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Changing the play call

It's time for bowl system to go in different direction

It is time to fix college football. Not next year, not next month, not next week. Now. Being realistic, we know that this won't happen. Nothing ever is done in college football without meetings and rhetoric about the importance of the "student-athlete" and how academics fit into the grand scheme.

This, we all know, is sheer nonsense. If the people who run college football really did believe what they say, we wouldn't have games on television most nights of the week. We wouldn't have bowl games being played on Christmas Eve. We wouldn't have November and December games in chilly climates being played in prime time instead of during the more temperate afternoon. We wouldn't have a series of "who cares?" games being played on New Year's Day, when the marquee games of the sport should be showcased for the entire country. We wouldn't have conferences making corporate raids of other conferences for a simple reason: They want more power, more profits.

So for a day, we are going to declare ourselves the emperor of college football and make some changes for the "good of the sport."

First of all, the Bowl Championship Series will change but not be discontinued. The number of BCS games will be increased from four to five, and each BCS bowl will host the national championship game once every five years. Three of the games will be played on Jan. 1, spread over the entire day, starting at noon Eastern and lasting until midnight. A fourth bowl will be the prime-time game on New Year's Eve.

As for the Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl, Capital One Bowl, and any other postseason game that wishes to put itself into the New Year's Day market, you're welcome to go for it. Good luck getting television ratings while going head to head against the Orange, Rose, Sugar, or Fiesta bowl, with a national championship being decided.

The fifth BCS game -- which would be for the national championship -- would be held Jan. 10 in prime time. The game would pit the two highest-ranked teams after the New Year's Day bowls. Our BCS will have a back-to-the-future look. We'll return to the old days, with the Rose Bowl getting the Big Ten vs. Pac 10 every year, locked into the 5 p.m. Eastern time slot on Jan. 1 -- except the one year in five when it hosts the title game.

The Fiesta Bowl gets the Big 12 champion each year. The Sugar Bowl gets the SEC champion, the Orange Bowl the Atlantic Coast Conference champion. The Big East champion is a floater, but the conference retains its automatic BCS bid, since the BCS needs the East represented for television ratings. Until the Big East proves it doesn't belong, it keeps its spot.

Non-BCS schools are in the mix for one of the two at-large slots. If a non-BCS team is in the top 12 (not the top 6, like today), it gets a BCS bid. If more than one team qualifies, tiebreakers kick in.

As for Notre Dame, the free ride of special deals is over. If the Irish want to join a league and get some guarantees under that umbrella, so be it. But if they want to remain independent, the criteria will be the same as for any other school. Finish in the top 12, and you get one of the two at-large slots.

The runners-up from BCS conferences will see their opportunities shrink, but such is life. Winning the regular-season title or conference championship game will be more important than ever.

The BCS computers? They will remain in place for informational purposes. But when it comes to Selection Sunday, to determine the two at-large slots, a nine-member committee will take over and determine who gets in. That same committee will meet after Jan. 1 and determine which two of the four BCS bowl winners will play for the title.

If this plan were in place right now, the BCS games this year would appear as follows (with some projections of what we think might happen in upcoming games):

* Rose Bowl -- Southern Cal vs. Michigan

* Fiesta Bowl -- Oklahoma vs. Miami

* Sugar Bowl -- Louisiana State vs. Texas

* Orange Bowl -- Florida State vs. Texas Christian, Ohio State, Georgia, or Tennessee

After projecting the winners, Oklahoma would play USC for the BCS title.

This plan is an improvement over what we have now because it reclaims New Year's Day, and it makes each of the New Year's BCS games meaningful because each winner has a chance to go to the title game.

Better bowl games, more opportunity, and more money.

So make it work.

Now.

Shuffling the deck

Here's the latest time table for the conferences reconfiguring. Conference USA has dug in its heels regarding exit fees for teams departing to the Big East, which means that unless common sense takes over, Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida will not join the Big East until 2005. And that means Boston College will not leave for the ACC until after next season, unless the Eagles agree to pay the Big East a $5 million exit fee, which would leave the Big East with only six teams and a huge scheduling problem for a season. Had Texas Christian's chances of getting into a BCS bowl game remained strong, Conference USA would have been looking at a possible $14 million in bowl revenue, which would have eased its pain over losing schools -- especially if those schools agreed to bypass their share of the BCS money in exchange for a go-ahead to leave for the Big East a year early . . . Notre Dame continues to look into its options for joining a conference, with almost everyone agreeing that joining the Big Ten is the only logical move. But for that to happen, Notre Dame will have to knock on the Big Ten's door and let the conference know that if the Irish are issued an invitation, they will accept . . . The ACC is working on two schedules for next season: one with 11 teams, with the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech, and another with 12 teams, which would factor BC into the equation . . . USC coach Pete Carroll is taking a low-key approach to the BCS computers not giving the Trojans the respect they feel they deserve. "I don't understand it any better than I did before, and it doesn't matter if I do," Carroll said of USC's drop from No. 2 to No. 3 in the latest BCS standings . . . Word out of Texas is that quarterback Chance Mock, despite his role in the Longhorns' win over Texas Tech last week, is worried about his future playing time, with the looming presence of Vincent Young, and is considering finishing his career at the Division 1-AA level. And the 1-AA schools being mentioned are Delaware and the University of Massachusetts . . . Speaking of UMass, coach Mark Whipple has brought the Minutemen back into contention for a national championship. But the long-term future of UMass football looks shaky, and Whipple would be a fool not to make a run at a 1-A job. Central Florida, which fired Mike Kruzcek in midseason, would be a good fit. UCF is headed to Conference USA . . . Rivalry Week is upon us, with Michigan vs. Ohio State among the most intense. Need proof? In Ohio, a man said he would agree to plead guilty to a forgery charge if the judge let him stay in the county jail, rather than send him to prison to begin his sentence. Why? He wanted to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game. Inmates in the county jail can watch television, but those being shipped to state prison, which requires going to a reception center (with no television), cannot. The judge agreed to the request because, he said, "it's Michigan week and he wanted to do his part to help the Buckeyes."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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