The Sun Belt finished the 2013-14 football season as the best of the non-Bowl Championship Series conferences, according to documents obtained by CBSSports.com.
That meant a payout of roughly $500,000 to each of the league’s eight programs from the BCS, and if those trends continue it could mean even bigger payouts to the league and to Georgia Southern in the future.
It’s all about how the Sun Belt fares in games against programs from other conferences, including Bowl games.
“How you perform outside your conference is a big indicator in how you rank among the other (non-BCS leagues),” GSU athletics director Tom Kleinlein said. “Every time you go play a non-conference game against somebody, it’s important.”
The four non-BCS conferences in 2013 split 7.2 percent of the net BCS revenue — the bulk of the money was paid out to programs from the six power conferences — and the amount of the payout to each conference was performance based. Of the four non-BCS leagues — the Sun Belt, Midwest Conference, Mid-American Conference and Conference USA — the top conference received four equal shares of the revenue, the second received three, the third received two and the fourth received one. The Western Athletic Conference, which no longer sponsors football, had its share ($1.1 million) divided equally among the remaining four leagues.
The conference rankings were determined by six computer polls. Non-conference games and Bowl victories were factored heavily into the rankings.
Simply put, the Sun Belt received $4 million from the BCS to split among its members, while the fourth-place league, the MAC, which lost all five of its Bowl games, received $2.2 million.
Those numbers will grow significantly when the College Football Playoff is implemented next season in place of the now-defunct BCS. Five conferences (the American Athletic Conference will join the other four after having lost its automatic-qualifier status this season) will split 29.5 percent of the College Football Playoff’s revenue, according to CBSSports.com. The report estimates that revenue will be approximately $400 million.
“Everybody’s going to get a percentage of that money,” Kleinlein said.
That means if the Sun Belt remains the best non-power conference, each of the current 11 Sun Belt institutions would receive a payout of roughly $3.6 million. If the league were to add a 12th team, commissioner Karl Benson’s stated goal, the number would be $3.3 million.
Even if the Sun Belt were to finish as the worst conference, the payout would be $750,000 per program based on the estimates, still an increase over this season’s BCS payout and a larger number than the payout for the Football Championship Subdivision playoff, which often loses money for its participants.
The BCS paid out $250,000 to each FCS conference in 2013.
The payouts help some FBS programs cover the cost of participation in lower-tier Bowl games, which also often lose money for the teams taking part.
No non-BCS program received a bid to play in a BCS game this season, but that will also change with the College Football Playoff. The top team from the bottom five conferences will receive an automatic bid to one of the six Bowls involved in the playoff —the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.
The last team from a bottom five conference to play in one of the major Bowls was Northern Illinois, which played in the 2012 Orange Bowl against Florida State and earned huge payouts for itself, the MAC conference and the other four non-BCS conferences. NIU is still picking up momentum from the appearance.
“You watch what happens to their entire athletic department over the next couple of years,” Kleinlein said of NIU. “They’ve rebuilt the basketball facility and they’re building a new stadium. It’s an influx of money outside of donations and sponsorships and all those things.”
This season, Fresno State was the top team from the bottom five conferences, based on the computer ratings. Had it received a bid to a BCS Bowl game, all four conferences would have doubled their shared revenue.
Georgia Southern will not be fully eligible to share in College Football Playoff revenue in 2014, its final year of transition to the FBS. Georgia Southern will receive academic portions of Sun Belt payouts. The Eagles will be full members in 2015, will share fully in all revenue and will also be Bowl-eligible.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.