New six-bowl rotation includes Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS — The future of the Sugar Bowl and the rest of the BCS is starting to take shape.

The conference commissioners, meeting Monday in Denver, settled on a six-bowl rotation for the four-team playoff which begins with the 2014 season, meaning the Sugar Bowl will get four semifinal games in the 12-year life of the agreement.

In the other years, the Sugar Bowl will pit the best available teams from the Southeastern Conference and Big 12, the so-called Champions Bowl, which will be played in prime time Jan. 1.

“We’re glad to get that solidified,” said Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan, who added that the semifinals still must be bid on separately.

“We’re finally getting a good idea of what things will look like.”

While the nonplayoff Sugar Bowls will be exclusively between SEC and Big 12 teams, much as the Rose Bowl is exclusively between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, the semifinals can feature teams from any conference, although if an SEC or Big 12 team is seeded first or second, its game will be in the Sugar Bowl.

“I think that’s just the right amount of spice for our gumbo,” Hoolahan said.

“We’ll primarily have an SEC-Big 12 game, but in the playoff years, other schools will get to experience the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans as well.”

The commissioners also guaranteed an automatic berth in one of the three “access” bowls, expected to be the Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A, to the highest-rated champion from the “Group of Five” conferences — the Big East, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mid-American and Mountain West.

Those leagues had tried to put together a seventh BCS bowl with access for its top-ranked team but could not generate enough interest from TV, primarily ESPN, to make it happen.

A seventh game could have reduced the number of semifinals the Sugar Bowl would have hosted.

“We wanted to have the maximum number of the highest-level games,” Hoolahan said. “This way, we feel like we’re getting the best of both worlds.”

Starting in 2014, the Sugar Bowl will be termed a contract bowl along with the Rose Bowl, which will continue to be a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 game and the Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame).

Monday’s vote by the commissioners plus Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick was ratified by the Presidential Oversight Committee.

“I am delighted that these additional details have been resolved,” said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, who is the committee chairman. “Everything is now on track and fans can enjoy the postseason they’ve been asking for.”

Monday’s meeting did leave some unresolved issues.

The rotation for the semifinals is yet to be set. Hoolahan said he did not know which year would be the first for New Orleans to host a playoff game but understood the Sugar Bowl would be paired with the Rose Bowl.

“That way, we’ll have an uninterrupted afternoon and evening of playoff games,” he said. “That’s going to be exciting.”

Also, the bidding process for the national championship games has not been established, although the commissioners have said they will award them to cities rather than bowls, much as is currently done with the Final Four.

Dallas and the Cotton Bowl is considered the front-runner for the first title game, in part as a consolation prize for losing out to the Sugar Bowl for the Champions Bowl.

Other items approved Monday included adopting a revenue-sharing formula with the lion’s share of the money going to the five power conferences, but which also will include an academic component, moving forward to finalize a media-rights deal with ESPN which reportedly will be worth $475 million annually and beginning the process of hiring a staff to oversee the playoffs.

Left unresolved is the makeup of the selection committee which will choose the four playoff teams plus the at-large teams for the other bowl and a new name to replace BCS.