COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Major Bowl Not in Cards for Louisville This Season

For the most part, the bowl coalition contract is about as easy to understand as the Brownian movement. It usually takes a theorist, a mathematician and somebody wearing a bowl-issued polyester sport coat to explain the thing, and even then nobody's quite sure what they're talking about.

In short, it's a lot like gender equity.

Anyway, Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger has become fascinated with the bowl alliance. As the Cardinals began their march to a 5-0 record and No. 17 ranking, Schnellenberger's thoughts turned to a Jan. 1 postseason appearance.

Schnellenberger is like that. He thinks big. He talks big. More times than not, he delivers big.

So imagine his surprise when informed that Louisville, an independent, could finish the season 11-0, with regular-season victories over Arizona State, Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee and Texas A&M;, and still be shut out of the major-bowl mix. The Cardinals could be ranked No. 1 at November's end and do no better than Shreveport, the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl and Crawfish Night.

Schnellenberger nearly swallowed his pipe tobacco on that one. But it's true: No matter the record or the ranking, Louisville is a big bowl no-show. That's because the authors of the coalition contract decided that the bulk of the bowl invitations would go to the major conferences. Only Notre Dame was protected as an independent.

Said Schnellenberger when informed of Louisville's postseason fate: "It's un-American and smacks of Socialism."

Aides to Schnellenberger swear he said it with a grin, but that doesn't mean a scowl wasn't his first choice.

The Cardinals won't finish 11-0--at least, we don't think so. West Virginia could beat them this week at Morgantown, as could (and should) Tennessee Nov. 6 and Texas A&M; the next week. Still, Schnellenberger and the Cardinals dream . . . and fume.

BOWLS PART II

There are 19 postseason bowls and 38 invitations available. After allowing for coalition agreements and other longstanding arrangements, such as the one involving the Big Ten Conference and the Pacific 10 with the Rose Bowl, there are actually five available possibilities for teams such as Louisville.

The short list: Independence (2 berths), Freedom (1), Liberty (2).

This could change, of course. NCAA rules stipulate that a team must have at least six victories against Division I-A opponents to be eligible for postseason play. That might eliminate some of the fourth-place and possibly third-place teams from some conferences that are tied to a specific bowl. For example, the Southwest Conference might be hard-pressed to find a six-victory team for the Alamo Bowl. But no matter what, Louisville isn't going to crack into the big time.

Now then, what's a Cardinal to do?

Louisville officials aren't saying anything for the record, but they do drop hints. The most interesting is the idea of taking a bowl to court and arguing that the coalition agreement is a violation of antitrust. In fact, several high-powered Louisville-supporter types have suggested the Cardinal administration would have a terrific legal case.

Great, just what college football needs, another lawsuit.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, we're not, but Louisville might be interested to know that the coalition members employed a Washington D.C. law firm to examine the bowl agreement before it was signed. The firm's specialty? Antitrust law.

"What we're really trying to showcase is conference champions vs. conference champions," said a prominent coalition founder, who asked not to be identified. "The coalition wasn't designed to solve all of the problems. One of the problems of that (agreement) is that you could have an excellent football team, such as Louisville, have a great season and be left out. There was no way we could work around that."

Louisville might want to think about it's sue-now, pay-later plan. First of all, if it sued the bowls belonging to the coalition, wouldn't it also have to sue, say, the Rose Bowl? After all, nobody but Michigan and Washington have played in the game for the last two years.

And if the Cardinals are serious about joining a conference in the near future--the Big East (so-so chance) and the Southwest (fat chance) are the two leagues most often mentioned--then they might want to lay low on the jurisprudence front. Both the Big East and SWC are members of the coalition and would probably hold a grudge if Louisville decided to file briefs.

The coalition isn't perfect. No alliance official will come right out and say, but the whole agreement was done to save the bowls from possible extinction and to quiet the people demanding a national championship game. Consider the experiment half successful.

The present agreement runs through next year. After that, who knows? A new College Football Assn. television contract looms. So does the possibility of conference expansion. So does the chance of a further restructuring of the bowl system.

But this much is sure: Louisville will appear in a second-echelon bowl game. Then again, it's better than last year, when the Cardinals finished 5-6 and went nowhere.

