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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Alliance About as Secure as Soviet Union

At last look, about the only thing missing from the fragile and fragmented bowl coalition was a bugler and sheet music to “Taps.” That’s how close the much-ballyhooed alliance, formed to create a national championship bowl formula, is to calling it quits.

Everyone knew the coalition was on shaky ground a month ago. Its membership, which includes the Cotton, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls, the Atlantic Coast, Big Eight, Big East, Southeastern and Southwest conferences and Notre Dame, couldn’t agree on a way to expand the formula to involve at least one and possibly two more bowls and at least two and possibly four more teams (the Pacific 10 Conference runner-up, included). The need to create these “backup bowls” as a way of protecting second-place conference finishers from getting shut out on bid day was imperative.

Then came the most recent shocker. The Blockbuster Bowl, which had failed to make the cut in the initial coalition selection process last April, dangled a $4.3-million offer in front of the stunned Big East and ACC. All the Big East and ACC had to do was sign a contract, send the Blockbuster its respective champions and the money was theirs.

The two conference commissioners, Mike Tranghese of the Big East and Gene Corrigan of the ACC, said they would get back to the Blockbuster. Real soon. After all, only the Rose Bowl would pay more than the proposed Blockbuster deal.

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So here the coalition sits, a couple of signatures away from ceasing to exist. A meeting in Dallas about a week ago went nowhere, and for the first time, some of the most optimistic of members are expressing doubt about the alliance’s future.

“I don’t know if this problem can be resolved,” Tranghese said of the backup bowl situation. “There have been 1,000 suggestions and solutions, but none of them seem to solve all of the problems. Everybody brings a problem to the table, because there are six conferences (involved).”

Waving goodby to the coalition, Part II:

Tranghese said he, as well as Corrigan and Notre Dame’s Dick Rosenthal--the creators of the original alliance--aren’t giving up on the idea. Another meeting with the coalition members is scheduled for Jan. 5 at Anaheim, two days before the NCAA Convention begins.

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“I think there’s still one final step to take,” Tranghese said. “We need to get everyone in a room and talk.”

It isn’t that simple. Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said any discussions are useless unless Tranghese and Corrigan arrive at the meeting with a decision made regarding the Blockbuster offer.

“That’s the first thing,” Hansen said. “Are the ACC and Big East going to stay in?”

After that , the alliance can try to figure out the backup bowl problem. Without the ACC and Big East, why bother?

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“There is a genuine chance they would take the Blockbuster bid, and there is a chance--a very good chance--that they won’t take it,” Hansen said.

Waving goodby, Part III:

If the two conferences decline the Blockbuster offer, Hansen will push once more for a draft plan. His idea: A consortium or NCAA committee, using computer analysis, ranking polls, strength of schedule, etc., would determine a seedings list. From that list, the alliance bowls would select teams or vice versa.

“With a draft,” Hansen said, “you can’t beat it by making side deals.”

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The draft is somewhat similar to the way the NCAA basketball selection committee fills out the championship tournament brackets. Hansen’s idea has merit, which, considering how this group has done business lately, means it probably will never be accepted.

What happens if the coalition folds? Tranghese predicts more conference bowl deals, a view seconded by Hansen.

Already, the Big Ten has committed its second-place team to the Citrus Bowl and its third- or fourth-place team to the Holiday Bowl beginning next season. The Big East and ACC champions would go to the Blockbuster. The Pac-10, Hansen said, would be interested in a Fiesta Bowl bid for its runner-up. The SEC probably would accept a Citrus Bowl invitation for its No. 2 team. The SWC has expressed considerable interest in having a team at the newly formed Alamo Bowl. The San Antonio-based bowl begins in 1993. The Big Eight certainly would consider all offers to place its runner-up.

“I think you’re going to see teams tied up,” Hansen said.

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And if that happens, the best chance in years to create a national championship plan goes poof. Figures.

