PHOENIX The Bowl Championship Series is opening its automatic bids to all Division I-A conferences starting with the 2008 season, part of a new plan under which the leagues will be judged from top to bottom.
Currently, only the six conferences that comprise the BCS can earn automatic entry into college football's four major bowl games, including the national title game. The previous standard for holding on to that qualification was based on the average BCS standings finish of a conference's top team over a four-year period.
That will still be a factor, but not the only one.
''In addition, we will look at a conference's overall strength,'' BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg said Wednesday, the final day of meetings with officials from 11 major college football conferences and Notre Dame's athletic director.
The BCS will also take into account the number of teams in a conference that finish in the BCS top 25 over a four-year period.
In addition, there is a proposed appeals process if a conference doesn't match up with the others under the new formula but still believes it belongs in the BCS.
''We're set through the first two years (2006-07) of the new agreement, with the same six conferences having the automatic-qualification berths,'' said Weiberg, the Big 12 commissioner. ''This evaluation will then occur, and it could change for the final two years of this new agreement.''
The BCS signed a four-year deal with Fox to televise the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls from 2007-10 and the national title game from 2007-09. The Rose Bowl has its own television deal with ABC.
Weiberg said the new evaluation system could lead to more or less automatic bids.
The Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big East champions have had automatic entry into the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls since the BCS was implemented in 1998.
Other standards were set to allow teams from outside the BCS conferences to qualify automatically, but not until last year when Utah earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl had a team from outside one of the big six conferences played in the BCS.
The BCS also decided to expand to five games last year. Starting with the 2006 season, 10 teams will qualify for the BCS, with the top two meeting in a newly created championship game to be played a week after the four major bowls.
The addition of another game and the new evaluation process for automatic entry were prompted by protests from the five lower-revenue conferences such as the Mountain West, where Utah plays, and Conference USA that the BCS was unfairly shutting out dozens of schools.
Of the original six BCS conferences, the Big East would appear to be most affected by the changes. The league lost Miami and Virginia Tech last season to the ACC; Boston College follows this year. However, the addition of Louisville this year, along with South Florida and Cincinnati, should help the Big East's chances of keeping its elite status.
Weiberg said Louisville, which finished 10th in the BCS standings last year while playing in C-USA, will be included in the Big East's evaluation and should help the league retain its bid.
''The reason for that is that we're trying to get an assessment looking forward of the prospective strength of the conference, even though it will be based on past performance,'' Weiberg said.
Beginning in 2006, Notre Dame will earn an automatic BCS berth with a top eight ranking in the final standings, Weiberg said. Also, under a new arrangement, Notre Dame is now guaranteed BCS money every season even when they don't play in a game.
In the past, Notre Dame would receive upward of $14 million when they played in a BCS game, but nothing if they didn't.
The proposal and others developed in Phoenix are subject to review by an 11-person committee formed by university presidents. Weiberg said that would be done in a teleconference call on May 12.
He said the athletic directors who met in Phoenix will do more teleconferencing and possibly have one more meeting to fine-tune proposals especially the makeup of the replacement poll to take the place of The AP poll in the new BCS standings formula before the Collegiate Commissioners Association meetings in Denver on June 20.
The new poll will not be unveiled until June at the earliest.
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