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From the Chicago Tribune



Top bowls trolling for the perfect game

Officials aim to make sense, satisfy fans--and their bottom line, writes Teddy Greenstein


Teddy Greenstein

Published November 21, 2005



EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The men in the colorful jackets waited out Joe Paterno's postgame news conference Saturday so they could congratulate the venerable coach in person.


Two representatives from the Orange Bowl and one from the Fiesta shook hands with Paterno and chatted with him briefly. There was really no point in trying to maintain a conversation.


With a mob of shouting, rambunctious Penn State fans just a few feet away, it would have been like trying to get a stranger's number at a Metallica concert.


After Paterno left, the crowd began hollering at the man wearing the gold jacket, Fiesta Bowl representative Dave Tilson.


"Give it to Paterno!" shouted one man.


"We put you on the map!" screamed another.


Tilson took it well, smiling as he moved on.


Considering the tough decisions they'll have to make in two weeks, Fiesta Bowl officials had better get used to the heckling. Assuming the bowl loses Big 12 anchor Texas to the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta will have the first and third selections among the eligible Bowl Championship Series teams.


That means Fiesta Bowl President John Junker will risk alienating conference officials and large segments of fans.


"We try to make sensible decisions," Junker said Sunday, "so that reasonable people can look at them and say, `I understand that.'"


One problem: No one has ever accused college football fans of being reasonable.


And with the first pick . . .


As one of the hecklers outside Spartan Stadium alluded to, Penn State and the Fiesta Bowl have made beautiful music together. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 in Tempe, Ariz., and the 1987 matchup between Penn State and Miami still ranks as the most-watched college football game of all time.


So of course the Fiesta would be tempted to take 10-1 Penn State, which should move to No. 3 when the BCS standings are released Monday.


But if Notre Dame beats Stanford on Saturday to become eligible for a BCS game, it will be nearly impossible for the Fiesta to pass up the Irish.


Why? Notre Dame is a national team with a national following. And the renaissance of Notre Dame football under Charlie Weis is even more compelling than Paterno's riches-to-rags-to-riches story.


If the Fiesta selects Notre Dame, the Orange could not pass up Penn State.


So that's when the Fiesta would have to make its second decision regarding a Big Ten team. Which team do you pair with Notre Dame: 9-2 Ohio State or 10-1 Oregon?


Though Junker attended Saturday's Alabama-Auburn game, Ohio State and Oregon are the only at-large teams worth discussing--barring a USC loss to UCLA or a Texas loss in the Big 12 championship game. (Both will be Dec. 3.)


With Miami having been upset by Georgia Tech on Saturday, Virginia Tech is effectively out of the at-large pool. If the Hokies win out, they'll host the Orange Bowl as the Atlantic Coast Conference champ. If they lose again, officials from BCS games would lose interest.


Top bowls trolling for the perfect game

Officials aim to make sense, satisfy fans--and their bottom line, writes Teddy Greenstein


So back to Ohio State . . .


When the Fiesta Bowl selected Ohio State as an at-large team two years ago, Junker cited a survey conducted by the state of Arizona that found that more than 30,000 Ohio State graduates live within a day's drive of Phoenix. The Buckeyes beat Kansas State 35-28 and the game drew 73,425, just a few thousand shy of a sellout.


"That's certainly a factor to their benefit, as are other factors," Junker said. "We've been at or near a sellout every year, so the major issue is: Which team is going to bring enthusiastic fans in large numbers, fans who will participate in community activities?"


Ohio State scores well in that one, but here's another factor: The Fiesta Bowl's TV partner, ABC, favors having teams from different regions of the country. And that's where Oregon has a huge advantage over Ohio State.


Oregon last appeared in the 2002 Fiesta, hammering Colorado 38-16 in a game that attracted 74,118 fans and drew a TV rating of 11.3. Ohio State's 2004 victory over Kansas State drew an 8.5 with the Nielsen folks.


The Ducks, who drubbed Oregon State 56-14 on Saturday, have survived several close calls but have lost only once, a 45-13 thrashing by USC.


Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Saturday he would "absolutely" lobby for Ohio State, adding, "That's my job."


The conference would receive an additional $4.5 million (for a $22.8 million total) if it gets two teams in the BCS.


Asked about the Big Ten's strong ties to the Fiesta, Delany replied: "Everybody has a great relationship with John Junker. His receptions are the best."


Junker had to laugh at that one. And while not giving any information away, he said: "I'm honored to be on the commissioner's list for good comments. I hope that what he says is at least half true. And when we're done with this process, I hope they'll still take our phone calls."



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