March 7, 2004
John Hryhorchuk, Hullabaloo main section editor
Changes to college football's Bowl Championship Series, including the development of a fifth major bowl game, were announced following a Feb. 29 meeting in Miami, Fla. Addressing many of the issues raised since June by the Coalition for Athletics Reform, led by Tulane President Scott Cowen, the six conferences originally involved in the BCS arrangement agreed to increase access to the highly-profitable BCS games to Coalition schools.
A fifth major bowl will be added to the series, and it will be placed at an equal stature to the current Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. A new revenue distribution arrangement, future plans for the administering of the BCS and efforts to end the negative stigma of playing for a "non-BCS" school also emerged from the meeting, though all agreements have not yet been finalized.
"We have substantially increased the opportunities for Division I-A colleges to participate in BCS bowl games," University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer said. "Details of the plan are being worked out and will be released after the full concurrence of the conferences. But we are confident that we have created a framework for discussion that will benefit all of the institutions and their students."
While Coalition teams, which play in Tulane's Conference USA as well as the Mountain West, Middle American, Western Athletic and Sun Belt Conferences, will not be guaranteed any automatic berths to BCS games, Cowen views portions of the undisclosed negations as progress.
"Under the agreement, [Coalition schools] will not have an automatic qualifier, but we will have a guaranteed qualifier if we achieve a certain access rule," Cowen said. He added that he was not yet at liberty to discuss specifics, but that "if the access rule we agreed on had been in place the last six years, we would have had somebody as a guaranteed qualifier four out of the six years in the BCS, whereas we've had zero in six years."
Cowen said the final memorandum was awaiting approval from all the involved conferences and would likely be released in "six weeks or so." This memorandum will outline the new revenue plan, BCS administration and the specifics of the new bowl.
When Frohnmayer initially announced the fifth bowl, he qualified his statement, saying it would only be created "if the market supports it." Cowen, however, said concerns about the plan being rejected by current bowls and television partners faded quickly.
"Within 48 hours more bowls have come out of the woodwork saying they'd like to be the fifth bowl, and I'm sure we are going to have more networks than we can shake a stick at saying they want to put this on," Cowen said. "So I think it's a non issue."
From the agreements reached in Miami, Cowen said he feels the Coalition has achieved its primary goal of improving access to the BCS.
"The agreement is a compromise, and every time you get a compromise you don't get everything you want, but the fact is did you accomplish your objectives?" Cowen said. "There's no question we achieved our objective."
Cowen began the Coalition following Tulane's athletics review in June of last year. Since the group's inception, Congress has held two antitrust hearings on the BCS and the Coalition and BCS representatives have met on multiple occasions to resolve differences to no avail. The issue of access to the BCS games emerged as such a hotly contested issue because conferences represented in BCS games receive more than $17 million while non-represented conferences attained $1 million or less from television contracts associated with the arrangement.
While access has been improved, Cowen said his fight for reform isn't over but acknowledged this was the first big step. "We started something that appeared to be a grassroots campaign and it grew and grew, and it came out with what I think is a very good beginning," Cowen said. "My view is, all we have to do is get one team in one bowl and win, and the future will take care of itself."
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