April 27, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- As if BCS organizers don't have enough to worry about these days, there's now this: They don't know when this year's games will be played.

Due to the reigning uncertainty over the NFL's work stoppage, ESPN has yet to lock in dates for four of the five BCS games, including the BCS National Championship Game, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9 but could be moved to Jan. 7 or 10. The Sugar (currently Jan. 2), Orange (Jan. 3) and Fiesta (Jan. 4) could all be moved back a day as well if the NFL winds up having to cancel early-season games and reschedule them later.

"There are two dates in flux, Jan. 2 and 9," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior VP of college programming. "If there's a pushback of the [NFL] regular season, it could put Monday Night Football games on those nights where, under a normal schedule, we wouldn't have games on that night -- which is why the bowls were scheduled there."

Only the Rose Bowl, scheduled for the afternoon of Jan. 2, remains locked into a set date. Because Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday in 2012, the traditional New Year's Day games are being played a day later. However, should an NFL game be scheduled that night, the Sugar Bowl would move to Tuesday, necessitating bumps for the Orange and Fiesta, too.

BCS commissioners discussed the conundrum here Wednesday during their annual administrative meetings. While officials accounted for the possible conflict when they originally signed their current deal with ESPN back in 2008, this week's NFL court developments have only caused more uncertainty.

ESPN doesn't require much lead time to adjust its lineup, but the bowls themselves face a litany of logistical headaches the longer the delay, from stadium turnaround (all three affected venues also host NFL teams) to reserving hotel blocks for the teams and visiting media.

"We have issues with the hotels in New Orleans, but it doesn't only affect New Orleans, because the other games are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday that week," said BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock.

In one possibility being discussed, the Superdome would hold the Sugar Bowl and championship game within a five-day span. That's if the NFL regular season were pushed back two weeks, freeing up a Saturday (Jan. 7) but wiping out its preferred Monday slot (Jan. 9). More realistically, the title game would be moved a day later to the 10th, the same date as last year's Auburn-Oregon game.

"[As of] today, we're playing on the 2nd and 9th," said Hancock. "We're looking at ways to be flexible if the NFL situation changes. We're staying where we are for now."

Hancock did not say whether a deadline had been set to finalize dates. Under no circumstance, said Magnus, would one of the bowls be played the same night as an NFL game and moved to another channel.

"We can't wait very long, but we want to wait as long as we can to see if the NFL situation [will] be resolved," said Hancock.

Among other issues discussed Wednesday:

• Commenting on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's announcement last week that he soon plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS, Hancock said: "Our counsel once again affirmed his strong belief that the BCS complies with antitrust law. We are absolutely confident that the BCS complies with the laws of the country."

• While no change can be made until the current contract expires in 2014, three different commissioners (the Pac-10's Larry Scott, the Big 12's Dan Beebe and the SEC's Mike Slive) all said they hope to shorten the run-up to the national championship game in future seasons. Last year, Oregon players missed more than a week of class by playing in the Jan. 10 game.

"From our conference's standpoint, we've got some concerns about an elongated season," said Scott. Hancock said: "The issue of midweek games after Jan. 1 is a problem for both players and fans. For the next cycle, we have to look at that."

A shortened schedule could mean an end to the current double-hosting model, in which one city hosts two games, opening the door for a potential fifth BCS bowl.

• Hancock chafed at critics that have pointed out potential conflict of interests by the task force appointed to review the Fiesta Bowl's BCS status. "If anyone believes a couple rounds of golf or a dinner or two is going to affect someone's judgment, they're mistaken."

• Newly independent BYU will be treated the same as Army and Navy -- but not Notre Dame -- by the BCS. Like all teams, it will be eligible for an at-large berth by finishing in the Top 14 but is only guaranteed a bid if it qualifies for the national championship game. It will receive an annual $100,000 payout.

• Finally, Hancock said the group addressed last year's snafu in which an error in Wes Colley's computer ratings caused a mistake in the season's final standings (No. 11 Boise State should have been ahead of No. 10 LSU). "The computer operators have collaboratively set up a system of peer review and checks and balances that will prevent them from making a data entry mistake like they did last year," he said.

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