College football soon will be assured of a true national championship game.
The missing pieces in the bowl alliance _ the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences _ have been folded into a new alliance that will bring the six major conferences together for the first time to guarantee a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.
Dubbed the Super Alliance, the agreement calls for the title game to rotate among four bowls starting with the 1998 season, New Year's Day games of 1999. ABC will have exclusive rights to all four bowls for the duration of a four-year contract with three option years lasting through the 2004 season. Financial details of the agreement were not available.
"This is the first time in modern-day history that we've been able to put together an agreement that will provide us with a true national championship game at the end of the season," said Roy Kramer, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, speaking on behalf of directors from all six leagues.
For now, the Rose Bowl is the only certain member of the new alliance. The Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls, members of the original alliance that produced last year's matchup of No.1 Nebraska vs. No.2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, will be given 60 days to negotiate their positions, after which any games interested would be considered, Kramer said.
Sites for the 1999, 2000 and 2001 title games, therefore, are yet to be determined. The Rose Bowl will be the site of the 2002 game. ABC already has rights to the Rose and Sugar bowls. Contracts between CBS and the Orange and Fiesta bowls expire after two more seasons, which coincides with the start of the Super Alliance.
The Super Alliance guarantees a berth in one of its four bowl games to the winners from the SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10, and gives special consideration to Notre Dame as one of two at-large teams.
It will interrupt the current bowl alliance's six-year deal. Aclause in that agreement allowed for league commissioners to scuttle the original alliance after three years if a situation arose that would better ensure a No.1 vs. No.2 matchup.
This season's championship game will be at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, next season's at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and then the new alliance will take over.
The Rose Bowl had been the thorn in the side of the efforts to create a true national championship game, an alliance holdout because of its lucrative New Year's Day obligation to pair the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs on ABC. Bringing the Rose Bowl to the table made it possible for ABC to gain control.
But the Super Alliance does not dissolve the century-old Tournament of Roses tradition. Big Ten and Pac-10 champions will play in the Rose Bowl unless they qualify for a national title game in another bowl or the Rose hosts other teams in a national title matchup.
The deal gives the Rose Bowl one title game, while the other three bowls get two each. If the current rotation were to stay in place, the Fiesta would host in 1999, the Sugar in 2000, the Orange in 2001.
Details are yet to be worked out on how the No.1 and No.2 teams will be determined. The current alliance uses the Associated Press writers poll and CNN-USA Today coaches poll.
"Until there is a true playoff system involving at least 16 teams, this is the best scenario we could hope for for a national champion," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was out of state and unavailable to comment.
Many conference officials hope this move derails a move toward a playoff tournament.
"Big Ten presidents and chancellors are resolute in their opposition to an NFL-type playoff structure for college football and believe the alliance provides a long-term solution to this challenge," Big Ten commissioner James Delany said.
A new championship format
Starting in 1999, the six major conferences and Notre Dame have agreed to a bowl setup that guarantees a national football championship game between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams. Until 1999, the current setup _ which does not include the Pac-10 and Big Ten _ continues with the 1997 title game in the Sugar Bowl and the '98 game in the Orange Bowl. A look at what's known about the new deal:
Now: In 1999:
Big East Big Ten
Big 12 Big East
Notre Dame SEC
SELECTING THE TOP TEAMS
Now: The Bowl Alliance uses ratings by the AP writers poll and CNN-USA Today coaches poll to select the two highest ranked teams for the championship.
In 1999: The method has yet to be determined. The polls could continue, or some sort of computer rating system could be devised.
PROBABLE SITES +
1999 Fiesta Bowl
2000 Sugar Bowl
2001 Orange Bowl
2002 Rose Bowl
2003 Fiesta Bowl
2004 Sugar Bowl
2005 Orange Bowl
+ The Fiesta, Sugar & Orange bowls have not comitted to participate.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.
What they're saying
"The Pacific-10 conference is pleased that the conferences in Division I-A have succeeded in making changes in bowl relationships which assure the two top rated teams playing each post-season. We are equally pleased that this has been achieved with limited disruption of the conference's historic relationship with the Rose Bowl game." _ Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen
"This meets the objective that so many of the coaches felt was important _ to have a game that decided the national championship and not destroy the bowl structure."
_ Texas coach John Mackovic
"Eventually I would like to see some type of computer poll to determine the top two teams. I think that would limit some of the regionalism, campaigning and politicking that goes on."
_ Nebraska coach Tom Osborne
"It's always been my contention that teams should have the opportunity to win championships on the field. I'm pleased that the leadership of the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the various conferences in the bowl alliance were able to work together to bring about a system that will answer most of the arguments in the fairest manner _ on the field."
_ Penn State coach Joe Paterno
"The Orange Bowl committee has been an active player in the evolution of the bowl system. We intend to participate in this new college football post-season alliance." _ Orange Bowl executive director Keith Tribble
"We congratulate the Bowl Alliance and the conference commissioners on taking a previously impossible step toward the creation of a truly national championship. We were aware when we helped to create the Alliance that the possible entry of the Rose Bowl would change the landscape, and were prepared for this turn of events." _ CBS Sports president David Kenin
_ JOANNE KORTH, TIMES WIRES