BCS conferences vote to expand pool to avoid problem

In an attempt to avoid a potential headache at the end of the regular season, the commissioners of the six BCS football conferences have voted to expand the pool of BCS at-large candidates from 14 to 18.

The new rule goes into effect only if there aren't enough teams among the top 14 of the final BCS standings to fill 10 slots in the BCS National Championship Game, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl.

The new rule was approved by commissioners for the 2007 season and will be announced by the BCS on Tuesday.

"The commissioners voted that in a case where there wasn't enough teams in the at-large pool, they would expand it by four," said Charles Bloom, associate commissioner of the SEC and BCS media coordinator. "If there were enough teams to fill the BCS from the pool of 14, it wouldn't be expanded."

Southeastern Conference commissioner and BCS coordinator Mike
Slive said conference leaders realized several weeks ago that the
possibility of not having enough at-large eligible teams at the end
of the season existed and started working on a plan to fix it.

Slive said BCS officials were determined to make as few
alterations to the qualification criteria as possible. They never
considered allowing a conference to have three teams receive BCS

"We vetted that very thoroughly in our annual meetings in
April," Slive said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "We were all clear that
none of the criteria for at-large selections should change, except
for the place in the standings."

Under the current BCS rules, champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC conferences receive automatic berths in the five BCS games. The top two teams in the final BCS standings will play in the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Teams from the five non-BCS leagues (Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt and WAC) receive an automatic BCS berth only if they finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or in the top 16 and ranked ahead of a champion from one of the six BCS conferences. No more than one such team from the non-BCS leagues can receive an automatic berth in one season.

The new rule doesn't change the qualification requirements for non-BCS teams, Bloom said.

If no team from a non-BCS league meets the criteria, then the four BCS at-large spots can be filled by teams that won at least nine games and finished in the top 14 of the final standings.

But here's the potential problem this season: Only two teams from one BCS league can play in BCS bowl games.

There are currently four Big 12 teams, three SEC teams and three Pac-10 teams ranked in the top 14 of the BCS standings. Two ACC teams and one team from both the Big Ten and Big East are among the top 14.

If the season ended now, there would be enough eligible teams to fill the 10 BCS spots.

But each of the ACC teams (No. 8 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Boston College) would be in danger of falling out of the top 14 if they lose again. The Hokies play No. 16 Virginia Saturday. The winner of that game faces the Eagles in the Dec. 1 ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. Boston College finishes the regular season at home against Miami on Saturday.

Two teams from non-BCS leagues have a chance of reaching the top 12 in the final BCS standings. Hawaii, one of two unbeaten teams left in major college football, plays No. 19 Boise State at Aloha Stadium on Friday night. The No. 15 Warriors might move into the top 12 if they beat the Broncos and Washington on Dec. 1 and finish 12-0. But the Broncos, who would finish 11-1 by beating Hawaii, might not jump seven spots to No. 12 in the BCS standings, even after beating the unbeaten Warriors.

"I don't think [the new rule] really has an effect on Boise State or Hawaii," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Monday night. "This isn't anything that reduces or eliminates Boise State's or Hawaii's chances of getting into the BCS. Obviously, if they get into the top 12, it's still guaranteed."

No. 17 Illinois, which finished its season with a 9-3 record, would figure to benefit most from the rules change. The loser of the ACC championship game also might be eligible for a BCS at-large berth under the new rule.

If the Rose Bowl loses Ohio State, it might be able to replace
the Buckeyes with the Illini and get the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10
matchup it wants.

"It does look to us like it potentially creates an opportunity
there which we are carefully examining," Rose Bowl executive
director Mitch Dorger said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

"The Rose Bowl is a partnership [with the Big Ten and Pac-10].
We respect that partnership. We look to what we can do to preserve
that if it's not damaging to the long-term interests of the game."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.