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MAJOR BOWLS, ACC, BIG EAST, IRISH BASICALLY AGREE TO ALLIANCE

The post-season college football alliance between the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, Notre Dame and three major New Year's Day bowls became real Friday.

Signed contracts remain weeks away. The alliance won't take effect until the 1992 season. But the six parties emerged from a three-hour meeting with a handwritten statement that they "have agreed to agree, subject to final ratification with our respective governing bodies."It is the first public acknowledgment, however tentative, that the alliance will come to life. For the first time in their nearly 60 years of existence, the Cotton, Sugar and Orange bowls have agreed to cooperate in a formal selection system.

"This certainly heads in the direction of being one of the most significant things ever to happen in college football," Cotton Bowl executive vice president Jim Brock said. "This thing has a chance to really be a bonanza. We'll just have to wait and see."

Alliance members agreed to meet next week, likely Friday. Their work has been fruitful and necessary. After the disastrous selection process of the 1990 season, the bowls sensed a need to change. With independents such as Penn State, Florida State and Miami joining conferences, few possible national-championship games existed in current bowl structure.

With the agreement announced Friday, the bowls make a national championship game more likely and force a possible post-season playoff to recede again.

Brock characterized the announcement as pertaining only to the framework of alliance.

However, this much is known:

The Cotton, Orange, and the Sugar will choose from among five teams - the ACC and Big East champions, Notre Dame and two at-large teams - to fill their at-large berths. The remaining two teams will play in a fourth, as yet undetermined bowl.

Orange Bowl president Harper Davidson said the fourth bowl will play host to a national championship game only if the No. 1 and No. 2 teams come from the group of the ACC, the Big East and Notre Dame.

"Whoever has the first-ranked team will get to choose first," Davidson said. "That's not chiseled in stone. That will get resolved."

The other two major bowls will take their choice according to the ranking of their respective host teams. The ranking to be used, Brock said, likely will be The Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters.

According to one conference official within the alliance, the pool of five teams will have the right to refuse the selection - for instance, if Notre Dame is chosen by the Cotton Bowl for the third consecutive year, it may decline. However, the declining team must play within the four-bowl alliance.