Penn State, Blockbuster team to fast-forward season


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Penn State and the Blockbuster Bowl, both snubbed by the bowl alliance, joined yesterday for the earliest bowl agreement in NCAA history.

Following the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta bowls' alliance with the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Eight, Southeastern and Southwest conferences and Notre Dame, the Blockbuster Bowl, in its third year but first as a New Year's Day game, was willing to gamble on Penn State this season.

"This is a risk," said Blockbuster Bowl chairman Charlie Frankel. "It's a small risk. They're an excellent team and there is a very good possibility they could go undefeated."

This is a one-year deal between the bowl and Penn State, since the Nittany Lions will lose their independent status in 1993 when they join the Big Ten.

Three other bowls had been trying to strike a similar deal with the Nittany Lions.

The only way Penn State won't appear in the game is if it doesn't win six games, which is an NCAA rule.

But bowl officials had another reason for wanting Penn State to appear in its second Blockbuster in three years. When the Nittany Lions lost to Florida State, 24-17, in the inaugural game in 1990, it was in front of the second-largest crowd in Joe Robbie Stadium history (74,021).

"They brought 13,000 fans with them, not including alumni in the area," Frankel said. "They have a big following. They also have a national name with a national television audience. They should be a big draw."

Frankel said Colorado and Alabama together sold only 10,000 tickets for last year's game, which saw the attendance drop to 46,123.

The Blockbuster's pursuit of Penn State showed its commitment to become a big-time bowl, which was the goal of Wayne Huizenga, the chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment.

A few days before last year's game, Huizenga said he would find another sports event to back if the bowl didn't become a bigger name. By signing Penn State, bowl officials have assured themselves at least one more game.

"Penn State was an obvious choice," Frankel said. "If you think about it, there was no one else left."

The situation was almost the same for Penn State. Athletic director Jim Tarman said Penn State made the unprecedented move to commit to a bowl 3 1/2 months before its season begins because its bowl choices were limited, especially Jan. 1 games.

"We could play out the season and see what happens or we could look at the other possibilities," Tarman said. "Our choice was the Blockbuster Bowl. It's a New Year's Day game. It's on CBS, has an afternoon starting time, which we think is conducive to college football."

Even though the purse Penn State will receive from the Blockbuster is uncertain and probably won't be half of the $4.3 million the bowl offered the Big East and ACC to break up the alliance earlier this year, it will probably be more than it could get from any of the remaining bowls.

Dave Cawood, of the NCAA's special events office, said he thought this would be only a one-year occurrence.

"Penn State was facing a situation ... of possibly having an undefeated team and nowhere to go, so they almost had to do this," Cawood said. "Once you get by this football season, I'm not sure if any institution has the name or power of a Penn State, Miami, Florida State or Notre Dame to make that type of deal."

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