With the announcement of pairings for college football's four major bowl games due on Sunday, the sport's postseason power brokers held a conference call yesterday to fine-tune scenarios.
And in what may prove a premature celebration at best or a colossal misunderstanding at worst, Big Ten officials announced later in the day that No. 3 Iowa (11-1) had clinched one of the two at-large berths for a Bowl Championship Series game.
The Big Ten's announcement, tucked innocuously into a news release heralding the fact that the conference would send seven of its schools to bowls, appeared to take BCS chairman Mike Tranghese by surprise. Asked if the move was precipitous, Tranghese told the Orlando Sentinel, "A big assumption on their part, I'd say."
Formal invitations to the BCS bowls -- Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar -- are scheduled to be announced Sunday.
No. 2 Ohio State, which concluded its season with a 13-0 record, has accepted an invitation to play for the national title in the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl. If top-ranked Miami can close its season with a victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the defending champion Hurricanes will lock up the other Fiesta Bowl slot.
Under the controversial and largely inscrutable BCS system, six of the eight spots in the four major bowls are guaranteed to the champions of college football's so-called power conferences. That leaves just two slots for at-large teams. And with a handful of attractive teams with one loss -- including Washington State and Kansas State, as well as Iowa -- that's where the most heated competition and frenzied speculation has been.
So it was a stunning and bewildering development when Big Ten officials announced that Iowa, their conference co-champion, had clinched one of the two coveted at-large spots five days before the invitations are to be announced and four days before many teams have played their final game.
The Big Ten's release stated, "Conference co-champion Iowa (11-1, 8-0) will play in a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game to be determined after the results of Saturday's games."
In practical terms, what it implies is that FedEx Orange Bowl officials have concluded that they would select Iowa over Notre Dame (10-2) as the opponent for ACC champion Florida State (9-4). While Notre Dame has legions of boosters across the country, Iowa is playing its best football of the season and, many feel, would be a worthy contender for the national title.
Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who took part in yesterday's conference call, was among those perplexed.
"We talked about several scenarios, and the Orange Bowl shared its thinking," Weiberg told the Dallas Morning News. "From that, the Big Ten must have taken that they were secure enough with their selection process" to release their teams to other bowls.
The Capital One Bowl gets dibs on the highest-finishing Big Ten team that doesn't get a BCS bid. After its officials were told Tuesday that Iowa wouldn't be available to them because it was headed to a BCS bowl, they chose Penn State to play an SEC team.
If the Big Ten announcement proves not only premature but also incorrect, Iowa could be left without an invitation to a significant bowl because so many bowl officials have begun extending invitations assuming the Hawkeyes aren't available.