|Preceded by||National Polls (1869–1991)|
|Succeeded by||Bowl Alliance (1995–1997)|
|Number of Coalition bowls||6–7 per season|
|Championship trophy||AFCA National Championship Trophy|
|Most Coalition bowl appearances||Florida, Florida St., Miami (FL), Nebraska, Notre Dame (3)|
|Most Coalition bowl wins||Florida St. (3)|
|Most Coalition bowl championships||Alabama, Florida St., Nebraska (1)|
|Conference with most appearances||ACC, Big East, Big 8, SEC, SWC (6)|
|Conference with most game wins||SEC (5)|
|Conference with most championships||ACC, Big 8, SEC (1)|
|Last championship game||1995 Orange Bowl|
The Bowl Coalition was formed through an agreement among Division I-A college football bowl games and conferences for the purpose of forcing a national championship game between the top two teams and to provide quality bowl game matchups for the champions of its member conferences. It was established for the 1992 season after there were co-national champions for both the 1990 and 1991. The agreement was in place for the 1992, 1993, and 1994 college football seasons. It was the predecessor of the Bowl Alliance, and later the Bowl Championship Series.
Since the AP Poll began crowning its national champion after the bowl games in 1968, the two top-ranked teams going into the bowls had only played each other in a bowl six times, most recently after the 1987 season. This raised the possibility that the two top-ranked teams at the end of the regular season would never meet on the field, even when there was a clear-cut #1 and #2. Following two consecutive seasons of split national championships in 1990 and 1991, there was a renewed effort in devising a system that would force a #1 vs. #2 national championship bowl game.
The Bowl Coalition consisted of five conferences (the SEC, Big 8, SWC, ACC, and Big East), independent Notre Dame, and seven bowl games (the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Gator, John Hancock/Sun, and, for the 1992 season only, the Blockbuster bowl).
Under the agreement, bowl bids would be extended to the five member conference champions plus five at-large teams. The at-large teams would come from a pool of four member conferences' runners-up (the SEC, Big Eight, SWC, ACC AND Big East), the runner-up of the Pac-10, the SEC's third-place team (since the SEC started playing a championship game in the 1992 season and the championship game loser was tied to the Citrus Bowl) and independent Notre Dame. The Orange, Sugar, Cotton, and Fiesta Bowls were "Tier 1 Bowls" under the Coalition agreement, and the Gator, John Hancock/Sun, and Blockbuster were "Tier 2 Bowls." The Orange, Sugar, and Cotton bowls retained their long-standing agreements to invite the Big 8, SEC, and SWC champs, respectively. However, the SEC, Big 8, and SWC champs would be released to play in another bowl if it was necessary to force a "title game." For example, if the SEC and SWC champions were ranked first and second, the Cotton Bowl would have released the SWC champ to play in the Sugar Bowl, or the Sugar Bowl would have released the SEC champ to play in the Cotton Bowl. This did not happen in any of the three years, as either the Big East or ACC champion qualified for the championship in those years.
The top "host" team played the top "at-large" team in the host team's affiliated bowl. Slots for the games were chosen by the "Bowl Poll," in which the points from the AP and Coaches polls were combined. If the top 2 teams were both "at-large", then the Fiesta would have hosted the "title game." The #3 team from the SEC hosted the Gator Bowl. The American Football Coaches Association agreed to rank the winner of the Bowl Coalition's "title game" as the top team in the final Coaches' Poll, thus guaranteeing the winner of the game at least a share of the national championship.
The system worked perfectly in its first year. Big East champion Miami was ranked first in both polls, while SEC champion Alabama was ranked second. As Big East champion, Miami was free to choose a bowl, and it opted to face Alabama in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, forcing the first bowl matchup between the consensus #1 and #2 teams since 1987.
The Coalition was flawed in several respects. Most significantly, it did not include the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10, both of whom were contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl. The Coalition's founders tried to get the Tournament of Roses Association to release the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions to play in a title game if one of them was ranked #1 or #2 in the Bowl Poll, but it refused to do so due to concerns about this potentially violating its television contract with ABC.
