Conference Champions' Game
With the rumblings of Big Ten expansion seeding unease in almost every conference in the eastern and western reaches of the country, the Big East Conference has taken at least one stop toward an optimistic vision of the future.
In 2011, the conference hopes to host its first Conference Championship Game.
NCAA rules stipulate that a conference must have two divisions of at least six teams in order to host a championship game. The Big East, currently at eight teams, has few teams to select from in the Northeast and, with eight basketball-only teams, is already full to the brim.
So, no, the Big East will not expand to the required 12 teams by 2011. Instead, the conference will extend an invitation to the Mountain West to play in a “Championship Game” between the two conferences.
Alliances between conferences are rooted in the Pac-10 / Big Ten alliance in the Rose Bowl. In the early 90s, with the coming of the first Conference Championship Game, alliances were also seen as possible prior to bowls.
The Big East pursued an alliance with the ACC during this time. The ACC, however, did not want to limit the number of Bowl Alliance bids for both conference and eventually three teams left the Big East to create a championship game within the ACC.
The Big East also pursued an alliance with the Southwest Conference (SWC). But the SWC instead entered into an alliance with the Big Eight Conference to create the amalgam now known as the Big Twelve.
East vs. West
While the minutia of finances and logistics have time to be fleshed out, the preliminary details are rather informative.
What the Big East gains from such an arrangement is an exciting season finale against a potential Top 10 team. In recent years the Big East champion has finished its season by beating a poor (1-6 Big East) Connecticut team, losing to unranked Pittsburgh, and playing a meaningless game in Hawaii.
The Mountain West gains a shot at legitimacy by playing a BCS champion. In addition, a victory in this game gives the Mountain West automatic inclusion in the BCS.
Preliminary plans are for the Mountain West to receive up to half of the Big East's BCS revenue, more than what the conference makes now, even when TCU or Utah are invited. What is lost to the MWC is returned to the Big East through television rights to the Alliance Championship Game.
The game is tentatively placed in the eastern portion of the country, allowing for simpler travel for Big East fans. Pittsburgh, New York, Washington, and Tampa have all been floated as possible sites.
One Time Only?
After the 2011 season, the BCS will evaluate all conference that do not automatically send their champion to a BCS game in order to determine if one of these conferences should. As it stands now, the Mountain West has a good chance of joining the Big East and other major conferences as equals.
While television and bowl negotiations will be kept separate in 2011, the two conferences will effectively operate as two divisions within the same conference. Such an arrangement would need to be abandoned if both were given automatic inclusion into the BCS as separate conferences.
The deal could be extended at least two more years, depending on the Big Ten's verdict regarding expansion. If a team like Missouri leaves the Big Twelve to join the Big Ten, then the Big Twelve may replace them with a team from the Mountain West, dashing their chances at joining the BCS until after 2013.
Alternatively, if the Big Ten decides to steal a team from the Big East, the aftershock could split the Big East basketball conference, freeing the football teams to create a 12-team conference. The Alliance Championship Game would then serve almost as a dry-run for the Big East in organizing a conference championship game of their own.