Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Colleges

NCAA football four-team playoff could affect bowls not among top tier such as Outback Bowl

When the BCS presidential oversight committee meets later this month to try to finalize the future structure of college football's postseason, one of the major issues is what becomes of the bowls not involved in what likely will be a four-team playoff.

Bowls such as the Outback, Capital One and Gator that have long-standing histories with the SEC — and those affiliated with other major conferences — don't want to become an afterthought.

The current contracts for the BCS, which pairs the nation's top two teams, expire after the 2013 regular season.

SEC coaches and administrators have expressed their desire for a four-team playoff but only if the bowl system remains intact.

"I think bowl games have to be important," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said last week. "Bowl games have been very good for college football. And I've been in a lot of meetings, and I've listened to a lot of different potential outcomes. And it just seems everybody wants to come back and try to do all they can for the bowls.

"Now when that meeting day comes, I'm not in the room. Could they walk out of there with a different outcome? Obviously. But I'd be very surprised if the bowls aren't first and foremost in that scenario."

Jim McVay, president/CEO of Tampa's Outback Bowl, said his conversations with other bowl CEOs and SEC schools lead him to believe presidents and athletic directors believe in the bowls.

"Once they figure out what to do with this format, there's a lot of great inventory that needs to go someplace other than the top four teams in the country or the top eight teams in the country or BCS bowls," McVay said.

"There are 35 bowl games right now that accommodate 70 football teams, fans, coaches, administrators, boosters and alumni. That tells you that there's an interest in having a lot of this successful inventory go somewhere after the season."

The SEC and Big 12 already have taken a step to remain in the upper-tier bowl structure. Last month, the two conferences announced the creation of the Champions Bowl, which pairs their champions for a game if neither makes the playoff.

"The genesis of the idea was born several years ago," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "Once we realized there was going to be a change in the postseason, we began to think this might be the time to bring this to fruition, especially given the performance of both leagues in the BCS era.

"Now we'll sit back and see how the BCS plays out and make final decisions about where that game is played and when it gets played."

If the presidents decide only conference champions qualify for the four-team playoff — or even if a committee chooses the teams as per another proposal — it's hard to imagine an SEC champion left out of the mix. That has some wondering if the Champions Bowl will ever be played, even though when first announced last month, the leagues said if one or both of their champions are selected for the playoff, another team would be chosen for the Champions.

While Slive said the intention is to enhance bowl exposure for league teams, even he can't be positive it won't have an opposite effect to some degree.

And that could have a domino effect. Depending on how the system is rearranged, many bowls might have to battle to stay relevant. Take the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, which since 2010 has had the third or fourth selection from the Pac-12 and fifth or sixth from the Big 12. That's where the Champions Bowl and a four-team playoff could become factors.

If the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl — where the SEC and Big 12 champs currently go, respectively, if not in the BCS title game — become part of the playoff rotation or a permanent part of the new SEC-Big 12 agreement, how will that affect the selection process for other bowls tied to those conferences?

"It could (have a negative impact) but not necessarily," Slive said. "It really depends a little bit more on how the BCS plays out."

Foley doesn't see much impact, at least for SEC bowls.

"(The Champions Bowl) does not change our desire to continue our relationship with all of those (partner) bowls," he said. "Those bowls have been very important to this league. We very much believe in treating good partners the right way. And I'll be very, very surprised as we move forward that we don't enhance our relationship with those bowl games."

The Outback Bowl currently has the third pick from the Big Ten and third pick from the SEC. McVay points out that last season, it paired two teams, Georgia and Michigan State, that lost conference championship games. That, he said, speaks volumes about the sustaining power of the bowls outside of the current BCS games.

"What they do with their champions, that will take care of itself," McVay said. "We're right behind that set of teams.

"We feel strongly that we provide an exceptional experience for the student-athletes and the fans, and absolutely we feel strongly about where we are and where things will eventually lead."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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