If Seattle Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox is gone, look for the General Manager Tom Flores to make a serious run at University of Miami Coach Dennis Erickson. Erickson, who was born in Washington and coached at Washington State, might be receptive to an offer, especially if he wins another national championship. Also, more bad publicity, this time because of running back Martin Patton’s illegal charge card spending spree, might sour Erickson on the Miami experience. . . . Bob Whitfield’s recent announcement that he plans to forgo his senior season at Stanford and enter the NFL draft shouldn’t surprise anyone. Whitfield, rated by pro scouts as the top collegiate offensive lineman, helps support a 20-month-old daughter and worries about his mother, who earns less than $20,000 annually. “You’re asking me to stick my neck out for this university that doesn’t even give me money to do my laundry because of NCAA rules?” Whitfield told reporters. The key factor: If Whitfield were seriously injured next season at Stanford, his insurance policy would provide for $2 million. Compare that to the five-year, $4.8-million deal signed by Tennessee’s Charles McRae, the first offensive lineman taken in the 1991 draft. “I may be young, but I’m not dumb,” Whitfield said. . . . Poor Gary Darnell. He becomes interim head coach at Florida, gets fired and is replaced by Steve Spurrier. Then he goes to Notre Dame as defensive coordinator and is forced out after two seasons. Can’t imagine why. The Irish allowed almost 22 points per game, and during their regular-season-ending tailspin, the average points allowed increased to 37.3. Darnell was hired this week by new Texas Coach John Mackovic, who was smart enough to stick him on offense.

Questions to consider as the regular season fades from view:

--How many yards would Marshall Faulk, San Diego State’s freshman running back, have gained if he hadn’t been hurt for three of the Aztecs’ 12 games? (Chances are he would have come close to reaching 2,000. He finished with 1,429 yards.)

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--What if former Auburn player Eric Ramsey had run out of AA batteries for his tape recorder? (Well, for starters, “60 Minutes” wouldn’t have been the most-watched show in Auburn, Ala., last Sunday night.)

--What if 10-1 Texas A&M; had beaten Tulsa instead of losing by one point? (The Aggies would have become the fifth team with a chance at the national championship.)

--What if the Big Ten had never signed the deal with the Citrus and Holiday bowls? (The bowl alliance wouldn’t be so rickety.)

--What if Todd Marinovich and USC Coach Larry Smith had kissed and made up? (A 3-8 record might have been 8-3.)

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--What if Washington didn’t have Billy Joe Hobert? (The Huskies would be playing in the Sun Bowl, not the Rose.)

--What if Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard hadn’t made that remarkable fourth-down, fourth-quarter touchdown catch against Notre Dame on national television Sept. 14? Would he have still gone on to win the Heisman? (Only if he came back for his senior season.)

--What if Erickson leaves Miami, cornerback Terrell Buckley and halfback Amp Lee leave Florida State a season early and Florida Coach Steve Spurrier, who recently signed a contract extension, keeps ignoring the NFL? (The Gators rule the state as in the old days.)

Bowl predictions: Orange--Miami over Nebraska (But much closer than people think. Lots of points, too.); Sugar--Notre Dame over Florida (Gator quarterback Shane Matthews isn’t expected to play, and the Irish aren’t as bad as they have looked.); Cotton--Florida State over Texas A&M; (Quarterback Casey Weldon finished second in the Heisman balloting. This is his chance to show why.); Citrus--Clemson over California (A tossup.); Fiesta--Penn State over Tennessee (This could be one of the better games of the postseason. We think the Nittany Lions will wear down the Volunteers, but not before Tennessee takes advantage of the Penn State secondary.); Washington over Michigan (And it won’t be close.)

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Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, never known as Mr. Wit, actually cracked a couple of decent lines during a recent conference call. Osborne on the Cornhuskers’ 1984 trip to the Orange Bowl, when Nebraska lost to eventual national champion Miami, 31-30: “I can remember Howard (Schnellenberger, the Miami coach) flying around in his helicopter. I think he did a great P.R. job. He really mobilized the community. I spent about half the week dodging those blades.” And Osborne on his distaste for interviews: “There’s supposed to be 500 media types down there. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to hide. You don’t put 500 sportswriters in one place and escape unscathed. What are you going to say for five straight days? I’m going to filibuster, maybe read the dictionary or something.” . . . Minnesota has received permission to talk with Kansas Coach Glen Mason. The Golden Gophers, who finished 2-9, couldn’t do much better than Mason, who led the downtrodden Jayhawks to their first winning season in a decade.

Top 10

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Record 1. Miami 11-0 2. Washington 11-0 3. Michigan 10-1 4. Penn State 10-2 5. Florida 10-1 6. Florida State 10-2 7. Texas A&M; 10-1 8. Iowa 10-1 9. Alabama 10-1 10. Tennessee 9-2

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Waiting list: Nebraska (9-1-1), Colorado (8-2-1), East Carolina (10-1), Clemson (9-1-1), California (9-2).


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