Sports and politics.

Bowl season is when the two become synonymous.Now here's a real surprise, those bowls with the most money have the most clout and thereby are in the best position to put together a deal for their constituency - a constituency that has as its core TV executives.

Commitments can change in a hurry when a team from a big TV market becomes available, which is what happened in 1985 when the Fiesta Bowl stiffed BYU after Michigan decided to bypass the Cotton Bowl for a Fiesta Bowl berth against Nebraska on New Year's Day. The last-minute shuffling sent BYU to the Florida Citrus Bowl, and Air Force, which originally was going to be in the Citrus Bowl, to the Bluebonnet Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl was also involved in what might be known as the "Heist of 1986." By upping its payment it was able to attract a true national championship game between No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State. The other major bowls were quick to excoriate the Fiesta Bowl for that move, some calling it football's version of prostitution. However, had they pulled off a similar deal they'd have called it smart business.

Now comes another classic case of bowl shark feeding frenzy courtesy of the No. 1-ranked Virginia Cavaliers. There are some clauses in the Atlantic Coast Conference's contract with the Florida Citrus Bowl that allow the conference champion to go elsewhere for a national championship game on New Year's Day. This is a fact that has not exactly escaped the major bowls.

The Orange Bowl, which just happens to offer a $4.2 million payout per team as opposed to the $1.3 million of the Citrus Bowl, would dearly love to pair an unbeaten Virginia against an unbeaten Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

And Orange Bowl representatives would have you believe that Virginia should do so out of loyalty to itself and its conference. As reported by Scott Fowler of Knight-Ridder Newspapers:

"Virginia's standing is so strong that two of the Orange Bowl's top officials, Orange Bowl Committee President Arthur Hertz and the bowl's executive director, Steve Hatchell, will soon fly to Greensboro, N.C., intent on lobbying Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan for a shot at the Cavaliers.

"What Hertz and Hatchell hope to convince Corrigan of is this - the ACC can't afford not to send Virginia to Miami, preferably in a game against a still-undefeated Nebraska team, ranked No. 4 by The Associated Press.

"The most loyal thing Virginia could do is make the most money for its conference that it can," said Orange Bowl official Hertz.

However, should the Cavaliers stumble and lose to say Georgia Tech on Nov. 3, there won't be a whole lot of loyalty shown by the Orange Bowl to Virginia. Hertz and his cohorts will treat the Cavaliers like Avis.

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NATIONAL PLAYOFF PLAN: The sports daily The National has come up with a dandy, which would do away with all the posturing of bowl officials. The top 16 teams would start the playoffs in eight minor bowls; quarterfinals would be held in the Holiday, Orange, Gator and Sugar Bowls; semifinals in the Rose and Cotton bowls; and the championship game in the Fiesta Bowl. Presumably the major bowls would rotate so that every several years they'd have the championship game.

The National even has the pairings - No. 1 faces No. 16, No. 2 faces No. 15 etc. Based on its rankings the first round would have:

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Florida in the Peach Bowl.

No. 8 Illinois vs. No. 9 Houston in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Iowa in the All-American Bowl.

No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 Clemson in the Freedom Bowl.

Those teams comprise one bracket with the winner of Virginia-Florida facing the winner of Illinois-Houston and the winner of BYU-Iowa facing the winner of Auburn-Clemson.

The other bracket would feature:

No. 3 Nebraska against No. 14 Wyoming in the Hancock Bowl.

No. 5 Washington vs. No. 12 Tennesse in the California Raisin Bowl.

No. 7 Colorado vs. No. 10 Miami in the Liberty Bowl.

No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 15 Texas in the Citrus Bowl.

The winner of Nebraska-Wyoming would meet the winner of Washington-Tennessee and the winner of Colorado-Miami would face the winner of Notre Dame-Texas in quarterfinal play.

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LOCAL FORECASTS: BYU returns from a week off to face New Mexico in friendly Cougar Stadium; Utah takes a winning streak with it to the Air Force Academy; Utah State is coming off a stellar second-half against league leader San Jose State; and Weber State, which gave Wyoming fits last week, faces unbeaten Nevada-Reno in Ogden. Dusting off the Tupperware ball (bowl scouts could use these) and squinting and straining we see the following:

BYU 48, New Mexico 21

Ty Detmer obviously can't dissect sharks (see story on D1), but Lobos are another matter. Bolstered by a resurgent running game, he should be able to pick apart the various defenses New Mexico throws at the Cougars.

Air Force 31, Utah 24

The feisty Falcons still have a shot at the Liberty Bowl and get the Utes at home. They shouldn't be able to run through the Utes as well as they have in the past but should have enough to get the victory unless Mike Richmond and his receivers really get hot.

Utah State 34, UNLV 24

Where was this Aggie team earlier in the year? - with quarterback Ron Lopez, on the bench. As Lopez has come on so have the Aggies, as their impressive showings against Fresno and San Jose State show. They're playing well enough now to top the Rebels.

Nevada 38, Weber State 31

The Wildcats surprised Div. IA Wyoming last week in a respectable 21-12 loss. Nevada will be wary and ready and should keep its undefeated record intact in a spirited battle.