- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The BCS has taken fire from all corners of the country during the past 10 years, but in South Bend, Ind., they've kept their weapons holstered.
Notre Dame has had little, if anything to gripe about regarding its position with the BCS. Though the Fighting Irish have fallen behind several of their major-conference counterparts on the field, they remain an equal in the BCS boardroom.
The school no longer receives a full BCS share, as it did when it reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2001 and 2005, but Notre Dame is guaranteed $1.3 million in years it does not make a BCS bowl. And if and when the Irish return to glory, a $4.5 million BCS payout will be waiting, one they won't have to share.
Despite nine consecutive bowl losses and only one top-10 finish since 1993, Notre Dame has, for the most part, seen its good teams reach a choice destination. Of the four Irish teams that qualified for BCS selection since the system's inception, only the 2002 squad didn't end up in a BCS bowl.
"We certainly have had our fair share of access, despite the fact that we have not had a great competitive run," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said. "It's fair to say the structure has been most accommodating to the needs and interests of Notre Dame.
"It's exactly what we signed up for. No surprises."
Non-BCS schools might not be as content with the BCS setup as Notre Dame, but things have improved dramatically during the past four seasons. After no non-BCS team reached a BCS bowl for the first six years, Utah earned an at-large berth to the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and stomped Pitt to complete a perfect season.
The Utes did it the hard way, finishing in the top six of the final BCS standings to earn automatic selection. The path for the non-BCS bloc became easier in 2006 when the BCS changed its rules, allowing those teams to automatically qualify if they finished in the top 12 of the final BCS standings. Had the top-12 rule been in place from the start, five other non-BCS teams would have earned BCS bowl berths, including two undefeated squads (Tulane 1998 and Marshall 1999).
Boise State capitalized on the new rule in 2006, finishing eighth in the BCS standings and earning a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. The college football world was thankful as the Broncos and Oklahoma played one of the greatest games in the sport's history. Another WAC school busted the BCS last season as Hawaii, despite a diluted schedule, went to the Sugar Bowl.
"The biggest plus has been the guaranteed access slipping from six to 12," Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson said. "It gives people a real chance and people have taken advantage."
Despite the recent success, non-BCS teams are still hurt by semantics.
"The labeling that has come with the BCS is an unintended consequence, but it's out there," Thompson said. "Either you're BCS or you're not. You can say 'not,' you can say 'without automatic qualification,' label it however you want.
"That's a real frustration."
The gap could be bridged, Thompson said, by adding a seventh guaranteed BCS bowl spot for a non-BCS team every year. The spot could be decided in a playoff between top non-BCS teams -- perhaps the champions from the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt -- or given to the non-BCS team ranked highest in the final BCS standings.
Thompson understands why commissioners from the big six would oppose such an idea, especially with non-BCS teams already qualifying for BCS bowls, but he thinks it's important to push for guaranteed access. Playoff proposals are nice, but Thompson hasn't seen one that has a guaranteed spot for a non-BCS team.
"Can [a non-BCS team] play on the field? Do they look like a BCS automatic qualifying participant? Do they sell 25,000 tickets? The answer to all those is yes," Thompson said. "We're traveling, we're bringing something to the enterprise of college football. I would love to see, minimally, one of the 54 of us playing every year in one of those five bowl games."
Notre Dame has no such worries. The Irish earn an automatic BCS berth by finishing in the top eight of the BCS standings and are considered for selection with a top-12 finish -- a virtual guarantee, given the school's brand and fan base.
"Notre Dame continues to be a significant part of the BCS," White said. "What's happened to this point has been most predictable."
Adam Rittenberg covers college football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com
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