The possibility also still existed that an undefeated and untied team would not get a chance to play for the national championship. This actually occurred during the 1993 season. Nebraska and West Virginia both finished the season undefeated and untied. However, West Virginia, ranked #2 in the final regular season Coaches Poll behind #1 Nebraska, and was ranked #3 in the final regular season AP Poll behind #1 Florida State and #2 Nebraska. The margin between West Virginia and Florida State was large enough to drop the Mountaineers to third in the Bowl Coalition Poll, forcing them to settle for a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
Also, the Coalition did not include the so-called "mid-major" I-A conferences—the WAC, Big West, and Mid-American, nor any of the Division I-A independents other than Notre Dame. However, it was argued that most of these schools did not have schedules strong enough to be legitimate title contenders. For example, when BYU won the national championship in 1984—the last time a team from a mid-major conference has won a consensus national championship to date (UCF claimed a national championship in 2017)—some college football pundits argued that the Cougars had not played a legitimate schedule. BYU had only played one ranked team all season, and only two of the Cougars' opponents won more than seven games. Despite criticism of their schedule, the Cougars were a near-unanimous pick as national champion at the end of the season. The Coalition's exclusion of mid-major conferences made it difficult for this to ever happen again.
The Bowl Coalition's demise came about, in large part, as the result of two events that occurred in the 1994 season. First, the Southwest Conference, which had seen a marked decline in its quality of play over the past decade, announced it would dissolve after the 1995 season. Also, Notre Dame slipped from 10–1–1 in 1992 and 11–1 in 1993 to 6–4–1 in 1994. Notre Dame was still invited to the Fiesta Bowl in the 1994 season, losing 41–24 to Colorado in a game played on January 2, 1995. The sudden fall of Notre Dame led some involved in the Bowl Coalition to be concerned about the possibility of Notre Dame failing to win the minimum six games to be eligible for a bowl invitation. To alleviate these concerns, before the 1995 season the Bowl Coalition was reconfigured into the Bowl Alliance, breaking up the conference tie-ins and tweaking a system that still did not include the Big Ten and the Pac 10.
The final year of the Bowl Coalition saw its formula break down completely, as the situation it was designed to prevent (a split national championship) presented itself as a serious possibility. Nebraska finished the season at #1 in the AP and coaches' polls while Penn State was #2 in both polls. Both schools had gone undefeated in the regular season as well. Penn State, however, had decided shortly after the Bowl Coalition was formed to give up their independent football status and join a conference. That conference was the Big Ten, which as mentioned had no ties to the coalition and whose champion was contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska, as Big Eight champion, qualified automatically for the Orange Bowl. Since the #2 team in the polls was unavailable, the coalition invited the next highest ranked team, #3 Miami, to face Nebraska in its national championship game. The Orange Bowl was scheduled for New Year's night in Miami, while Penn State would face Oregon the following afternoon in the Rose Bowl (New Year's Day fell on a Sunday in 1995; when this happens bowls scheduled for January 1 are typically moved back one day). This meant that not only would there be a split championship if Miami won, but that Penn State's fate could be sealed before they even had a chance to play their game. In the end Nebraska defeated Miami to win the Orange Bowl and became consensus champions despite Penn State's win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
One legacy of the Bowl Coalition was that it cemented the status of the Fiesta Bowl as a major bowl. The Fiesta Bowl was by far the youngest of the "Tier 1" bowls. Indeed, it was the only "Tier 1" bowl that was less than a half-century old at the time, and was far newer than the "Tier 2" Gator and Sun Bowls.