THE HAVES AND HAVE NOTS

Caltech's seismic monitoring equipment hasn't detected the rumblings yet, but there is a movement--all very hush-hush right now--to divide the NCAA football hierarchy into the Big Boys vs. Everyone Else.

According to the commissioner of a major conference, there is the possibility of a mini-revolution within the NCAA in the near future. Tired of sharing their power and more important, their revenue, the 106 Division I-A members are contemplating a breakout.

"If you had a vote right now," said the conference commissioner, "I think it would be, 106-0. There's a real serious push to have the top 106 schools move into a posture--still within the NCAA structure--completely away from the field. I think gender equity pushed it."

FINGERS CROSSED

Don Andersen, the executive director of the Freedom Bowl and Pigskin Classic, offers a prediction on the fate of the bowl alliance: It's gonzo after next season.

"I just hear too many rumbles," he said. "But I'm not one of the seven (bowls in the coalition), so I don't want to criticize. But when a fifth-place team in some league is locked up, I don't think that's what the system was meant to do."

Andersen preferred the old days, when bowl reps had the decency to wait until fall practice was finished before cutting their deals with schools and conferences. Now look at it.

"I don't like it," he said. "I've never been in favor of the coalition. I never thought the original system was all that bad. I think the way things ended up last year, one game (the Sugar Bowl) did very well, but the six other (coalition bowls) did worse than they had in previous years. What this has done is make the conference commissioners scramble and lock in as many bowls as possible."

Andersen isn't above doing the same thing. Out of a certain necessity, the Freedom Bowl has had discussions with the Western Athletic Conference about locking up one of the league's teams, possibly the third-place finisher. The lure of the WAC: The conference guarantees a bowl it will buy one-sixth of the stadium's capacity. In the Freedom Bowl's case, that means 12,000 seats at Anaheim Stadium.

What Andersen really wants is the chance to push the Disney Classic proposal, where the top two ranked teams meet a couple weeks after the bowls in a national championship game. Each team gets $1 million net and the rest of the 104 Division I-A schools get about $100,000 each.

"We feel that's the correct way to select the national championship without interfering with the bowl system," Andersen said.

Now all he has to do is convince the university presidents, who so far aren't biting.

THE REST

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden can forget about any endorsement deals with any of the Las Vegas sports books. His reaction to the No. 1-ranked Seminoles being made 12-point favorites in Saturday's game against No. 3 Miami: "It makes me want to laugh. In fact, I am laughing." . . . Not much on the trash-talking front as Countdown to Tallahassee continues. There have been a few minor verbal skirmishes, but all in all, everyone's been on their best behavior. Asked if he hated the Hurricanes, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks chose the high road. "Hate 'em?," he said. "I don't hate no one. Of course, I feel they're in our way to accomplish our goal." . . . It's not exactly a news flash, but if the Southwest Conference ever decides to expand, the Big Eight will be its first choice for a partnership. If that falls through, say league sources, look for Memphis State or Tulane to become candidates. Way down on the list: Louisville. . . . Alabama's 28-game winning streak, which ties a Southeastern Conference and school record, is beginning to take its toll on the Crimson Tide. Alabama Coach Gene Stallings, whose team has an open week before facing Tennessee on Oct. 16, ordered his players to take a few days off. "It just looks like we're a little tired emotionally," he said. "I was glad to have an open date so the players could think about something else for a while." As for Stallings, he said he will continue to work his usual shift. After all, he said, "nobody's slapping and hitting at me on the field." . . . Now that Florida seems to have found a quarterback in Danny Wuerffel, the Gators appear nearly unbeatable. Or so says Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill, whose team lost to Florida, 38-24, last Saturday. "I would say Alabama's the only team in this league that can match them player for player."

The Top 10

As selected by Times staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Record 1. Florida State 5-0 2. Alabama 5-0 3. Miami 4-0 4. Ohio State 4-0 5. Notre Dame 5-0 6. Penn State 5-0 7. Florida 4-0 8. Nebraska 4-0 9. Oklahoma 4-0 10. Michigan 3-1

Waiting list: North Carolina (5-1), Arizona (5-0), Tennessee (4-1), Texas A&M; (3-1), Louisville (5-0).

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°