Gator & Liberty & More Bowl Talk

A couple of interesting pieces of news have hit the wires over the last 36 hours involving the Atlantic Coast Conference’s future bowl relationships and alignments. The news is informative across many fronts and provides us some interesting insight into how the future of the ACC’s bowl system may work.

First, it is being reported that ACC may have struck a deal with the Liberty Bowl to send a mid-tier team (#4 or #5) to Memphis to do battle with the Champion of Conference USA. NC State has appeared in the Liberty Bowl on three occassions – all in the 1960s and 1970s when there were less bowls and the Liberty held a higher level of national & regional prestige.

The Liberty Bowl is a ‘nice’ bowl and will serve an improvement for the ACC as long as bowls like the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando remain in the rotation and simply get moved down the conferences pecking order. It is not a bad place to be to be a 5th or 6th or 7th place team and still get to travel to Orlando, Florida.

If the general system of bowl selection by number does not change (we will discuss this in a moment), then a current projection of the ACC’s bowl tie-ins looks as follows:
(1) – BCS Slot
(2) – Gator
(3) – Peach
(4) – Liberty
(5) – Champs (formerly Tangerine)
(6)- Mieneke Car Care (formerly Continental Tire)
(7) – MPC Computers

Providing us more insight to how the future of the bowl system may be implemented is the news that the ACC and Gator Bowl will be tied together for at least another four years. The real news in this article is not the announcement of the renewal of the ACC-Gator relationship, but how that relationship will proceed in the future.

First, “the agreement calls for more flexibility in bowl selections instead of slotting bowls in games according to their finish in the conference standings. Conference commissioners, bowls and television partners would determine non-BCS matchups that would result in more fan interest, and make consecutive bowl trips (Texas to the Holiday Bowl or West Virginia to the Gator Bowl) less frequent.”

I think that as much flexibility and diversity as possible that can be included in the agreement is very important to the Gator Bowl’s long term success.

In addition to the issue of “repetitive appearances” discussed in the article, The Gator Bowl has special considerations related to its proximity and relationship with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Since the ACC’s Championship game will also be played in Jacksonville just three to four weeks prior to the Gator Bowl, it is imperative that the Gator not be slotted for the #2 choice in the conference, thereby making it a little more difficult to potentially choose a team other than the loser of the ACC Title game.

Moreso than for the Gator, the need for additional discretion and flexibility in bowl arragements is central to the success of the Conference’s future bowl success. As foreshadowed in the bold/italics part of the quote, in the future, I expect that we will see the ACC (if not other conferences) move to more of a “tiered” system of bowl selections as opposed as the current one of bowls lining up in a specific order to take the next selection of team at their turn.

For example, the Gator and the Peach and maybe someone like the Outback Bowl could all share the “2nd tier” of selections. The conference offices, bowls, and television networks will then work to consult to create the bowl match-ups. Using the Liberty as an example, why not lump the Liberty in with the Mieneke Bowl in Charlotte and the Champs in Orlando? Why would you send BC to Orlando, FSU to Charlotte and NC State to the Liberty if it made more sense to re-shuffle that deck (as long as television, payouts, matchups, and other variables were relatively constant)?

In these new mega-conferences that have divisions and do not force each team to play a full round robin conference schedule, the winner of one division is not necessarily the second place/best team in the conference. For example, if NC State and Virginia both finish second in their respective divisions and do not play each other in a season, which team is supposedly “3rd” or “4th”? Or, what if Coastal Division experiences a huge let down and the 2nd place team is obviously nowhere close to being as good as the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division? The potential of the new tiered selection structure could allow for the proper adjustments to send each team to the best fit of a bowl as opposed to forcing bowls to make the wrong choices within the new divisional system.

Having a more consultative and cooperational approach may aid in solving some of these problems…but, it also may be a pandora’s box of problems if a program gets obviously jobbed in the bowl selection. I am not necessarily thrilled that John Swofford could be in charge of our bowl arrangements…but, what can you do? Les Robinson supported and voted for Swofford when he was our Athletics Director and Lee Fowler literally turns our football scheduling over to Swofford (see Notre Dame). So, we can’t complain but so much as Wolfpackers.

Lastly, to make this work, the ACC and the bowls would need to execute a superb marketing plan aimed at the fans with an emphasis on breaking down past paradigms that rank the Gator is #2, and the Peach is #3, and so forth. It would be imperative that bowls be viewed more as equals within the tier that they reside, and therefore would have to all pay similar dollars and provide similar opportunities for good match-ups and television exposure.

Second, the agreement “would enable the Gator Bowl to invite a Big 12 team for two years, a Big East team for two years, or bypass a Big East team once to select independent Notre Dame if the Irish are bowl-eligble and not in a Bowl Championship Series game.”

From the ACC’s perspective, this is a wonderful opportunity to match-up against fresh teams every year and not fall into a trap of being stuck matching-up with a weak Big East alternative in multiple years. Additionally, the new Big East would seem to not provide nearly as many opportunities for top national match-ups.