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Bowl Ties Leave Situation in Knots

November 29, 2002|CHRIS DUFRESNE

With Thanksgiving behind us and only two weeks before bowl bids go out, it's probably time to take our best shots at matching qualified Pac-10 teams to their affiliated bowls.

Here goes:

Rose: Don't know.

Holiday: Can't say.

Sun: Not sure.

Insight: No insight.

Las Vegas: Roll of the dice.

Silicon Valley: No clue.

Any other questions?

"I have been director for two years, and been with the bowl for 25," Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski said this week, "and I can't remember being this late in the game and not knowing who our two teams are. And we probably won't know until Dec. 8."

Life was easier in the old backroom days, when bowls were free to lock up teams early. The problem was some bowls determined "early" to mean Labor Day.

In 1990, Sun Bowl football chairman John Folmer said he secured under-the-table agreements with USC and Michigan State to play in his El Paso game.... in September.

"I went to Michigan State before its fourth game, sat there an told [coach] George Perles, 'If you don't go to the Rose Bowl, we want you to come to our place,' " Folmer recalled this week. "He said, 'You're kidding me,' and I said, 'Well, you have to have a winning record.' "

Twelve years later, there's a different sort of mess.

With the advent of the bowl championship series and conference title games played in the first week of December, bowl bids are now backed up like cars in rush hour traffic.

The Pac-10, for instance, has arrangements with six bowls but has yet been able to sign off on one. The problem is bowls are tied to each other and there's a trickle down effect.

Unlike other conferences, Pac-10 teams are bound to specific bowls based on where they finish in conference.

The Pac-10 champion goes to the Rose Bowl, with the second-place school routed to the Holiday. The Sun Bowl gets the No. 3 school, followed by the Insight, Las Vegas and Silicon Valley bowls.

With the Rose Bowl participants still in doubt, though, the other bowls can't make their moves.

"As bad as if we feel, waiting for the fallout of the BCS, it has to be brutal for those on the second echelon," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said. "It's a new system and it's brought some unanticipated anxiety and uncertainty with it."

Time is money in the bowl business, and bowls disdain having to wait until Dec. 8 to make their picks, yet nothing can be done until BCS issues are resolved.

We know it's going to be either Washington State or USC in the Rose Bowl, probably to face Iowa, but won't know for sure until Washington State and UCLA meet on Dec. 7.

That game was moved from its original Nov. 16 slot to accommodate television.

It's also possible USC and Washington State both will make BCS bowls, which impacts the pecking order.

If UCLA beats Washington State, the answer is simple. USC goes to the Rose Bowl and Washington State is in the Holiday.

If Washington State wins the Rose Bowl bid, and USC does not go to a BCS game, the Trojans take the Holiday Bowl slot.

If Washington State and USC are lost to BCS games, the Holiday gets to pick the next best Pac-10 team. However, if UCLA and Arizona State, currently tied for third, lose their last games, five teams will be tied with 4-4 records.

What happens then?

"That's a good question," Folmer of the Sun Bowl said. "I don't know what we'd do. This kills us. It really does."

The Sun Bowl has already been burned by the BCS, in 1998, when a series of late loses left the bowl without its Big Ten representative. The Sun Bowl had to fill the slot with Texas Christian.

It looks as though the Sun Bowl will get Purdue this year, but must wait on its Pac-10 team. "That's not good," Folmer said. "We need to get tickets, we need a plan, we need to get people to these schools."

Call this the result of unintended consequences.

The Rose Bowl joined the BCS with the understanding that in years it was not hosting the national title game, it would match the Pac-10 and Big Ten in the traditional format.

Yet, under BCS rules, that may not be the case. If USC wins a guaranteed spot in the BCS and the Orange Bowl wants Iowa, the Rose Bowl may get stuck with the Big 12 champion.

Not bad if that champion is 11-1 Oklahoma, not good if that champion is four-loss Colorado.

The Pac-10 has had to make contingency plans, specifically what to do with Oregon, the seventh bowl qualified school in a conference with only six bowl ties?

If the Pac-10 loses two teams to the BCS, Oregon would simply move up the chain and do no worse than the Silicon Valley Bowl.

If only one conference school is lost to the BCS, then Oregon at 7-5 is looking for a bowl. Just in case, the Pac-10 has made arrangements with the Seattle Bowl to take the Ducks.

Pac Bits

Bowls don't like to match schools that met in the regular season -- the exception this year could be a Holiday Bowl rematch between USC and Kansas State. "We would not be adverse to that," Binkowski said. And why not? The Holiday, with a history of producing terrific matchups, could play host to the nation's two hottest, two-loss schools.

The Rose Bowl, however, probably would not make a rematch between Washington State and USC, should the Cougars win the Pac-10 title and the Trojans earn an automatic at-large bid. The situation could arise if the Orange Bowl, picking first, takes Iowa. The Rose Bowl could then be left with the Big 12 conference champion.

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