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The Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls are breathing easier, while the Cotton Bowl might not be breathing for long.

The Bowl Alliance chose the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Fiesta in Tempe, Ariz., and the Sugar in New Orleans as Tier 1 games and sites for a possible national championship game, beginning after the 1995 season. The Rose Bowl, which features the champions of the Big Ten and Pacific-10, is not part of the alliance, which will replace the current bowl coalition setup.That left the Cotton Bowl on the outside and with critics wondering if it should continue as a second-level game.

"If you're here for a funeral march, then you can leave," said John Scovell, who led the Cotton Bowl's pursuit of an alliance berth. "The sun is still shining on the Cotton Bowl. We'll still be able to choose from 98 Division I-A teams. The three bowls plus the Rose Bowl will eliminate only eight teams."

Several Dallas city officials said before the alliance announcement that failure to be included might lead to the demise of the Cotton Bowl.

The Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls will alternate each year as the site of a matchup between the top two teams available to the alliance. Champions from the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Twelve (formerly Big Eight) and Southeastern conferences will be involved, along with two at-large teams.

For the 1995 season only, the Southwest Conference winner will be one of the at-large teams.

"This virtually guarantees that the Fiesta Bowl will have the national championship game once in the years 1996, 1997 or 1998," Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. "The other years our matchup will consist of two conference champions or two teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation."

"Our prayers were answered and the hard work of thousands of people in the Fiesta Bowl family has paid off," Junker said.

Each of the three games will be played on different dates - Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. The Fiesta reportedly bid $118 million, the Orange $104 million and the Sugar $98 million to get Tier 1 designations. The money comes from sponsorships and television contracts.

The average payoff for each of the three games will be $8.5 million per team.

"It's a major deal. . . . We felt going into this that we had to put our best foot forward," said Donald Kubit, president-elect of the Orange Bowl Committee. "It was do or die with respect to preserving the rich tradition of the Orange Bowl and having championship college football in our community."

The Rose Bowl could mess up any championship game matchup if the top-ranked or No. 2 team in the nation is from the Big Ten or Pacific-10. That, however, always has been the case.

The arrangement is for six years, with an escape clause after three years for the conferences. After either the Orange, Sugar or Fiesta selects the top two teams, the other two bowls will be filled by alternating selections.

The bowl choices were made by a group of Division I-A conference commissioners. Their decision left the Cotton Bowl in a tough situation.

"I've seen better days," said Scovell. "Have you every been in a winner's locker room and felt sorry for the guys in the loser's room? It's an unfortunate decision. The Cotton Bowl is not a good loser. But we can be good sports."