It’s Time for SEC vs. Pac-12 to Open Season

It’s rare that college football ideas come from watching international soccer matches. But such was the case when I found myself sprawled on the couch at my in-law’s rooting for the US to beat Mexico in the Gold Cup final this summer. For those who aren’t aware, the Gold Cup occurs every two years and pits teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean against each other in a tournament designed to crown the champion of the region. Read about it here. Every two year iteration has grown in popularity since the tournament returned in 1991. Partly that’s a result of the rise of soccer in the United States, but it’s also because soccer rivalries have formed, intensified, and become ingrained in our sporting culture.

In short, America hates Mexico. And you don’t really have a powerful sports event until rivalries foment a deep and abiding hate.

My in-law’s didn’t have Fox Soccer Channel so I was watching the US play in Spanish. There I was cursing Mexico as I watched a game in the resplendent Rose Bowl setting when it hit me: why can’t we have a Gold Cup like event in college football every two years to open the season?

That is, why can’t we have a conference challenge that rotates among the four major conferences with 12 teams competing top to bottom? Putting it simply, why can’t the SEC, the Big Ten, the Pac 12, and the ACC play each other top to bottom every other year so that it takes eight years to complete the cycle?

I’m going to argue the SEC should lead the charge and participate every two years because it’s the biggest television draw and has the most rabid fans, but if another conference took the idea and ran with it that would work as well.

Right now, I think the SEC under Mike Slive and the Pac 12 under Larry Scott would be the best able to make this happen. Both men are incredibly forward thinking and both men have shown an innate grasp of the business side of college athletics. Plus, Jim Delany of the Big Ten, who is also very intelligent, runs from all chances to match his conference against others.

Plus, he’s already got the Big Ten’s yearly slugfest with the MAC. He can’t overload the schedules and slip two teams into the BCS again.

I’ll unpack the idea in a moment, but before you dismiss it as crazy consider that the college basketball world already sees conference challenges and that the growth in neutral site games to begin the season at the Jerry Dome in Dallas and the Georgia Dome in Atlanta proves that abundant money is on the table for these events in college football. The basketball “challenges” pale in comparison to football because basketball, thank God, actually allows all the teams to compete against each other at the end of the year for a championship.

In college football we don’t have that. (Insert jeremiad against BCS here). Which means a Gold Cup like challenge in college football would be insanely popular.

The idea is simple, you play a different conference top-to-bottom 1-12. So the SEC might commence with the Pac-12, then move to the ACC, and close with the Big Ten before commencing the cycle anew. Playing all the 12 team conferences would take six years and then commence anew in the eighth year. Or if the SEC and Pac-12 found that the event made a ton of financial sense, the two conferences could commit to one another for a decade of challenges, five total clashes that you could name — send me your best nominees for names — with roman numerals so that it took on a Super Bowl flavor.

What’s more, SEC commissioner Mike Slive told me he had two ideas that could increase television revenue substantially. But he told me he wasn’t ready to share those ideas yet. Could an idea like this be one of them? Perhaps.

Here are ten additional reasons why I think a conference challenge to open the season makes a ton of sense and would be wildly popular with college football fans:

1. It gives us a chance to have a top-to-bottom comparison of conference teams.

What’s the number one argument each year in college football? Which conference is strongest.

Every year the same arguments are made leading up to the bowl season when two or three teams play against one another as a “battle” of the conferences. At least that’s the way the media portrays it. Out of these two or three games — played more than a month after the actual season ends — we’re supposed to assess relative conference strength across the breadth of a mega-conference.

It’s the best way to answer an intractable dilemma right now.  

Why not play a true 1-12 contest? Seed the teams based on the prior season’s results in conference or upon the agreed rankings of each conferences’ coaches headed into the newest season. One would play one, two would play two, all the way down to twelve playing twelve.  

2. Top match-ups between teams out-of-conference are presently dying.

Remember when we were kids and there was always a huge game taking place between traditional powers out-of-conference? Think Florida State – Notre Dame, for instance, a late season game that could swing the national title one way or the other.

Those games don’t exist anymore.

Everyone schedules the easy win rather than the challenging national opponent. That’s the result of the BCS dash for cash.

But what if you could make the out-of-conference games incredibly lucrative? Then I think money would lead to their return. Read on for the money angle.

3. The NFL has moved to make the kickoff of its season a national event while college football hasn’t.

College football has stayed on the sideline while the NFL has coronated Thursday night and made the start of its season a football holiday of sorts.

Imagine if college football staged a similar event to the NFL, a roster of 12 games between two of the nation’s top conferences held front and center to grab the attention of the nation on the first week of the football season. Since college starts at least a week before the NFL, college football could steal a march on the NFL. What’s more, the idea of a football holiday fits much better with college sports than it does the NFL.

I’ve tailgated all my life, and nothing compares to a college football game.

4. You play games on the opening weekend of the college football season.

But the weekend is defined broadly, you start with three games on Thursday — with the first one kicking off in the mid-afternoon a la the NCAA tournament — take Friday off to keep the high schools happy, then play four games each on Saturday, three on Sunday before closing with a massive doubleheader finale on Monday night.  

Can you imagine how awesome this would be? Like an NCAA tournament of college football. 

5. Four of the games are at neutral sites, four are at Pac-12 home venues, and four are at SEC home venues.

The neutral site venues would be in Dallas and, potentially, Atlanta. Wherever the biggest money could come from to host the games. If you’d rather do completely on campus venues, you could simply split up six and six. With the money that these netural site games are tossing out there now, it might be impossible to turn them down though.

