Sea World Holiday Bowl officials are looking at ways to become a more prominent bowl.

The bowl is in the last year of its contract with Sea World as a sponsor and Executive Director John Reid said Wednesday that the bowl is "going after a big hitter" in an effort to up the $1.2 million payout next year. "It's a long, slow process (going after prominent national companies' sponsorship) except when they say `no."'Reid also said there is some sentiment on the board of directors to move the bowl to New Year's Day next year. There is a mystique about playing on New Year's Day that enables a bowl to attract teams it might otherwise not, Reid said (for example, Illinois chose the Hall of Fame Bowl at a $1 million payout over the Holiday Bowl). He's doubtful now that the change will be made because of the glut of bowls (eight) already on New Year's, "but we'll discuss it."

Reid has heard the grumbling about No. 4 BYU not being able to play a top-ranked team because it's tied to the Holiday Bowl if it wins the WAC championship. Realistically, he said, there's no way the Holiday Bowl can get a high profile team like No. 8 Virginia to come west if the Sugar Bowl is also going after it. The Sugar Bowl offers $2 million more per team so it's no surprise Virginia would choose going to New Orleans over going to San Diego, he said.

What also hurt the Holiday Bowl this year was the large payout - $1.6 million - of the first-year Blockbuster Bowl which enabled it to attract two prime teams - Florida State and Penn State.

Plus, Reid added, a lot of teams east of the Mississippi, prefer going to one of the five Florida Bowls instead of California because it's a lot closer for their fans.

Holiday Bowl sources have clarified the Pac-10 blockbuster deal that sent USC to the Sun Bowl, Oregon to the Freedom Bowl, Arizona to the Aloha Bowl and California to the Copper Bowl.

"USC was not part of the package. Arizona wanted a commitment from us but we were worried they might stumble in their remaining games and so we said, `no.' Sure enough, Arizona stumbled (the Wildcats lost to Stanford, 23-10, Saturday to fall to 6-4)," one source said.

It has been speculated by bowl officials not connected with the Holiday Bowl and by some media members in the West that the reason USC didn't want to be part of a package involving the Holiday Bowl (which pays more than El Paso's Sun Bowl) is because the Trojans didn't want to go up against pass-happy BYU and face the possibility of being embarrassed on ESPN's national cablecast.

Reid would not respond directly to the question regarding USC but did say there was more than one team that did not want to consider the Holiday Bowl because of the prospect of Ty Detmer lighting up the scoreboard on them.

Holiday Bowl sources also stated that the Big Ten kept putting the Holiday Bowl on hold last Sunday while trying to make deals with bigger bowls, making it easy for the Holiday Bowl to offer the at-large bid to Texas A&M (or Texas if Texas A&M goes to the Cotton Bowl).

The Big 10 deal with the Holiday Bowl involved the third team out of the Iowa-Michigan-Ohio State package - likely the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Even if the Big Ten hadn't put the Holiday Bowl on hold the bid likely would have been offered to Texas A&M anyway, sources said. At the end of the wheeling-dealing the third Big Ten team is now committed to the Liberty Bowl to play either a 6-5 Air Force team or a 5-4-1 North Carolina (North Carolina faces Duke in its last game Saturday).

There were discussions about having Penn State return to the Holiday Bowl for the second straight year, and the Nittany Lions were scouted. Their spokesmen said they'd be very interested in returning to San Diego but for one fact - they play BYU next Sept. 21 and weren't too wild about playing the Cougars three times in two years. Despite losing 50-39 to Penn State last year, Detmer riddled the Nittany Lion secondary for 576 yards.