The Big 12 Conference is leaning toward establishing a postseason championship football game between its division winners, possibly as early as next week, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.

And according to a bowl executive, the probable site for such a game would be Dallas.The executive said Cotton Bowl Athletic Association officials had expressed a strong interest in the championship game and would have right of first refusal to the Big 12 playoff game. The first Big 12 championship game would be after the 1996 football season.

Mobil Cotton Bowl officials were notified Thursday that their bowl was not a part of a Tier I Bowl Alliance, which includes the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls.

Cotton Bowl officials have said they will consider a Big 12 championship game as an option as well as remaining a bowl. They plan to discuss their options Wednesday.

The Southwest Conference champion will go to the Cotton Bowl one last time Jan. 2, 1995. The Tier I Alliance will begin after the 1995 football season.

Dodds said one of the reasons the Big 12 appears to be leaning toward a championship game between North and South division winners is such a game could produce at least $5 million annually for the 12 schools. He said the game would not affect the league's potential number of bowl teams.

The Big 12 will include all the Big Eight members plus Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor.

On Thursday, Big 12 athletic directors issued a statement saying it was their desire to "maintain a strong post-season football event in the state of Texas."

That could include a playoff game in a Texas city and-or tie-ups for second- and third-place Big 12 teams in a three-way combination: the Cotton Bowl, Builders Square Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, and the John Hancock Bowl in El Paso.

"I think that's a real strong possibility," said Tom Starr, executive director of the John Hancock Bowl. ". . . The Big 12 is our No. 1 conference."

Hancock officials said they will seek the No. 3 Big 12 team, leaving free the No. 2 Big 12 team or a playoff game between division winners to go to Dallas or San Antonio. The Alamo Bowl is interested in a tie-in with the Pac-10 No. 2 and the Big 12 No. 2 more than a playoff game in early December.

Bob Gennarelli, Alamo Bowl assistant executive director, said a meeting on the bowl's options will be held Wednesday. "No. 1 on our priority list is conference affiliation," he said.

Before the Tier I alliance was developed, Big 12 schools were opposed to a playoff because they believed they could tie up two New Year's Day bowls - the Cotton and Orange or Fiesta - with league teams. But now it appears in most years, the Big 12 will have only one team, its champion, in the Tier I Bowl Alliance.

There will be two wild-card opportunities for a second Big 12 team starting with the second year of the alliance, but Notre Dame expects to get one of those slots most years. And six other I-A conferences will have No. 2 teams eligible for the wild-card spots.

Dodds said a championship game would provide a clear-cut winner for the league to send to the Tier I Bowl Alliance. With North-South divisions, each year some Big 12 teams won't play each other. And two unbeaten division champions are a possibility.

"The Big 12 will place five or six teams in bowls, and none of that changes if you have a playoff game or not," Dodds said.

Earlier this week, Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne said he expected the league would have a playoff game because of the form the alliance has taken.