GunnerFan, I see a dilemma coming up. The conference championship game is profitable, but may be less so if, at some point, the Big Ten and Pac Ten join the ACC in also playing one.
Also, I'm fairly convinced the current BCS system is going the way of the dinosaur in light of the OU-LSU-USC mess. I think some sort of play-off is out there.
And, if there is, conferences like the SEC and XII are in a bind. If conference champions are the source of play-off teams, the Big Twelve this year would have run the risk of sending K-State as opposed to OU as conference rep... It seems to me that a conference would really want to put its best team into a tournament if it came to that.
you're quite right about conferences wanting their best team to move on, but they also want the money and overall representation. I don't think the play-off is a certainty, except in the notion of a single game after the bowls. It's much like the mid-majors that see good teams miss out on the NCAA's because of a loss in the conference tournament; The conference chooses the method to define its champion, and while every agrees the regular season is a better indicator, taking away the title from the post-season tournament reduces it's meaning and TV appeal.
I think what's missing here is the overall Bowl-Conference relationship. I imagine that the BCS conferences would care less about which bowls or how many schools they have represented so long as they get roughly the same amount of money. ie; If the net difference between 1 and 2 BCS schools was reduced, there'd be less clamour over non-BCS involvement or a provision restricting involvement to conference champions.
(Bear with... I'm thinking this up as I go along!)
The BCS conferences should find a way to tie the BCS with non-BCS bowls from the BCS conferences such that the #2 team from each conference would make about the same $$ whether it was in the BCS or not. Basically, find a way to reduce the per-team allotment and increase the guaranteed BCS league payout.
This may involve having the second tier of "BCS" bowls, which all happen to be 100% (or 90%, etc, depending on logistics) BCS conference match-ups. The result is telling the non-BCS schools "You're guaranteed 2 spots in the top 4-5 bowls, and 1 spot in the next tier. But, the per-team payout remains $4 million throughout the duration of the contract, and the annual guaranteed payout to non-BCS schools will remain what it is now." Over time the BCS conferences accrue a higher guaranteed payment, and the urgency to send a second team to the BCS is reduced.
I'll work on the logistics and see if my refinements offer anything better.