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The Bowl Alliance was an agreement among college football bowl games (specifically the Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls) for the purpose of trying to match the top two teams in a national championship bowl game and to provide quality bowl game matchups for the champions of its member conferences. The agreement was in place for the 1995, 1996, and 1997 seasons, and replaced the Bowl Coalition which had been created prior to the 1992 season and consisted of the three Alliance bowls plus the Cotton, Gator, and Sun Bowls.

In its beginnings, the Bowl Alliance involved the SEC, Big Eight, SWC, ACC and Big East conference champions, as well as independent Notre Dame. Because of this, only one at-large slot was available for teams to vie for. With the disbanding of the SWC following the 1995 football season and the formation of the Big 12 Conference in its wake, an additional at-large bid became available. The Alliance bowls were held on three successive days in each of the three years of the Alliance's existence with one game played on New Year's Eve, one on New Year's Day, and one on January 2. The top two ranked teams from the Alliance conferences met in the Bowl Alliance national championship game, which rotated between the three Alliance bowls and was always held on January 2. Whoever won that game was guaranteed to be declared national champion at least in the Coaches' Poll, as they were locked into naming whoever won as their national champion regardless of whether the team was ranked #1 in the AP Poll or not.

As the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences were tied into the Rose Bowl via automatic bids for their conference champions, it was not possible to include their champions in the Alliance Bowls. Nevertheless, the conferences could be represented in the games if one of their teams procured an at-large bid to a Bowl Alliance game. This occurred twice, with Penn State and Ohio State playing in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls in 1997 and 1998.

CBS and ABC split television coverage of the Bowl Alliance, with CBS acquiring the rights to the Orange and Fiesta Bowls from NBC following their 1995 playings and ABC already being in possession of the Sugar Bowl rights as they had been since 1970.

In the last two years of the Bowl Alliance, the possibility existed for a split national championship. In 1996, #1 Florida State played #3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl as #2 ranked Pac-10 champion Arizona State was locked into playing in the Rose Bowl against #4 Ohio State. In 1997, #1 Michigan was locked into playing #8 Washington State in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten Champion. The first time, Arizona State lost to Ohio State in the 1997 Rose Bowl, ending the opportunity for a split national championship. The second time, a split national championship was unavoidable as Michigan was the top ranked team in both the Associated Press and coaches' polls entering bowl season; this meant that no matter how well Michigan did against Washington State in the Rose Bowl, they would lose the #1 coaches' ranking to either #2 Nebraska or #3 Tennessee after January 2's Orange Bowl game.

Following the 1997 season The Bowl Alliance's member conferences and bowls joined with the Big Ten and Pac 10 conferences and the Rose Bowl beginning with the 1998 college football season to form the Bowl Championship Series.

History and schedule[]

1995–96 season[]

These Bowl Alliance games were played following the 1995 regular season:

  • December 31, 1995 - Sugar Bowl: #11 Virginia Tech (Big East champion) 28, #6 Texas (Southwest champion) 10
  • January 1, 1996 - Orange Bowl: #9 Florida State (ACC champion) 31, #8 Notre Dame 26
  • January 2, 1996 - Fiesta Bowl, (National Championship): #1 Nebraska (Big 8 champion) 62, #2 Florida (SEC champion) 24

1996–97 season[]

These Bowl Alliance games were played following the 1996 regular season:

  • December 31, 1996 - Orange Bowl: #6 Nebraska 41, #9 Virginia Tech (Big East champion) 21
  • January 1, 1997 - Fiesta Bowl: #7 Penn State 38, #20 Texas (Big 12 champion) 15
  • January 2, 1997 - Sugar Bowl, (National Championship): #3 Florida (SEC champion) 52, #1 Florida State (ACC champion) 20

1997–98 season[]

These Bowl Alliance games were played following the 1997 regular season:


  • Rankings are from the Bowl Alliance Poll (prior to bowl games).
  • 1996 Season: No. 2 Arizona State (11–0) lost to No. 4 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1997.
  • 1997 Season: Nebraska (13–0) won the ESPN-USA Today Coaches Poll National Championship, while No. 1 Michigan, (12–0) and winners of the Rose Bowl, won the Associated Press (Writers Poll) National Championship. This was prior to, and therefore unaffected by, the Bowl Championship Series' later agreement with the USA Today Coaches Poll locking in the outcome of that poll based on the title game's outcome.

Wins and appearances by team[]

Appearances School W L Pct Games
3 Nebraska 3 0 1.000 Won 1996 Fiesta Bowl*
Won 1996 Orange Bowl (December)
Won 1998 Orange Bowl*
3 Florida State 2 1 .667 Won 1996 Orange Bowl (January)
Lost 1997 Sugar Bowl*
Won 1998 Sugar Bowl
2 Virginia Tech 1 1 .500 Won 1995 Sugar Bowl (December)
Lost 1996 Orange Bowl (December)
2 Florida 1 1 .500 Lost 1996 Fiesta Bowl*
Won 1997 Sugar Bowl*
2 Texas 0 2 .000 Lost 1995 Sugar Bowl (December)
Lost 1997 Fiesta Bowl (January)
1 Kansas State 1 0 1.000 Won 1997 Fiesta Bowl (December)
1 Penn State 1 0 1.000 Won 1997 Fiesta Bowl (January)
1 Ohio State 0 1 .000 Lost 1998 Sugar Bowl
1 Tennessee 0 1 .000 Lost 1998 Orange Bowl*
1 Syracuse 0 1 .000 Lost 1997 Fiesta Bowl (December)
1 Notre Dame 0 1 .000 Lost 1996 Orange Bowl (January)
*Denotes Bowl Alliance National Championship Game


Because the Bowl Alliance failed to include the Pac-10, Big Ten (and the Rose Bowl) and so-called "mid-major" conferences, the Bowl Alliance was reformed just three years after it began. BYU's persistent performance opened the door for mid-major conferences to participate in upper-tier bowls as well. In 1996, despite 18 conference championships in 23 years, one of the winningest records in college football and a #5 ranking in the AP poll, BYU was excluded from a Bowl Alliance bowl and was relegated to the Cotton Bowl beating Kansas State to finish the season 14–1. Now the Bowl Coalition was also at risk of anti-trust because of the monopoly on the bowls. LaVell Edwards, BYU Coach, testified in Congress at that time about the inherent unfairness in recruiting for teams who were excluded from bowls simply because of conference affiliation. With the pressure of potential Congressional action, the Bowl Alliance reformed into the Bowl Championship Series that not only included the Big Ten and the Pac-10 conference but also cracked open the door to allow the possibility of a "mid-major" team's participation.

See also[]