The NCAA sanctions levied against Oklahoma could lead to two independents playing in the Orange Bowl the next two seasons.
Bowl officials say they still want to maintain the contract that extends an automatic bid to the Big Eight champion. But with Oklahoma barred from post season play following the 1989 and 1990 seasons, the Orange Bowl is in a position to invoke a clause in the contract that allows the Orange Bowl Committee to look outside the Big Eight if the conference champion is on probation and unable to play in a bowl game.Oklahoma was penalized for recruiting violations Monday and is banned from post-season play following the next two seasons. In addition, the team is barred from appearing on live television next year.
If Oklahoma were to win the Big Eight in either of the next two years, the Orange Bowl likely would invite two independents to play in the Jan. 1 game. This year's game, to be played Jan. 2, is between No. 2 Miami and sixth-ranked Nebraska. This is the first time in five seasons Oklahoma has not represented the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl.
"We are not handcuffed," said Orange Bowl president Jim Barker. "The Fiesta Bowl has had some good results going after independent teams. If the penalties had come down last year and Oklahoma had won the conference this year, we might have been thrown into the negotiations for (No. 3) West Virginia and (No. 1) Notre Dame."
The Orange Bowl and Big Eight have had a contract since 1975 and the probation clause has never been used. The current contract runs through 1990, as does a separate deal with NBC to televise the game.
"We hope to sign up the Big Eight again," said Orange Bowl Executive Director Steve Hatchell.
The Sooners won the national title in 1986 against Penn State, and entered the 1988 Orange Bowl ranked No. 1, but were defeated by eventual national champion Miami.
"Oklahoma is a great participant," Barker said. "They have appeared in our game more than any other Big Eight team. To say we are not disappointed would be wrong. However, this doesn't dampen our enthusiasm for the Big Eight. We love the Big Eight. They have given us four championship games in the 1980s."
The other two national title games involved Nebraska. In 1982, Clemson defeated Nebraska to win the national title, and Miami upset top-ranked Nebraska in 1984 to earn the first No. 1 ranking in school history.