Officials from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East are spending this week at their annual spring meetings, which in the past usually meant a lot of golf and a little business.
But the priorities, if not the agendas, have changed. On respective golf courses in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Bermuda yesterday, league officials were entertaining representatives from many of the major bowls.
In a time of sweeping change in college football, the ACC and Big East -- along with independent powerhouse Notre Dame -- are trying to secure a package deal with the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls.
"I'd be stunned if it didn't happen," said Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, a driving force behind the move to get a New Year's Day spot for the newly formed football alliance.
The possibility of what Tranghese calls a "group deal" took a significant step last week, when he, along with ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan and Notre Dame athletic director Dick Rosenthal, met with representatives from the bowls for four hours Thursday at Raleigh-Durham (N.C.) Airport.
The group is seeking a multi-year package, beginning after the ++ 1992 regular season, that would likely put together at least one New Year's game, and possibly more, with national championship implications.
"I think it has a lot of potential," said Sugar Bowl executive director Mickey Holmes, who was burned last year when Virginia was extended an invitation before it lost its last two regular-season games. "We had such a productive meeting. We plan to meet again."
Holmes said that a move like this is inevitable, considering the changing face of college football. Independents such as Miami, Florida State and Penn State have either already moved into a conference for next season or will be part of one by 1994.
"It's just part of the evolution," Holmes said last week.
Neither Cotton Bowl executive director Jim Brock nor Orange Bowl executive director Steve Hatchell was available for comment yesterday. Both were out of town, and according to their secretaries, "at spring meetings with the leagues."
A deal between these powerbrokers of intercollegiate athletics and three of the major bowls would also help bring order to the chaotic bowl picture. Last season, several deals were struck long before the official invitation date, and, as a result, there had been talk of wide-sweeping reform for this season -- including a possible bowl draft.
It turned out to be nothing more than another long-winded proposal.
"You have to restructure the bowls at the top," said ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, whose league has one more year left on a contract with the Florida Citrus Bowl. "It wouldn't eliminate the possibility of putting No. 1 vs. No. 2. It's an interesting concept."
Where would that leave the second-tier bowls that are trying to get into the upper echelon with more established New Year's Day games isn't certain. The Florida Citrus Bowl's 1991 winner, Georgia Tech, shared last season's national championship with Orange Bowl winner Colorado.
Florida Citrus Bowl executive director Chuck Rohe said that he is, for the time being, on the outside looking in. "If there's a fourth bowl, we're interested," said Rohe. "Our primary goal is to extend the current contract with the ACC, but if the dollars are significantly more, we would understand."
How does Notre Dame fit into this picture? It's a marriage of necessity between the Fighting Irish and the two leagues. The automatic invitation to a New Year's Day game gives Notre Dame a security blanket in case of a down season. With its NBC contract and national following, the Irish will help the Big East and ACC sell the package.
"Our motivation isn't to lock up a significant event even if we have a so-so year," Rosenthal said yesterday from South Bend. "Obviously we've had 7-4 seasons and still received invitation to major bowl games. I've had people say: 'You're crazy [to consider this]. If you stay on the outside, you'll have the pick of the litter.' "
Rosenthal said that the motivation for Notre Dame is to ensure it will play the highest-ranked team possible. And from his vantage point in Orlando, Rohe said: "It's going to drastically change the whole package. It would virtually assure a national championship game every year."
But will it happen? The parties said that when they left the meeting last week, they promised to talk again next month. A lot will depend on what Notre Dame decides to do, and at this point, Rosenthal said he isn't sure.
"If we said no, it would not enhance the probability of this succeeding," he said.
A look at the Big East-ACC-Notre Dame proposal for major New Year's bowls
Orange Bowl: Big Eight Conference champion plays host to an independent or at-large team from another league.
Cotton Bowl: Southwest Conference champion plays host to an independent or at-large team from another league.
Sugar Bowl: Southeastern Conference champion plays host to an independent or at-large team from another league.
Rose Bowl: Pacific 10 champion vs. Big Ten champion.
The Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowl teams from the Big Eight, SWC and SEC would be seeded 1-2-3 in order of national ranking. The Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference and Notre Dame would be seeded similarly. The highest-ranked team from the Big Eight, SWC and SEC would play host to the highest-ranked team from the Big East, ACC and Notre Dame; the second-highest teams would play each other, as would the third teams.
The Rose Bowl would remain the same.