BCS May Widen Pool of At-Large Eligibles

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Bowl Championship Series will expand the pool of teams eligible for at-large bids if it's faced with a shortage of qualified contenders when the season is over.

BCS rules state a team must have at least nine victories and finish in the top 14 of the final standings to qualify for an at-large bid to one of the five marquee bowl games. But because no conference can have more than two teams, including its champion, in the BCS, officials were facing the possibility of not having enough eligible teams to fill the 10 spots this season.

The BCS announced Tuesday that if fewer than 10 of the top 14 teams in the standings are eligible for an at-large bid, the qualifying standard will extend to the top 18. If enough teams are still not available, the standard would be pushed back four spots until the pool is big enough to fill all the bowls.

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 bids.

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

The top two teams in the final BCS standings play in the national championship game, leaving the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls to match conference champions or at-large teams.

The champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC earn automatic bids. One conference champion from the Mid-American Conference, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, Sun Belt and Conference USA can earn an automatic bid by finishing the season 12th or better in the BCS standings.

Using the current BCS standings and the top-14 requirement, only nine teams currently qualify for an at-large spot.

The Big 12 has four teams (No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Missouri, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 13 Texas) in the top 14. The Pac-10 has three (No. 6 Arizona State, No. 9 Oregon and No. 11 Southern California), as does the SEC (No. 1 LSU, No. 7 Georgia and No. 12 Florida).

The Big Ten would have no teams eligible for an at-large bid if the standard is the top 14. Fifth-place Ohio State has already earned the league's automatic BCS bid and will play in the Rose Bowl, unless the Buckeyes land in the national title game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans. Illinois is the next highest rated Big Ten team at 17th, and is unlikely to move up much since its regular season is over.

If the BCS expands the pool, Illinois could find itself eligible for an at-large bid. That creates an intriguing possibility if teams in front of Ohio State stumble and the Buckeyes play for the national title.

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.

"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 Big East and ACC also face the possibility of having only its champion finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.

Third-place West Virginia is the only Big East team currently in the top 14. The next highest rated team is Connecticut at No. 20. The Mountaineers and Huskies play Saturday and the winner will earn the league's automatic BCS bid. If the Huskies lose, they'll likely slip even farther.

No. 8 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Boston College are the only ACC teams in the top 14. The Eagles have already clinched a spot in the ACC title game, but play Miami at home Saturday.

The winner of Saturday's Virginia Tech-Virginia game will play BC on Dec. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.

If Boston College loses to Miami and Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, the Hokies would be the only ACC team to finish in the BCS top 14.

Fifteenth-place Hawaii and 19th-place Boise State from the WAC are vying for an automatic BCS bid by finishing the season 12th or better. Extending the at-large qualification pool improves both their chances of getting into the BCS without automatically qualifying.

Hawaii and Boise State play Friday night in Honolulu with the winner earning the WAC title.

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