Bowl Coalition games
|Cotton||January 1, 1993||5 Notre Dame (10–1–1)||Ind.||28||4 Texas A&M (12–1)||SWC||3|
|Fiesta||January 1, 1993||6 Syracuse (10–2)||Big East #2||26||10 Colorado (9–2–1)||Big 8 #2||22|
|Orange||January 1, 1993||3 Florida State (11–1)||ACC||27||11 Nebraska (9–3)||Big 8||14|
|Sugar||January 1, 1993||2 Alabama (12–0)||SEC||34||1 Miami (FL) (11–0)||Big East||13|
|Hancock||December 31, 1992||Baylor (7–5)||SWC #2||20||22 Arizona (6–5–1)||Pac-10||15|
|Gator||December 31, 1992||14 Florida (9–4)||SEC #3||27||12 NC State (9–3–1)||ACC #2||10|
|Blockbuster||January 1, 1993||13 Stanford (9–3)||Pac-10 #2||24||21 Penn State (7–5)||Ind.||3|
|Cotton||January 1, 1994||4 Notre Dame (10–1)||Ind.||24||7 Texas A&M (10–1)||SWC||21|
|Fiesta||January 1, 1994||16 Arizona (9–2)||Pac-10 #2||29||10 Miami (FL) (9–2)||Big East #2||0|
|Sugar||January 1, 1994||8 Florida (10–2)||SEC||41||3 West Virginia (11–0)||Big East||7|
|Orange||January 1, 1994||1 Florida State (11–1)||ACC||18||2 Nebraska (11–0)||Big 8||16|
|Hancock||December 24, 1993||19 Oklahoma (8–3)||Big 8 #2||41||Texas Tech (6–5)||SWC #2||10|
|Gator||December 31, 1993||18 Alabama (8–3–1)||SEC #3||24||12 North Carolina (10–2)||ACC #2||10|
|Cotton||January 2, 1995||21 USC (7–3–1)||Pac-10 #2||55||Texas Tech (6–5)||SWC||14|
|Fiesta||January 2, 1995||4 Colorado (10–1)||Big 8 #2||41||Notre Dame (6–4–1)||Ind.||24|
|Sugar||January 2, 1995||7 Florida State (9–1–1)||ACC||23||5 Florida (10–1–1)||SEC||17|
|Orange||January 1, 1995||1 Nebraska (12–0)||Big 8||24||3 Miami (10–1)||Big East||17|
|Sun||December 30, 1994||Texas (8–3)||SWC #2||35||19 North Carolina (8–3)||ACC #2||31|
|Gator||December 30, 1994||Tennessee (7–4)||SEC #3||45||17 Virginia Tech (8–3)||Big East #2||23|
- Bold denotes Bowl Coalition National Championship Game
- Rankings are from the AP Poll. Records and Rankings are prior to bowl games.
- The Blockbuster Bowl was a coalition bowl in 1992, but not in 1993 or 1994. The John Hancock Bowl, which had previously pitted the final Coalition team against an at-large opponent, inherited the Blockbuster's coalition pick, and pitted the final two Coalition teams against each other in 1993 and 1994
- After the 1993 game, the John Hancock Bowl reverted to its original name of the Sun Bowl.
Bowl Coalition appearances by team
+ Denotes Bowl Coalition National Championship Game
Bowl Coalition National Championship Game appearances by team
|2||Nebraska||1||1||.500||Lost 1994 Orange Bowl|
Won 1995 Orange Bowl
|2||Miami (FL)||0||2||.000||Lost 1993 Sugar Bowl|
Lost 1995 Orange Bowl
|1||Alabama||1||0||1.000||Won 1993 Sugar Bowl|
|1||Florida State||1||0||1.000||Won 1994 Orange Bowl|
Bowl Coalition appearances by conference
|Big 8||6||3||3||.500||3||Nebraska (1–2)|
|ACC||6||3||3||.500||3||Florida State (3–0)|
North Carolina (0–2)
NC State (0–1)
|SWC||6||2||4||.333||4||Texas A&M (0–2)|
Texas Tech (0–2)
|Big East||6||1||5||.167||4||Miami, FL (0–3)|
Virginia Tech (0–1)
West Virginia (0–1)
|Independent||4||2||2||.500||2||Notre Dame (2–1)|
Penn State (0–1)
Bowl Coalition National Championship Game appearances by Conference
|Big 8||2||1||1||.500||1||Nebraska (1–1)|
|Big East||2||0||2||.000||1||Miami, FL (0–2)|
|ACC||1||1||0||1.000||1||Florida State (1–0)|