CHARLOTTE, N.C — CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Orange Bowl and the Florida Citrus Bowl are engaging in a rapidly escalating war of words as each pushes to create a national championship matchup in its arena.
The Citrus is the interloper, a previously "minor" bowl and no threat to the powerful Orange in the past. But things have changed abruptly. The Citrus is in the third year of a working agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference, and this year it is required to take the ACC champion.
This year, that champion might be No. 1 Virginia.
With half a national championship game package almost arranged, the Citrus is scrambling to line up the other half. But first, it must elevate its payoff. If it is not "competitive" with those of the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls, the Citrus-ACC contract says, Virginia can go elsewhere.
Right now, at a proposed $1.35 million per team, it is not competitive. The Orange Bowl, sponsored by Federal Express, offers its schools $4.2 million each.
The Citrus Bowl, accordingly, is looking to boost its payoff significantly by adding one or more major sponsors and by pushing ABC, which will televise the game Jan. 1, to bolster its payoff.
"I feel confident the money situation will be solved," said Citrus Bowl executive director Chuck Rohe, who would like to be able to offer $3 million per team.
But the Orange Bowl, which must take the Big Eight champion and would like to pair undefeated Nebraska with Notre Dame or Virginia, is suggesting that even if the Citrus raises that much money, it might not be competitive with the Orange.
"We're asking the definition of 'competitive,' " said Orange Bowl executive director Steve Hatchell. "We're very proud of our payoff."
Rohe says that the Citrus isn't competing specifically with the Orange and that the Citrus payoff would be more in line with the Sugar ($3.2 million) and the Cotton ($3 million).
"It doesn't say we have to be competitive with one specific bowl," he said. "We feel $3 million per team is very competitive. And I'm very optimistic that we will have a competitive payoff."
Although Virginia athletic director Jim Copeland has said money will be a factor, Rohe believes loyalty will be a factor as well. Last season, the Citrus took Virginia when the Cavaliers might not have gotten another bid.
"We've had a good relationship with the ACC," Rohe said. "The Orange Bowl is the Big Eight's bowl. Ours is the ACC's. And if the ACC is No. 1, I would think they would want to defend that in their own bowl game and not in someone else's."