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New bowl system a victory for MAC

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(Rob Winner — rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Northern Illinois wide receiver Martel Moore heads for the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown pass during the third quarter of the Huskies' 31-24 victory over Toledo on Nov. 14 in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Since its inception in 1998, the Bowl Championship Series, for the most part, has left out the little guy.

The big six conference champions received automatic bids in the system, which will expire after next season. Notre Dame gets a bid in one of the five BCS bowls if its in the top eight in the final BCS standings.

Schools from conferences like the Mid-American, Mountain West and Conference USA have a much higher hill to climb when it comes to getting in one of the major bowl games.

In 2014, when the new bowl system – which will include a four-team playoff – replaces the BCS, mid-major schools will be better off. Under the new format, teams from the “Group of Five” conferences – the MAC, Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt, will have the access they largely have been denied over the past 15 years.

The best team from the Group of Five will earn an automatic bid in one of the six access bowls. That team will be chosen by a selection committee, according to MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.

For example, this season, the bid would come down to teams like Louisville, who’s currently ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press Poll and 18th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, Rutgers (No. 21 AP/No. 19 Coaches), Kent State (No.23 AP/No. 25 Coaches), Boise State (No. 22 Coaches) or NIU (No. 24 AP/No. 23 Coaches).

In the coming years it’s certainly possible a team from the MAC, such as NIU, could be featured in an early January game against a team from the Big Ten or Big 12.

The new bowl system could be considered a victory for successful non-AQ programs like NIU.

“It feels like it, because we’re relative. It feels like it, for sure,” NIU head coach Dave Doeren said. “Obviously you’ve got to be an undefeated team probably, or a one-loss team and take care of your business probably from the preseason on, I would think. Because you lose late, you’re out in those kind of situations.

“I think it’s a great thing for our conference.”

NIU’s president, John Peters, is on the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee. He told the Associated Press last week getting automatic access was big for the Group of Five.

“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,” Peters said.

Under the BCS, the only way the champion from a league like the MAC earns an automatic bid is if the team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or ranked in the top 16, and higher than a conference champion from one of the automatic-qualifying leagues.

Since the inception of the BCS, four schools from non-AQ conferences have played in BCS bowl games — Utah (2004, 2008), Boise State (2006, 2009), Hawaii (2007) and TCU (2009, 2010).

Steinbrecher, speaking during Monday’s MAC coaches teleconference, said the new system is a “big get” for the conference, and likes his league’s chances of competing for the new bowl slot.

There’s also the issue of revenue distribution. Steinbrecher wouldn’t go into specific numbers, but said the new system will bring a lot more money to the conference and its member schools.

According to the BCS media guide, the current non-AQ conferences will receive $14.1 million this season, nine percent of the BCS revenue, if no team from one of the five current leagues participates in a BCS game. Steinbrecher said the non-AQ conferences split half of it, with the other half awarded based on competitive factors.

Steinbrecher said the Group of Five conferences will figure out how to divide the money from the new system in the near future.

“I will say there will be significant growth in the revenue the Mid-American Conference derives from this system,” Steinbrecher said.

More access, more revenue. It’s a win for programs like NIU, Boise State, Tusla and Central Florida.

For years the mid-majors have had to fight to get access. Now, it’s guaranteed. Doeren said the fact his team will now have a better shot at a lucrative bowl game will help in recruiting as well.

“People can’t tell us anymore that you can’t go to a BCS game and things like that, which has been said,” Doeren said. “It’s no longer an argument, for sure.”

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