Thursday, February 13, 2014

SEC First Among Equals Entering CFP Era

Without question, the Southeastern Conference was the greatest beneficiary of the BCS era. During that 16-year run between 1998-2013, the SEC became the most successful and powerful conference, not to mention also the richest.

To be sure, the BCS was the brain child of former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. After conceiving the concept to allow college football's top two teams to face off, Kramer and his successor Mike Slive then took full advantage of the system. SEC teams won the first BCS championship and nine overall, including seven in a row until that streak was snapped when Florida State edged Auburn in the final BCS championship game.

In contrast, in the previous 32 years before the BCS—roughly the starting with the time when the SEC began to desegregate—the conference won a total of just six titles, including a split championship in 1973.

But beyond the on-field success, the SEC also became the dominant conference after Kramer and Slive made a series of shrewd business decisions. Once a regional conference in an area with relatively few major metropolises, the SEC is now a high-profile brand with national appeal.

The additions of Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012 helped the SEC to expand its footprint into Texas and the Midwest, giving the conference more leverage in (re-)negotiating its television deals.

The start of the CFP era will coincide with the launch of the SEC Network this August. The conference also extended its deal with CBS so now it runs through the 2023 season. With all the new TV deals in place, the take for each member school is estimated to be close to $34 million annually, easily dwarfing all other conferences, including the Big Ten.

The SEC also will make plenty more from the postseason, since the CFP annual payout is expected to be around $500 million, with a lion's share going to the five power conferences. With the strength of the SEC, it is expected to land multiple bids each year, perhaps two teams in the four-team playoff in some years.

SEC Revenue Stream in CFP Era
SourceAnnual payout per school
ESPN & CBS$21.5 million
SEC Network$1.5 million
CFP Postseason$7 million
SEC Championship Game$1 million
NCAA Tournament$3 million
TOTAL$34 million

Since the BCS expanded to five games in the 2006 season, the SEC has sent the maximum two teams to BCS bowl games—including both teams in the 2011 championship game—each year. But since the CFP will not cap conference participation in its six games, it's very likely that the SEC will send three, or even four teams, to the CFP bowls in some years.

Some critics, and other conferences, have complained that the SEC has gained an unfair advantage and became too powerful during the BCS era. But in reality, the SEC is just getting started. With the dawn of the CFP, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

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