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Choosing a 'champion'

Sports | The Bowl Championship Series creates another year of controversy

Issue: "Lavelle's wonderful life," Dec. 25, 2004

On Jan. 1, Auburn will be in New Orleans, Texas will be smelling roses, and Cal will have already left San Diego. The 2004 season has turned into the doomsday scenario for college football's Bowl Championship Series.

The calculations left Auburn wondering what more it could have done to make it into the championship game after going undefeated through a rigorous SEC schedule. Auburn defeated four ranked teams, but computers and some human voters balked when the Tigers scheduled the Citadel. And then three coaches voted the Longhorns No. 3 in the final poll. One coach voted one-loss Texas No. 2-ahead of three undefeated teams. It's no secret that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops saw Auburn as a threat (even declaring that ESPN was biased in favor of the Tigers).

With USC cruising to an undefeated season, the No. 2 Sooners watched Auburn creep closer and closer to No. 2 and a berth in the Orange Bowl, this year's championship game. No surprise then when the Austin American-Statesman reported that OU assistant Bobby Jack Wright admitted his boss had voted Texas "as high as No. 3 all year" in the coaches' poll.

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So how did the Longhorns pass Cal to make it into the Rose Bowl, a highly coveted BCS game? The simple explanation: Cal's less-than-impressive win over Southern Mississippi lost the Golden Bears votes in the media and coaches' polls.

The conspiracy theory: Some said Texas coach Mack Brown's late sympathy plea erased the Longhorns' small deficit. Others point to shady voting practices. AP voter and Mobile Register columnist Neal McCready moved Texas from No. 9 to No. 5 during the last week of the season as the Longhorns sat idle.

Announcing his change of heart, Mr. McCready had a message for Texas fans: "Please leave me alone now, you're scaring my wife."

Bowl championship procedure

Before the 1998 season, university presidents and a number of conferences created the Bowl Champion Series. Today, the BCS averages the AP poll, the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, and a composite of computer polls to decide how the eight BCS bowl slots should be filled. But the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and Rose Bowls don't just take the top eight teams. Big conferences like the Pac-10, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big East have automatic berths for conference champions. That leaves two at-large berths in play. Those spots are distributed in this order: 1. The top two teams play in the national championship game-this year, the Orange Bowl. 2. Notre Dame earns an at-large berth if it finishes in the top 10 or earns nine wins. 3. An independent school or member of a non-BCS conference earns an automatic bid if it finishes in the top six. 4. The third-ranked BCS team. 5. The fourth-ranked BCS team. 6. A BCS-eligible team chosen by the bowl with an opening.

The money trail

When Texas edged out Cal for a berth in the Rose Bowl, it wasn't just good publicity for the Longhorns. It meant big bucks for teams in the Big 12 conference-about an extra $375,000 for each school. Not counting money generated from the Rose Bowl, college football will earn over $93 million from its 2005 BCS games. Here's how the BCS distributes the money (all figures are estimates for this bowl season):

•Division I-A's non-BCS conferences receive $4.9 million.

•Division I-AA gets $1.6 million to distribute.

•Conferences sending Orange, Sugar, or Fiesta Bowl participants each receive a share of $14.4 million.

•If a conference sends two teams to BCS games, the second school earns an extra $4.5 million for the conference. The rest of the $14.4 million share is divided six ways (about $1.65 million) and split between the six major conferences.

Pieces of the pie

All totaled, the big conferences should make a tidy sum for their member schools. With two BCS representatives, the Big 12 should make more than $20 million. And with a piece of the Rose Bowl pie available for all big conferences, the Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big East should pull in just over $16 million. Thanks to Utah, which is going to the Fiesta Bowl, the Mountain West conference will reap over $15 million. All other non-BCS conferences will take in just under $1 million.

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