In a move that is scheduled to begin for the 2006 season, the two top-ranked teams in NCAA Division I-A college football will play the national championship game a week or so after the four major bowls are completed. The added game will rotate annually among the sites of the four Bowl Championship Series games.
The four BCS games currently are the Fiesta Bowl, in Tempe, Ariz.; the Sugar Bowl, in New Orleans, the Orange Bowl, in Miami, and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Other cities had applied to play host to the fifth bowl but were rejected.
The plan is designed to give more focus to the national championship game, while enabling the traditional New Year's Day games to keep their conference ties more intact, as in the Rose Bowl, which typically plays host to teams from the Big Ten and Pac-10. It will also give mid-major programs more access to major bowl games.
The announcement comes months after a coalition of conferences made up of mid-major schools had launched a national campaign that reached the halls of Congress last fall, where administrators as well as former athletes such Steve Young argued that smaller schools with nationally ranked programs were being shut out of competing for a national championship.
Most significantly, it means that the college presidents who vehemently oppose a playoff system have, at least for the foreseeable future, won their battle. This, despite a public outcry for even a one-game playoff.
"Under this model, the fifth game, in essence is the national championship game," said Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who will act as the BCS coordinator this year. "What we really have are the four traditional bowls being played in their sites, with a championship game that is separate and distinct."
Calling it "very positive progress," Tulane University president Scott Cowen said that the most recent model proposed by the BCS was the best solution given how hotly the issue has been debated the past few months. The coalition that established the BCS has been expanded to comprise 11 major and mid-conferences as well as football independent Notre Dame.
"It is a compromise solution that all the key parts accept - and that includes the current BCS conferences, the coalition conferences, the networks, the bowls," said Cowen, who is still hopeful of a true playoff system used in every sport except for Division I-A football.
While adding a fifth game opens up participation in lucrative BCS play to two more teams, the plan does not address the controversial rankings formula. Last season, for the third time in four years, there was discord over the matchup of the BCS championship game. Oklahoma rather than Southern California - the top team in human polls - faced Louisiana State.
The formula to determine the national championship in regard to the polls is expected to be streamlined before the start of next season, with a reduction in the number of computer rankings currently used as well as a change in the criteria, including in the strength of schedule. While it seems likely that the four BCS games would continue to play the same role, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a city might not want to host two major bowl games within a week. The direction the BCS takes will also be determined in part by coming television negotiations, starting with the Rose Bowl.
"We've got several steps yet here to go through," Weiberg said. "We have a model now in mind that we want to take forward and discuss with our television partner. We then have the need to sit down and talk with the existing BCS bowls that have a negotiating right under our agreement - those things are yet to be determined."
Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said that he believes the Phoenix area can support two games in a short span, as it has done in recent years when the Insight Bowl has been played to at least a 97 percent capacity, if not a sellout, since moving to Bank One Ballpark.
The first major hurdle to overcome will be a TV contract for the Rose Bowl, which is expected to be negotiated sometime this summer. After that happens, the rest of the hurdles are expected to be cleared without much difficulty. But what was announced yesterday might still undergo some tweaking.
It was called "a work in progress," by University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer, a member of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee in charge of developing a new formula to decide one of the most widely debated topics in sports. "It's been acknowledged from the very beginning that everything needs to be market-tested."