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The Holiday Bowl and the Western Athletic Conference have been good for each other during the past 16 years. Except for a one-year separation in 1985, the WAC has had an amicable marriage with the Holiday Bowl for the game's entire existence.

But the WAC champion may be headed to the Cotton Bowl in 1996 and if that actually comes to fruition, the partnership between the WAC and the Holiday Bowl will at least have to be redefined and may even be severed.WAC commissioner Karl Benson said he has had discussions with representatives of the Cotton Bowl on several different issues, but calls speculation that the WAC champion will meet the Big 12 second place team in the Cotton Bowl in '96 "very premature."

Still, even Benson admits the possibility is intriguing.

"If the Cotton Bowl is interested in the WAC, would we be interested? That answer is definitely yes," Benson said.

One reason the Cotton Bowl, which is played in Dallas, would be interested in the WAC is that three former Southwest Conference schools from Texas - Southern Methodist, Texas Christian and Rice - will be part of the new 16-team league beginning the '96 season. Southwest Conference rivals Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M are heading to the Big 12. The SWC, has had an automatic berth in the Cotton Bowl for years, will be disbanded in '95.

The WAC has already committed to sending its second team in '96 to the Freedom Bowl against the third-place team from the Pac-10. So if the WAC makes an agreement sending their champion to the Cotton Bowl after the '96 season, the Holiday Bowl would likely look elsewhere rather than taking the third team from the WAC as one of its participants.

In the meantime, the WAC champion is under contract to go to the San Diego based Holiday Bowl the next two seasons.

The WAC and Holiday Bowl are also allied in their fight against the Tier I Bowl Alliance. Holiday Bowl representatives met with Benson in San Diego Monday to plan their course of action against the Bowl Alliance. Holiday Bowl officials and WAC presidents feel the Bowl Alliance is in violation of anti-trust laws and have threatened to sue, although "a lawsuit is a last resort," according to Holiday Bowl President Richard Circuit.

Under the Bowl Alliance, the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls are considered Tier I games will be shown exclusively in prime time on Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. The Rose Bowl will also have an exclusive time slot on New Year's afternoon. The games will make millions of dollars for the Big East, Southeastern Conference, Big 12, ACC, Pac-10 and Big 10 and Notre Dame, while the WAC is left out.

"The Alliance is inflating the value of their games and deflating the value of the others," Circuit said. "They've created a monopoly on certain time slots."

There is one at-large berth for the Tier I games each year that a WAC team could conceivably be selected for, but Circuit says WAC teams won't likely be considered even if a team is unbeaten.

"If once in 100 years a WAC team was selected (for an at-large berth), I'd be surprised," said Circuit. "(The Alliance conferences see the WAC) as sage brush country with no television sets and second-rate education institutions."

While both the WAC and Holiday Bowl officals hope to avoid a lawsuit, it may be inevitable.

"The Holiday Bowl and WAC would like to see a resolution that would keep all parties out of court, but if there can't be a settlement or a compromise reached with the Alliance, legal action may be required," Benson said.