Utes must find way out of deal

Everyone assumes all Utah needs to do to play in a BCS bowl is to finish in the top six of the BCS rankings. But things are not so simple.

Originally Published: November 8, 2004
By Rod Gilmore | ESPN Insider
Steve Erhardt was irritated. It was an hour before the Utah-Colorado State game last Saturday night. As the Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Erhardt was there to see the Utes, one of the biggest prizes in the upcoming bowl season. But he was also there to protect his turf.

Representatives from the Orange and Fiesta bowls also were there to see the Utes, who are currently 6th in the BCS rankings and are threatening to become the first non-BCS conference school to be eligible for a BCS bowl.

Saturday morning, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a story about the approximate $14.4 million payout Mountain West Conference teams stand to share if Utah plays in one of the four BCS games (Rose, Sugar, Orange or, most likely, Fiesta).

By comparison, the Liberty Bowl payout is only $1.3 million. New Mexico coach Rocky Long and UNLV coach John Robinson were quoted in the Tribune article as "rooting" for Utah to reach the BCS, so their respective schools each can pocket about $1 million.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith could be spending New Year's eve in Memphis.
The article made Erhardt livid. The MWC was "already spending that money," even though the Liberty Bowl has a contract that requires Utah, the likely MWC champ, to play in the Liberty Bowl. "It's an iron-clad contract," Erhardt told me. The Liberty Bowl, played in Memphis, Tenn., Dec. 31, does not have to release Utah to play in the BCS. "Why wouldn't we want a matchup with two likely top-10 teams in Utah and Louisville?"

Rod Gilmore

College Football analyst
Rod Gilmore serves as an ESPN studio analyst on SportsCenter and College Football Live, and provides commentary on ESPN's Friday night game telecasts. He writes regularly for ESPN Insider.