Adding fifth BCS bowl back in the mix

It seemed like a good -- and simple -- idea. But now, conference commissioners may be at an impasse over the BCS' proposed piggyback plan.

Originally Published: June 2, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Piggyback, we hardly knew ye.

The so-called piggyback bowl, the fifth BCS game that would have alternated among the four established bowls, is dying before it ever had the chance to take place. The cause is professional jealousy. The Big 12 and the SEC, and their bowls, the Fiesta and the Sugar, are upset that the Big Ten and the Pacific-10, and their bowl, the Rose, wants special status in the new agreement.

Specifically, the Rose doesn't want the teams from the non-BCS leagues to darken those beautiful winter days in the Arroyo Seco. The other bowls and conferences say this is not fair. If we have to take Boise State, they say, so should the Rose.

As a result, the idea of adding a fifth city to the BCS rotation, which had been written off, is suddenly under discussion again.

The issues that must be agreed upon deal with money and ego, two items that are not in short supply.

You may remember that at the end of February, the Division I-A presidents, from BCS and non-BCS conferences, held a summit and announced that a fifth game would be added to the BCS to provide access for the Tulanes and Colorado States of the world. The announcement came as a surprise to the public, as well as to the athletic administrators hired by those presidents.

While the presidents' intentions were admirable, their conduct was, if not na´ve, infinitely hopeful. The commissioners didn't want the Hawaiis and the Houstons in their midsts. Commissioners had spent a good chunk of their professional lives seeing to it that they climbed beyond schools like that.

That presented a problem.

Here's how political summits work: The bureaucrats hack out the agreements over a period of months, and by the time the leaders arrive to meet, the heavy lifting is nearly complete. The presidents smooth over a few differences, have a state dinner, announce the far-reaching, detailed agreements as if they sketched them out on a dessert napkin, and go home.

Here's how intercollegiate athletic summits work: The presidents meet, announce a far-reaching plan that they all but sketched out on a dessert napkin, and leave the bureaucrats to hack through the details.

That's how college football has reached its current impasse. The issues that must be agreed upon deal with money and ego, two items that are not in short supply.

When the presidents announced their desire for a fifth bowl, the four BCS bowls screamed. A fifth BCS bowl would want to be able to hold the national championship game. The value and prestige of being in the BCS is significant enough that 12 bowls applied for the vacancy.

However, the four bowls currently in the BCS rotation sell their title sponsorships based on getting that No. 1 vs. No. 2 game once every four years. Adding a fifth bowl would devalue the worth of being title sponsor. The bowls protested loudly enough that the commissioners decided, well, there's nothing that says that the fifth bowl has to be staged in a fifth city.

If the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls rotated the fifth game, staging it in the same year that they hold the national championship game, everyone would be happy. The presidents would get increased access, and the bowls would maintain the value to their sponsors.

Almost everyone would be happy. The bowls that wanted to join the BCS have been complaining. However, no one has paid much attention.

"When you get a national championship, there's no way that second game (in your city) will get equal treatment and coverage," said Tom Mickle, who created the idea for the BCS and now, as the man who runs the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, would like to join it.

The piggyback appeared to be the vehicle that would allow the conferences and bowls with clout to keep it. But then the conferences and the bowls started squabbling. The Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls each have a host conference to fill one berth. They fill their other berth with an at-large team. The Rose Bowl has two host conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-10, and only gets an at-large berth if one of those teams is playing for the national championship.

The Rose Bowl doesn't need the BCS to be a success, and if the Rose never held another national championship game, it would matter not a whit to the Tournament of Roses. The Rose Bowl has earned special treatment, because of the tradition it has nurtured over decades, and college football without tradition would be like The Sopranos without Tony.

The Big 12 and the SEC are grumbling because they might get stuck playing Toledo in a BCS game, and what good is that going to do them? If we have to eat spinach, everyone should have to eat spinach.

The Big East and the ACC are staying neutral, the Big East because it feels lucky to still be in the room with the others, and the ACC because, after the stunt it pulled last year, the league knows it can't play the moral authority-greater good card without causing peals of laughter.

So the cities hoping to host the fifth BCS game have a chance. The odds are still good that the piggyback concept will be adopted, because it allows the most status to remain quo. This is just the latest example that nothing, absolutely nothing, is ever simple in college football.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com