Right now Jerry Jones is throwing money out the window like crazy to fill up his stadium. Can you imagine how ecstatic he’d be to get two games to fill up his stadium? Same with the Georgia Dome. Perhaps you could get the new LA stadium, if it’s built, bidding as well.

Hell, get as many neutral site cities bidding to host these games as possible.

6. The money would be astounding.

The Pac-10 has retained its local media rights to a degree and the SEC has retained local media rights as well. So why couldn’t the SEC and the Pac-10 take the kickoff challenge to market and sell it to the highest bidder?

You simply get the SEC teams to give up one of their local rights games every two years — the crappy one that’s generally sold on pay-per-view and hardly anyone watches on television — in exchange for the big dollars that would come from a conference challenge game.

Can you imagine how much promotion this event would get? How much it would be worth?

Read on, I’ll tell you.

7. If you don’t want to sell the rights to ESPN, Fox, or Comcast, why not get really creative and sell it as a pay-per-view event?

Say $50 for all 12 games.

Could you get three million homes in the SEC and Pac12 to buy that package?

Hell, yes.

Especially when you consider that 2.4 million homes bought the Mayweather-De la Hoya boxing match back in 2007.

Get three million homes to pony up and that’s $150 million on top of the gate revenue.

Split evenly 24 ways that’s $6.25 million per team just in television revenue!

Would it surprise you if six million households ponied up for all 12 games? That wouldn’t surprise me just from the SEC football. Get in that range and we’re talking about $300 million in television revenue for 12 games. Putting that in context, that’s more money than the Pac 12 or the SEC make per year right now for their televised events.

Then you’re talking about a BCS size payout per team, $12.5 million just in TV sales for just the first game of the season. The games that would otherwise be crap games selling piddling numbers of pay-per-view buys in your home regions. 

What’s more, you’re not even gauging the consumer, that’s just $4 a game.  

Plus, it’s a great test for what the future really will be — the Pac 12 and SEC distributing their own content without a network partner as a middleman.

The very idea of putting this event on pay-per-view might scare the major networks so much that they’d pony up even more than this.

Put simply, it’s a bonanza of cash.

7. The attention would be amazing.

How badly does the media need story angles in the months of July and August? I’ll tell you…very badly. I do fifteen hours or radio a week and there is nothing really going going on in those months. The entire month of July would be spent breaking down the match-ups, you’d have a made for television special in the middle of the summer when nothing else is going on where the match-ups were unveiled.

It would be akin to the World Cup pod selection show.

This thing would be beyond awesome.

8. What would the match-ups look like this year?

Here’s a rough sketch from worst to first.

12: Colorado vs. Ole Miss

Yes, this game would suck, but would it suck any more than other Colorado-Ole Miss games this season?

11: Washington State vs. Vandy

Again, kind of crappy, but when would these teams ever play otherwise? Plus, fans would tune in to root for the conference cup.

10: UCLA vs. Kentucky

Basketball on grass. Are you telling me Kentucky fans wouldn’t kill for a chance to travel out to LA and play in the Rose Bowl?

9: Cal vs. Auburn

Tedford vs. Malzahn? That’s pretty damn intriguing. Even if Cal has fallen off the face of the earth lately.

8: Oregon State vs. Mississippi State

Okay, they can’t all be great.

7:  Arizona vs. Tennessee

Assuming they went west, the Vols could continue their trend of not showing up for games on the west coast.

6: Washington vs. Florida

One of the best things about these games would be the college football cross-pollination. I can’t tell you how cool it would be for the Gators to travel all the way across the country and play in Washington. Or vice versa. (Stop with the emails LSU, I know you did it recently.)

5: Utah vs. Georgia

Ute fans would pass out when they saw the Georgia girls’ cleavage.

4: Arizona State vs. South Carolina

How many naked ASU coeds could Stephen Garcia get in his hotel room the night before the big game? Ten, fifteen?

3: Stanford vs. Arkansas

Perhaps the game of the year in college football. Can you imagine how many points you’d have to score to win?

2: Southern Cal vs. LSU

A replay of the classic game between these two goliaths? A final rubber match for 2003. Must see.  

1: Oregon vs. Alabama

I stood on the field next to the Oregon cheerleaders last year at the Fiesta Bowl and I still haven’t recovered. Former Auburn player Cole Cubelic and I were discussing them at SEC media days. (Also, in honor of former Duck Geoff Schwartz, I’ve pledged to use Duck cheerleader photos on the center of the page whenever it’s remotely possible.)

9. When you consider the amazing attention, the potential money, and the sheer excitement, this has to happen.

You could also give the conferences the right to adjust the match-ups for storyline purposes. Say, one wild card selection on each side that would have to be mutually agreed upon. As much fun as, for instance, Lane Kiffin vs. Les Miles would be, how much more nationally powerful would USC vs. Tennessee be?

Rather than tell me why this can’t happen, I’m interested in whether any fans would actually be against it. Coaches, perhaps, because it makes the schedules tougher, but would any fans anywhere not embrace this? it needs to happen.

Now.

10. Name a trophy and present it to the winning conference.

Traditions have to start somewhere. Eventually this trophy would be one of the most famous in college football.

I’ll suggest a name for the trophy: The Transcontinental.

But y’all can beat that names via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

What can’t be beat is the idea.

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