You would be forgiven for paying attention to things other than the ongoing negotiations that are hammering out the playoff phase of the Bowl Championship Series' future this Friday, but there was big news from the SEC and Big 12 today: the two conferences announced a five-year agreement to pit their conference champions against each other in a bowl game on New Year's Day if those conference champions fail to reach the four-team playoff that is coming in 2014. And if those conference champions do make the national semifinals — as would have been the case for at least one of the two conferences' champions in every year of the BCS' existence — then the SEC and/or Big 12 would send "another deserving team" to the game.
That's important because it establishes the SEC and Big 12 as partners in the future of college football just like the Big Ten and Pac-12 — partners in keeping the Rose Bowl breathing and future all-sports competitors — and because it's the SEC and Big 12 making an end run around the current BCS bowls to establish the ground rules for their own game.
If the SEC and Big 12 feel comfortable hashing out accords that theoretically affect the Sugar (which currently gets the SEC champion in years in which the SEC champion doesn't play for the BCS title), Fiesta (same as Sugar with Big 12), and Capital One (traditional first pick beyond SEC BCS representatives) bowls at the very least, they realize they hold most of the bargaining power going forward.
But for Florida, this is only minimally relevant, and mostly as confirmation that they remain in the catbird's seat as one of the SEC's premier programs.
This deal is all about the SEC and Big 12 looking out for their members and flexing their muscle. Announcing this agreement together instead of announcing it together and with a bowl means that they will have the leverage necessary to make this game one on par with or within spitting distance of the BCS bowls, and that cannot hurt member schools/programs that would stand to make more money if the conferences can negotiate better deals while working beyond the BCS framework.
It might not affect Florida immediately, though. The Gators have vacillated between being title contenders and non-BCS teams for much of the last decade, and Florida has won the SEC three in the BCS era, and gone on to win the national championship two of those times: when they are good enough to win the SEC, the Gators typically good enough to play for the national title, and would probably be opening up the spot for "another deserving team" more often than filling it.
A scenario that would get the Gators automatically sent to this new game has happened only once in the BCS era: in 2000, Florida won the SEC and went to the Sugar Bowl to get rolled by Miami, but would have been in this new game by virtue of winning the SEC and finishing seventh in the final BCS rankings.
Gators fans might be more interested in what the criteria for "another deserving team" are, as Florida was a BCS at-large selection in 1998, 2001, and 2009, and went to the Orange Bowl twice and the Sugar Bowl once. There's a chance, perhaps a very good one, that this game will not be part of the existing BCS framework, and that it could be played at a new site like the massive Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
If that's the case, and Florida ends up somewhere that Gators fans haven't been before, I'm there in a heartbeat. Would you be?