BCS conferences using the rope-a-dope

If you're confused about the endless BCS discussions concerning a fifth bowl beginning in the 2006 season, think in terms of Muhammad Ali and the rope-a-dope.

Though a conference call of Division I-A commissioners is scheduled for Wednesday, no decision will be made on it. Such is the slow pace of compromise that a phone call has been scheduled to discuss whether the commissioners, none of whom really like the idea of a fifth bowl, have enough common ground to continue discussions.

The commissioners are pushing ahead because the Rose Bowl's negotiations for a new contract with ABC (also for the 2006 season), which were originally scheduled to begin last month, are now supposed to begin Friday. The negotiations won't start until the Rose Bowl knows whether its field of possible teams includes the Mountain West, Mid-American and all of Division I-A. That's not an idea that the Rose Bowl
likes, which has also contributed to the lack of common ground.

However -- and here's where the rope-a-dope comes in -- nothing concerning a fifth bowl will become official until it passes the "marketplace" test when the BCS begins negotiations with ABC Sports in September for a contract that would begin with the 2006 season.

No matter whether the commissioners adopt the "piggyback" model, with the fifth bowl being rotated among the four current BCS games, or add a fifth city to the rotation, it won't be official until all sides are satisfied that there will be $30 million or so available to pay for two additional teams at BCS rates.

The opponents of a fifth bowl continue to hope that the concept will fail the marketplace test so badly that the university presidents will abandon the fifth bowl. Just as George Foreman slugged himself into weariness against Ali and then ran out of gas, the commissioners of the original BCS conferences hope that the rope-a-dope will work with the fifth bowl as well.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.