Editor's Note: This is part one of a four-post series on the politics of college football.
Ah, the heady days of college football offseason 2014. It's when Jameis Winston taught us that stolen crab legs are crab-leggier, Cardale Jones was little more than the guy who sent that one really awkward Tweet, and conference commissioners repeatedly threatened to break away from the NCAA.
So maybe it wasn't all good.
The coordinated talking points from the commissioners of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big 10 and Pac 12 last spring carried the message that 1). we need more autonomy, 2). it's really only because we want to do more for student athletes (promise) and 3). if you don't do what we want we're taking our ball and leaving you out in the cold forever.
Nonetheless, I still hear from many a college football fan that it's inevitable one day the "P5" will leave and "go do their own thing," that last spring was just one step on the march to a new division.
Here's why it ain't happenin'.
G5s are making more money too
I bet you can't count how many times you've read the phrase "growing divide between the haves and have-nots" over the past year even if you took your shoes off.
As Andy Schwarz so gracefully points out here, big conference money is steeply climbing, but so is G5 money.
We wouldn't expect a mom-and-pop store that has grown from $1.4 million to $6.5 million in annual revenues (which is what the typical school in the bottom quartile of the FBS has experienced since 2000) to go belly up just because a big box store across town grew from $24 million to $58 million (what the typical upper quartile FBS school has experienced) in the same time frame...
The Sun Belt, AAC, CUSA, Mountain West and MAC will see a dramatic revenue boost thanks to the playoff and, love it or hate it, have added a number of bowl tie-ins in recent years. This partly explains why signs point to most if not all G5s offering full cost of attendance in future seasons. Even an FCS team, Liberty, has already said they'll provide it. The paydays for "bodybag" games are also on the rise. Speaking of which...
G5s have leverage
Big thanks to Dr. Nic for pointing out a set of fantastic quotes from Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken (yes I'm a thief and I'm sorry).
"Go ahead [P5 Conferences] and do your deal - you guys split all the pie - but don't go playing anyone else. You just play each other every week. Just have a nice NFL crossover where you play each other. Then when you fire up a nice 7-5, and you're at a pretty good place and they fire you, they won't be real excited about it, because you won't have those games that they've been able to win. Plain and simple."
"Some of those teams that get bowl eligible when they go 2-6 in their league and they go 6-6. Well, you'll be 2-10, or 3-9, and it won't feel so damn salty."
THAT'S RIGHT POWER FIVE!!! DON'T FEEL SO DAMN SALTY NOW DO YA!!!!!!11!111!!
They'd never split though if it actually meant playing 12 other P5s, six in your stadium and six on the road, without the extra wins and home game revenues. Personally I hope G5s start pushing this issue a little further and hold out for more 2-for-1 deals and neutral site games.
This is further evidenced by toothless tough scheduling policies put in place in recent seasons. The Big 10 said it will stop playing FCS teams (gasp!), while the SEC said its members must (MUST) play at least one P5 out of conference every single year.
The B1G news may be bad for FCS teams. For G5s it means you are a more scarce resource for scheduling purposes and can command more cash for that all-important extra home game (or two).
The SEC's policy is even more goofy. For one, teams like Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky qualify by default thanks to in-state rivalries with ACC foes. For two, it boils down to "sorry guys, you can't play a full third of your season at home against teams from smaller conferences. You only get 25 percent!"
Put another way, it means SEC teams can only schedule up to 7 out of 8 non-conference games at home over a two-year period, rather than 8 out of 8. The fact that such a policy needs to be codified shows how important these games are to conference members, both from a revenue standpoint and a win-loss perspective.
Also, the extra autonomy granted last year only pertains to certain areas, and nothing prevents G5 schools from adopting new rules once passed.
The point of a split would be... what exactly?
The P5 and G5 already have a symbiotic relationship through bowl matchups, scheduling agreements, etc. Hell, some G5s are now helping big schools host off-campus football camps, figuring they can siphon off a few recruits along the way.
The G5 might benefit from having its own playoffs, but would probably rather win its access bowl every year and enjoy that September rush when East Carolina beats two ACC teams and everybody says "UNDEFEEDED!?" If the G5 can square a guaranteed spot when the playoffs jump to 8 or 16 the little guys will really be crying all the way to the bank.
If a split happened, you'd also have to explain how BYU is small college football and a team like, say, Wake Forest, is big time.
Lastly, division one already split once when I-AA/FCS became a thing in the late 70s. I spent more than a decade watching FCS football through Georgia Southern, endlessly reminding friends that GSU was "not Division II," to no avail. The Eagles are one of a whole bunch of teams who got tired of it and jumped back up.
Is there a huge gap between the money five and the other five? Absolutely. But there's too much mutual benefit on both sides to keep the family from splitting up.