Mid-American Conference football teams have an increased chance of landing in one of six major bowl games under the playoff/bowl system approved last week for implementation in 2014.
MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said on a conference call this week that member schools also will realize a significant increase in revenue under the new format, which creates a four-team playoff for the national championship while maintaining key aspects of the traditional bowl structure.
“From the Mid-American Conference’s point of view as I went into this my focus was on two things: one, access into the system, and revenue,” Steinbrecher said. “And I believe at the end of the day we came out of that in a very good place.”
The new format calls for six major bowl games, two of which will be designated on a rotating basis as national semifinals. The MAC is in a collection of five conferences that among them will receive one guaranteed invite to a major bowl. The “Group of Five,” as it’s being called, also includes the Big East, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and Mountain West.
“The highest ranking champion of those five will have assured access into one of the access slots in the system on an annual basis,” Steinbrecher said. “That was a big get for the Mid-American Conference. We like our chances to compete for that on a yearly basis.”
“I think it’s only good for us and for the Mid-American Conference,” said UB athletic director Danny White. “It puts the ball in our court to be highly competitive, and we’ll be rewarded for that. All we can ask for is an opportunity to have access to the most high-profile bowl games and I think this arrangement gives us that.”
Under the current BCS setup, a MAC team had little if any chance of advancing to one of the major bowl games. For instance, Kent State is the highest-ranked MAC team in the BCS standings at No. 23. That allows 22 others to make better case for an invite to a major bowl.
If the 2014 structure were in place, Kent State would be under consideration with Big East members Rutgers (No. 18 BCS) and Louisville (20) to represent the Group of Five in a major bowl.
Another round of reorganization in college athletics also could play in the MAC’s favor. Rutgers has been approved as a new member of the Big Ten, weakening a Big East Conference that has been ravaged by major conference expansions. The Big East could be further diminished if UConn, Louisville or Cincinnati is invited into the ACC or to take the spot being vacated by Maryland, which is also Big Ten-bound.
What’s more, the scheduled move of Boise State and San Diego State from the Mountain West to the Big East is reportedly on hold as those schools reconsider in the wake of the Rutgers news.
The Group of Five has agreed to divide its revenue share from the major bowl among member conferences/schools. The formula remains a work in progress.
“We split half of it, everyone gets an equal share, and then the other half is awarded based on competitive factors,” Steinbrecher said. “For me, that will be the starting point. We have not come to a decision among the Group of Five how we will disburse that revenue; it will likely be into January before we drill down completely on that.
“I’m not in a position to talk about specific numbers but I will say there will be significant growth in the revenue the Mid-American Conference derives from this system.”
The revenue boost will be big relative to the MAC but small on the grand scale of college athletics. Sources say programs could realize somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. Still, for UB, that represents almost 10 percent of the yearly athletic budget.
The bowl representative from the Group of Five will be determined by a selection committee. It’s anticipated the rankings, as is currently the case with the BCS, won’t commence until a month or so into the season. White guesstimates the first ranking will come three to five weeks into the season and then will be updated every week or two.
The MAC currently has contracts with three bowls — the Little Caesar’s Pizza, the GoDaddy.com and the Famous Idaho Potato. It has alternate status in two other bowls, the Heart of Dallas Bowl and one in a triumvirate presented by ESPN. The MAC’s two division champions are guaranteed bowl spots with any other openings filled at the discretion of bowl organizers.