The six conferences with automatic bids to the four Bowl Championship Series football games will be required to meet a minimum performance standard or risk losing their guaranteed bids, the BCS announced yesterday in a teleconference.

Beginning this season, the champions of the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences must maintain a four-year average of a No. 12 ranking in the BCS standings. Those rankings -- which use the traditional media and coaches' polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule and total losses -- determine the participants in the bowl game that determines the national champion.

If a conference champion's average falls below 12, the conference's automatic bid is subject to review by representatives of the other five conferences. But the conference would not necessarily lose the automatic bid, according to Roy Kramer, the Southeastern Conference commissioner and BCS coordinator.

The quality of football in the Big East has suffered since the NCAA imposed severe penalties on the University of Miami in 1995. The Big East would have been "borderline" for retaining its automatic bid had the new criteria been in effect the past four years, according to Kramer.

But in an interview, Kramer said the new criteria were not directed at the Big East and said the league's average ranking under the current BCS formula was no higher than 12.75.

"It was never intended to be directed at one conference," Kramer said. "It was discussed, and the consensus was that if there were standards for being in the at-large pool, shouldn't there be standards for being in the automatic pool?"

During the teleconference, he elaborated: "If you can't [average a No. 12 ranking] over a four-year period, your conference has lost its importance as a national conference."

Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese, who was attending an NCAA men's basketball committee meeting, was not available to comment. His spokesman, John Paquette, said, "We're fine with the standards; we're okay with that."

The four bowls in the BCS are the Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Rose. The Nos. 1 and 2 teams will be paired in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 4.