A proposed seventh access bowl is becoming less likely and the commissioners of the BCS might stick with their original plan of only having six in the new playoff format, sources told ESPN.
After the commissioners met in Rosemont, Ill., in September, The Associated Press reported that they had discussed the possibility of creating a seventh access bowl. The game would give smaller conferences guaranteed access, pitting the top-ranked champion from the five non-power conferences (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt) annually against a team from either the Big 12 or Pac-12.
However, this is becoming more unlikely because of a myriad of concerns and obstacles involved for a seventh access bowl. Among them: The bowl's lesser worth compared to the other access bowls, the difficulty of selling tickets for an annual bowl featuring a non-power conference team and finding a bowl that wants to host the game that also meets the stadium capacity requirements for an access bowl and the national semifinals, sources said.
The champions of the power conferences (SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC) all have a guaranteed spot in the access -- or high-revenue -- bowls that will begin after the 2014 regular season, the first year of college football's new four-team playoff.
"I think everyone has realized the seventh bowl is not on the level with the other contract bowls," a source said. "The question was, how much can we get for this game? It didn't sound like it was a lot."
It's not. The Rose and Champions bowls will be worth $80 million a year. Sources also told ESPN that the Orange Bowl will be worth $60 million a year, compared to only about $25 million a year for the proposed seventh bowl.
"Three weeks ago it was probably 90-10 (that a seventh bowl game would happen), now I would put it at less than 50 percent," another source said.
Although the six access bowls have not been "officially" selected, sources said the access bowls will be the existing four BCS bowls -- Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange -- plus the Cotton and Chick-fil-A. This also works best geographically with the access bowls spread equally across the country: Rose and Fiesta in the west, Sugar and Cotton in the central and Orange and Chick-fil-A in the east.
Of those bowls, three already have "contracted" matchups: Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten); Champions/either Cotton or Sugar (Big 12 vs. SEC) and Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame).
That leaves the remaining three access bowls -- the Fiesta, Chick-fil-A and either the Cotton or Sugar -- to be filled by the playoff's selection committee with the highest-rated available at-large teams.
If the non-power conferences contingent does not have an automatic berth in a contract bowl, that potentially could make it even more difficult for those teams to secure a spot in one of the six higher-paying bowls.
Without a contract bowl for the non-power conferences, their highest-rated champion possibly would not be guaranteed a spot in an access bowl. Without a contract bowl tie-in, the highest rated non-power team would have to meet whatever ranking requirement (top 15 or 20) that is established by the commissioners for a team to receive an at-large bid to an access bowl.
The ranking requirements for at-large teams to qualify for an access bowl and who will make up the selection committee that will determine the four-team playoff and other access bowl matchups are still unknown.
The original playoff plan had the national semifinals rotating among six access bowls: two playoff games and four other high-revenue bowl games each season. The top four teams determined by a selection committee, regardless of conference affiliation, will play in the semifinals on Jan. 1, and the winners will meet in the championship game at least a week later on the following Monday.
One source best summed up the challenges ahead for the commissioners, who still have a multitude of details to finalize involving the new four-team playoff.
"There are a lot of different things going on right now," the source said. "There are many twists and turns still ahead."
Added another source: "Nothing has been finalized, but the complexity of the whole thing is multiplied with trying to figure out if a seventh access bowl is realistic or not."
Brett McMurphy covers college football for ESPN.