Big Ten's bowl deal makes few friends in process

If you're wondering why the Big Ten has earned its well-deserved reputation as the most arrogant and overrated conference in the country, simply examine its recent decision to sign with the Holiday Bowl and the Citrus Bowl.

With the stroke of commissioner Jim Delany's pen, the Big Ten managed to remove itself from the so-called bowl alliance and the consortium's quest to create, beginning next year, a more viable national championship scenario. The conference also made few friends among the consortium's bowl participants -- the Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Fiesta.


Here's what happened:

* The Big Ten demanded that its conference runner-up be guaranteed a place on the bowl alliance roster, which already included Notre Dame, two at-large selections and the champions of the Southwest Conference, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Eight and Big East. The conference argued that its vast television appeal, its tradition and prestige merited such consideration.


* The bowl alliance members pointed out that the Big Ten champion already has an automatic invitation to play in the highest-paying bowl -- the mighty Rose -- and that the conference runner-up wasn't worthy of a guaranteed spot. After all, said the members, a non-champion Big Ten team played in the Sugar Bowl in 1983 and '77; in the Cotton Bowl in 1986; in the Fiesta Bowl in 1985, '83 and '80; in the Orange Bowl in 1976 and '75. The Big Ten's record in those games: 4-4 -- hardly a tradition of dominance.

* The alliance said no to the Big Ten's demands, causing the conference poobahs to storm off and eventually sign a deal with the Holiday Bowl and Citrus Bowl. It was announced last Saturday.

* In December, the San Diego-based Holiday Bowl, which also has the Western Athletic Conference champion, will get the No. 2 Big Ten finisher, and beginning next season, will get its choice of the No. 3 or No. 4 conference teams. There are a handful of possible variations, but basically this is the agreement. John Reid, executive director of the Holiday Bowl, said the WAC is ready to sign a deal that would keep its champion coming to San Diego through 1995. The Citrus Bowl gets the conference runner-up beginning in December 1992.

* The Big Ten, while making the good people at the Holiday Bowl and Citrus Bowl happy, probably overplayed its hand and, because of the strategy, could be frozen out of the national championship picture.

"They were probably a little paranoid," said one bowl director, who requested anonymity. "They didn't like their chances in the consortium."

A major conference commissioner said he couldn't understand the wisdom of a deal that would preclude a Big Ten team from playing in higher-paying bowls such as the Cotton, or even the Fiesta or the Blockbuster.

And an executive director of an alliance bowl said he couldn't believe how poorly the situation was handled by the conference. He said representatives from his bowl were on their way to a Big Ten game last weekend when an administrator from a conference school -- not Delany -- was kind enough to tell them not to bother, that the deal with the Holiday Bowl and Citrus Bowl had been signed.

"We called our guys back," the executive director said. "They were en route."