The trouble is that I don’t think anyone knows whether that’s a good idea or not. I’ve always been happy with the fact that while the SEC and Big XII lose out on BCS bids because of their conference championship games, the Big Ten gains BCS bids because it doesn’t have one. Despite its reputation as a mediocre conference—a reputation that has often been earned—no other conference has produced more BCS bids than the Big Ten. It’s not a coincidence that the conference without a championship game leads the country in BCS bids. Ironically, Joe Paterno and Barry Alvarez are advocating a Big Ten Championship game because they believe the Big Ten is falling behind in "perception" compared to other conference when, in fact, not having a championship game is the only thing keeping the Big Ten's perception from becoming even worse. The other side of the argument is that the SEC and Big XII bring in enough revenue from their conference championship games that each of their member institutions get roughly a $1 million payout every year that Big Ten schools don’t get.
The default setting for most fans is idealistic rather than materialistic. Fans care a whole lot more about the Big Ten’s reputation—which relies heavily on National Championships, BCS bids, and bowl performance—than they do about how much money the Big Ten rakes in. According to Stewart Mandel, each Big Ten school brings in roughly $22.6 million per year. The additional million that could be added via a Big Ten Championship game seems like “small potatoes” compared to that. Certainly, I wouldn’t think it would be worth losing out on extra BCS bids and National Championship Game appearances. I feel that way, though, because I am a fan and it doesn’t cost me any money to feel that way. If I were a President of a Big Ten school, I might be able to forget about “reputation” for an extra million bucks. So, whether a conference championship game is good for the Big Ten depends entirely on your viewpoint.
I’ve been against a Big Ten Championship game because of the obvious advantage the conference has received by not having one. However, it's hard to deny that strictly financially speaking, it is worth losing a BCS bid every other year if it means an additional $12-$14 million for the conference (which is an estimate of what SEC and Big XII Championship Games bring in annually). A second BCS-bid is worth $4.5 million. So, even if the Big Ten loses a second BCS-bid every year due to a championship game, having the game would still net $9-10 million annually. Obviously, a Big Ten Championship Game would not cause the conference to lose a 2nd BCS bid every year. In fact, it would be much less than that. In the 12 years of the BCS, the SEC has lost just two bids as a result of its championship game and the Big XII hasn’t lost a single bid. That means while the SEC has likely brought in over $100 million from its conference championship game over the last 12 years, it has only lost roughly $9 million due to lost BCS bids. The Big XII—while also likely bringing in over $100+ million over that time—hasn’t lose a single dime from lost BCS bids. Financial people will tell you that’s a pretty good argument for having a conference championship.
I’m not convinced that the Big Ten would be as immune to losing bids as the SEC has been. The Big Ten has received two BCS bids in nine of the twelve years since the BCS was implemented. Of those nine two-bid years, the Big Ten did not have a 3rd team strong enough to factor into the BCS discussion in six of those years. The SEC has been so successful at placing two teams into the BCS despite its conference championship game because it often has more than just two elite teams and/or teams that would still receive a bid even with a loss. #2 Tennessee lost in the SEC Championship Game in 2001 and the SEC still garnered two BCS bids. Alabama and Florida—losers of the last two SEC Championship Games—both received bids despite the losses. Depending on how the Big Ten would’ve been divided up, a Big Ten Championship Game could’ve cost the conference as many as six bids since the BCS began. That would’ve been frustrating from a fan’s perspective, no doubt, but that still only would’ve netted a loss of roughly $27 million which is paltry compared to the $100+ million that would’ve resulted from having the championship game in the first place. So, the Big Ten would almost assuredly lose BCS bids as a result of a championship game and likely at a higher rate than the SEC. However, like the SEC has proven, there is substantial money to be made in the process.
Although “second” BCS bids are certainly important for bragging purposes, they pale in comparison to being selected to play in a National Championship game. Losing out on that opportunity is much more harmful to a conference’s reputation than losing out on a second BCS bid (although the financial loss is the same, believe it or not). Since the BCS was formed in 1998, the SEC and Big XII have lost a total of five National Championship Game participants. In the SEC’s case, it has lost two guaranteed National Championship scenarios. In 2008, Florida and Alabama played in the SEC Championship Game meaning both could not play in the National Championship Game. Otherwise, two SEC teams would’ve played for the National Championship. The exact same scenario unfolded this season. Meanwhile, the Big Ten hasn’t lost a single BCS bid or National Championship Game participant over the history of the BCS. That is an advantage that has allowed the Big Ten to “save face” during a stretch of disappointing football.
On a school-to-school basis, the idea of a conference championship game will appeal much more to the Indiana and Northwestern’s of the Big Ten. They are unlikely to ever be adversely affected as a result of a conference championship game. They’ll simply cash their $1 million checks and say, “Thank you.” Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn St, however, are the teams that will likely have their roads to a BCS game or the National Championship game made more difficult by the adoption of a championship game despite the foolhardy suggestion to the contrary by the Barry Alvarezes and Joe Paternos of the world. For those schools, the $1 million payout may not be worth it. So, while the money brought in would benefit the conference as a whole, it would unlikely benefit the elite programs of the conference nearly as much. That’s why there might be a divide in opinion of a championship game based on the various fanbases. It’s likely that Ohio St, Michigan, and Penn St., fans will look less favorably on it than fans from other schools. As you can imagine, I’m not happy about the fact that Michigan will probably have to beat Ohio State twice in the same season before it can even play in a National Championship game. The extra $1 million that the Michigan Athletic Department would pocket isn’t nearly worth making that theoretical situation a reality. Considering adding a 12th team would also significantly weaken the Michigan-Ohio State game, make it more difficult for the conference to receive multiple BCS bids, and make it harder for a Big Ten team to get to the National Championship game, the Big Ten better make this a "Notre Dame or bust" situation. Otherwise, Big Ten football is about to change forever and, other than a few lousy bucks, it won't be for the better.
Note: This post assumes that any school that is added would bring $22.6 million (Mandel’s estimate of a break even point) annually to the conference via renegotiated TV contracts and nothing significantly more or less.