College football conferences will get a record take of about $170 million from this year's Bowl Championship Series games, including a new high of $24.7 million for the five conferences that don't get automatic bids to the BCS bowls.
The figures were obtained by The Associated Press ahead of their official release later Tuesday by the BCS.
BCS officials say the higher figures were fueled by the new television contract with ESPN. In addition, the five conferences that don't get automatic bids were helped by the automatic berth earned by Texas Christian University. Those conferences got slightly more than last year's $24 million.
The distribution of money has been a main point of contention for congressional critics of the BCS, who argue that it shows the system is unfair. In the last congressional session, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, pushed legislation aimed at forcing the BCS to switch to a playoff system rather than the ratings system it uses to set the games that determine the college championship.
Barton did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Under the BCS system, six conferences get automatic bids to participate in top-tier bowl games while the other five don't. Those six conferences, which sent nine of the 10 teams to the BCS bowl games this year, will take in about $145 million. The Big Ten, Southeastern and Pac-10, which each had two teams in BCS bowls, will receive about $27.2 million each, while the ACC, Big East and Big 12 will each receive roughly $21.2 million.
Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director, noted that the conferences that don't get automatic bids will receive a record take for the second year in a row. He said the numbers demonstrate the "strength and fairness of the current system. The fact is that all of Division I football is better off because of the BCS, financially and otherwise."
But Matthew Sanderson, founder of Playoff PAC, a political action committee aimed at prodding change to a playoff system, said the financial imbalance remains.
"That imbalance is unconscionable, given that it has no basis in post-season performance on the field and in the marketplace," he said. "Only the BCS would try to pitch anti-competitive behavior as benevolence."