Flawed Football 'Alliance' Keeps Fans Fidgety

Maybe 50 or more hours of college football viewing could lie ahead for anyone intrepid enough to watch the 17 bowl games yet to be played.

But unless your favorite team has won its way to a postseason game, only two absolutely demand viewing: the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

That's because these two games will decide who is crowned national champion.

It may not be a clear-cut conclusion. Those who argue that college football might as well adopt an NFL-style playoff system got more ammunition this year.

Once again, when the footballs stop flying Jan. 2, the national champion will be decided by the votes of coaches and writers and not in a game that pits No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Top-ranked Florida State isn't playing No. 2 Arizona State.

Instead, the Seminoles will play in the Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Florida, a team they have already beaten this year.

Arizona State, meanwhile, will honor its commitment to the Rose Bowl, playing No. 4 Ohio State.

An "alliance" between the Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls, created by the commissioners of several large football conferences, was supposed to ensure that on a rotating basis one of these bowls would be for the national championship.

But the Rose Bowl, which traditionally has matched teams from the Big Ten and Pac 10, won't join the Alliance until after the 1998 season.

And this year's No. 2 team, Arizona State, belongs to the Pac 10 conference.

Next season, the Orange will be the bowl game with a crack at the top two teams (at least those not in the Rose Bowl) and will hope it can strike a national championship match.

Meanwhile, the Alliance has caused the gap between the bowl "haves" and "have-nots" to grow. The Alliance bowls pay each team in excess of $8 million to participate. Some of the minor bowls pay less than $1 million per team.

Critics have charged that this disparity has created "$7 million" touchdowns or extra points, putting unwise monetary pressure on college athletes to win regular-season games for the financial benefit of their schools.

Whatever happened to bowls as a reward to players for a season of accomplishment?

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