The Big East will compete with four conferences that have not had BCS automatic-qualifying status for a guaranteed spot in the lucrative marquee bowl games when college football's new postseason system starts in 2014
That group of five conferences just won't have a bowl of its own.
The conference commissioners decided Monday during a meeting with university presidents in Denver that the new four-team playoff will rotate through six games as originally planned.
In September, a proposal was put forth to add a seventh game to the rotation that would match the best team from the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference against a team from the Pac-12 or Big 12 when it did not host a semifinal.
But television networks weren't all that interested in paying in excess of $20 million a year more for a game that could potentially feature low-profile teams.
The commissioners considered incorporating that best-of-the-rest against the Pac-12 or Big 12 matchup within a six-bowl structure, but that would have locked up too many spots. Instead, a guaranteed bid was created to give the so-called group of five a place in the top games.
"This gives us an opportunity to compete," Big East commissioner Mike Aresco told reporters after the meeting. "That's what we want. We're adding new teams and we think we're going to be a stronger league. This gives us a chance to prove it."
The Big East stands to benefit the most from the decision to add the automatic berth.
The rebuilding conference has automatic qualifier status in the Bowl Championship Series, but with the BCS going away the league has been battling to retain its status as one of the power conferences in college football. It's a battle that could potentially cost the conference millions in bowl revenue and television rights fees.
While this still relegates the Big East to a place below the other current BCS automatic-qualifying conference (Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC), which all have deals in place with major bowls, it should keep the league playing in high profile games regularly.
The Big East will expand to 12 football teams next season, adding Boise State among others, and appears well positioned to be the strongest conference out of the five.
"It wasn't about a seventh bowl," Big East senior associate commissioner Nick Carparelli tweeted Monday. "It was about a guaranteed spot. It is better for everyone if there are 6 bowls. Mission accomplished!"
In the new postseason system, the national semifinals will rotate through six bowl games, setting up two playoff games and four major bowl games every season. The title game will be bid out each year through a separate process similar to the Super Bowl.
The six games will include three "contract bowls" and three "host bowls." The spots in the contract bowls, when they do not host semifinals, are reserved for teams that have deals with those bowls.
The Rose Bowl has a longtime relationship with the Pac-12 and Big Ten. The Sugar Bowl recently agreed to a deal with the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference. The Orange Bowl has signed a deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference and is working on a deal to have a team from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame, play in the Miami-based game.
The sites for the host bowls are still to be determined, though the most likely landing spots are the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
The top team from the group of five conferences without ties to a contract bowl will be assured a spot in one of the host bowls, instead of having to hope to be picked as an at-large participant.
"One thing that was very important to the group of five, non-AQ schools, was some sort of access to one of those bowls so we could compete," Northern Illinois University President John G. Peters said. "That was a positive feature of the last contract."
The commissioners and presidents also announced that a higher portion of the revenue from the new format will go to the conferences of the four teams that qualify for the playoff and participate in the other games.
Also, part of the revenue sharing will be based on the NCAA's academic progress report scores. Teams that do not reach 930 APR will lose out on a portion of revenue received by a conference.
The BCS group is currently in contract negotiations with ESPN for the TV rights to the new postseason system. Sports Business Journal reported last week the network has offered $7.2 billion for 12 years.
"We're getting close to the end," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said. "I'm not able to give you a lot of hard facts about it. But we've had productive negotiations so far and I think they will continue."
ESPN is a unit of The Walt Disney Co.