While everyone is stuck in the discussion about the four-team playoff, and how teams get in or where the games are played, another major decision has been made on the college football front. The big wigs at the BCS meetings have decided to eliminate the "Automatic Qualifier" designation of conferences. From ESPN:
Another development was the agreement by FBS commissioners and other officials to eliminate the practice of designating conferences as "AQ" and "non-AQ" leagues.
And like that, AQ status is gone. Poof. Everyone is on equal playing fields. A real equal and level playing field. No automatic berths into the big bowl games. No grandfathering into the big-money payday games. There is no extra bump, no guarantee that your squad ends up in the Orange or the Fiesta merely because you win your conference.
For the leagues that routinely finish at the top, this is not a big deal. It barely qualifies as news. If the Sugar Bowl can get the SEC champion, then the Sugar Bowl is going to take the SEC champion. If they can't get the SEC champ, then they will most certainly take the next best thing the SEC has to offer. The same goes for the Fiesta Bowl and the Big XII. The Rose Bowl, along with the Pac-12 and Big Ten, finally gets its wish, of sorts. It can keep the game in house, regardless of how bad the participants end up being.
With the loss of the automatic qualifier status you lose the qualifications requirement. With the absence of a qualifications requirement you also lift restrictions or forced selections. The Rose Bowl won't be pinned down to picking a TCU team that they never wanted for their game, like in 2010. No Fiesta Bowl being forced into taking UConn or Sugar Bowl forced into giving Hawaii a shot.
Essentially, as everyone hoots and hollers around their beloved playoff push, the sport is staring down the barrel of a revert to far more exclusionary practices than the BCS. Lifting the two-team limit coupled with the removal or qualifications is a recipe for disaster for the little guys. Sure, the SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and perhaps the Big East will ink conference deals for the champions. This would be akin to the pre-BCS period where champions spent their January in the same locales year after year.
For conferences like the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference-USA and MAC, that is not a positive situation to be in. No big-time bowl is going to be working with the smaller leagues to get a deal in place. Why be roped into taking a nobody from nowhere when your bowl is free to take the third best SEC team to fill your bowl slot against the ACC Champion?
As people are hooting, hollering and celebrating, the power brokers of the sport are taking their game back. The BCS gave mid-major schools more access than they ever had in the past, and now those schools are taking it back.