with direct knowledge of the discussions. The source expects those shares to be evenly split, but added discussions are ongoing.

The second tier pays out based on a conference’s body of work -- the top conference gets the highest amount, then “X” amount for the next-rated conference, and on down.

The third tier pays a kicker to the conference with the highest-ranked team, which is guaranteed an access bowl bid or, if among the top-four teams in the country, a semifinal berth in the playoff.

Exact amounts rewarded for performance and the criteria for judging the best conference are still being hashed out, but there’s a framework in place and this could be done by February, according to the source.

The current BCS system rewards overall conference performance in the “group of five,” formerly known as non-automatic qualifiers, based on a series of polls.

“All get a performance-based share, it’s just a matter of how much are you going to get?” the source said. “That’s the variable amount.”

The $86 million is based on a four-year average, while costs and operating fees could slightly alter the total.

Overall, the college football playoff is expected to pay out nearly $500 million annually. The power five conferences -- SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC -- share a bulk of the payout.

The Big East is an automatic qualifier under the current BCS format but is falling to the group of five after several defections.

The Mountain West pushed for Boise State and San Diego State to return to the league in part because of playoff distribution positioning.

Boise, which was scheduled to join the Big East on July 1 before changing course on New Year’s Eve, has outperformed the best team from the Big East’s scheduled 2014 lineup in six of the last seven years based on the AP Top 25 poll.

In 2012, Northern Illinois from the MAC crashed the Orange Bowl and the Mountain West ranked three teams inside the Top 25 (including Boise).

The source said the Mountain West has not asked for a bigger base share than the rest.  

After a rough five months, the Big East is hoping for stability with UConn, Cincinnati, USF and a litter of former Conference USA teams. Tulsa is an attractive candidate inside Big East offices to pair with Navy as a 12th team in 2015, one league source said.

The Mountain West hasn’t talked with Tulsa about joining the league but has discussed the possibility with UTEP, SMU and Houston dating back to December. It’s unclear when or if the Mountain West will expand from its current 12-team setup.


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