NBC's Irish eyes aren't smiling over Cotton Bowl pairing either


DALLAS -- In choosing Notre Dame over higher-ranked Florida State, the Cotton Bowl not only ignored the wishes of its host school and what many believe is the intent of the first-year Bowl Coalition, but the desire of its new network partner as well.

NBC, which in April reached a three-year agreement to televise the Jan. 1 game, preferred that ratings-grabbing Notre Dame play in its prime-time Orange Bowl game and Florida State face Texas A&M; in the afternoon Cotton Bowl. NBC Sports sent a vice president to Dallas last week to make known its preference.

"We have to do what is best for the Cotton Bowl," said John Scovell, a past president of the Cotton Bowl's board of directors and a member of the selection committee. "We have to take into account a multitude of factors, and when we did, we decided that Notre Dame would be the best opponent for Texas A&M.;"

Scovell said yesterday the factors include television ratings, the wishes of its television partner, the polls, the opinion of Mobil (its primary corporate sponsor), name recognition of players and any awards they may have won, repeat matchups, geography and ticket sales.

Scovell refused to say how Notre Dame and Florida State compared. He said he preferred Cotton Bowl president Robert Smith III answer that question. Smith was unavailable for comment yesterday.

"We listen to a lot of people," said Scovell, who insisted the factors carry equal weight. "But the ultimate decision is ours. Ours was a unanimous decision, and if I were picking today, I would still pick Notre Dame."

Since selecting Notre Dame instead of Florida State, the Cotton Bowl has come under a maelstrom of criticism. Notre Dame is ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll. Florida State is third.

"I thought as a politician I was used to seeing crass and hypocritical things happen," said Garry Mauro, Texas land commissioner and a 1970 graduate of Texas A&M.; "What the Cotton Bowl did put politicians to shame."

A&M;, ranked No. 4, would have preferred to play the higher-ranked team. A victory over Florida State could have helped improve the stature of A&M; and the Southwest Conference. Florida State defeated A&M;, 10-2, in the 1992 Cotton Bowl.

"We just don't believe in rematches," Jim Brock, team selection chairman, has said. "There never has been a football coach, an institution or a network tell us what to do."

Brock declined comment yesterday, referring all questions to Smith.

But television ratings do have an influence.

"It's obvious that one of the reasons that went into the selection was to bring viewers to our game," Scovell said.

In the college football television game, Notre Dame is said to be worth an extra 1 million sets, which is a little more than one Nielsen ratings point.

That is why NBC wanted Notre Dame for the Orange Bowl against Nebraska. That bowl faces television oblivion on New Year's night. The Orange Bowl is pitted against ABC's Sugar Bowl game between top-ranked Miami and No. 2 Alabama, which should decide the national championship. The Orange Bowl will feature Florida State and 11th-ranked Nebraska.

During the last five years, Notre Dame, which has played for the national championship three times, has averaged a 15.1 rating on New Year's Day. Florida State, which has played on four of the last five, is averaging an 8.9.

"We knew which way they were leaning because they are our partners," NBC Sports spokesman Ed Markey said. "They knew our feelings as well. In the end, the Cotton Bowl alone made the ultimate decision."

The Orange Bowl is a more valuable property to NBC than the Cotton Bowl. NBC will pay $6 million for its Orange Bowl rights and about $2.7 million for the Cotton Bowl.

The Cotton Bowl suffered a reduction in TV rights fees when it moved to NBC, ending a 35-year relationship with CBS. CBS paid $4 million for the 1992 Cotton Bowl.

The early afternoon Cotton Bowl is in the most competitive of New Year's Day time slots. It is the only time slot featuring three games.

This year, the Cotton Bowl will compete with an Ohio State-Georgia Citrus Bowl on ABC and a Penn State-Stanford Blockbuster Bowl on CBS. The Cotton Bowl has not won its time slot in two of the last three years, losing to the Citrus Bowl in 1991 and the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1990.

Notre Dame could have declined the Cotton Bowl's invitation and gone elsewhere. The Cotton Bowl had the second pick, behind the Sugar Bowl, when bowl selections were made Sunday.

The Irish decided to honor the intent of the Coalition rather than opt for the Orange Bowl, whose payoff is more than $1 million more than the Cotton Bowl's $3 million payout.

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