New Orleans Bowl Changing Arrangement

Since 2001 the New Orleans Bowl has hosted a Sun Belt team every season. The Mountain West, Conference USA and Mid-American have provided the opponent but the Sun Belt has remained a constant feature. That may be changing.

The past two seasons Sun Belt runner-up UL-Lafayette has blown away all ticket sales records at the New Orleans Bowl. While Arkansas State had poor sales for the New Orleans Bowl that was relocated to Lafayette in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a shortage of hotel space for that game and many Arkansas State fans booked reservations in the new Hilton Garden Inn, those reservations were cancelled when the hotel was unable to open on time. A number of ASU fans reported having to stay as far away as Alexandria for the game. Since then Arkansas State has enjoyed two trips to the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama with very strong ticket sales.

The bowl performances of the league's top programs of late would seem to be a good sign for the conference.

The Sun Belt recently cancelled the remainder of the contract with Hot Springs for the Sun Belt basketball tournaments and moved the event to New Orleans. The league also relocated its offices to space in the Superdome controlled by the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation (GNOSF).

With those moves many expected renewal of the Sun Belt's relationship with the New Orleans Bowl to be a formality. The New Orleans Bowl is operated by GNOSF.

While there have been rumors the bowl was planning to enter into a six-year agreement with the American Athletic Conference that would only guarantee four appearances for the Sun Belt Conference, a source within the Sun Belt indicated that rumor was only partially accurate.

New Orleans Bowl Director Executive Director Billy Ferrante confirmed at the Sun Belt Media Day event that the agreement with the Sun Belt expires after this year's game and left open the possibility that changes may take place.

"We are looking to extend that, probably for a period even longer than the 4 years of the current deal," Ferrante said. "We are pretty far down the road. And like Karl [Benson] said in his comments he is confident we will get an agreement to extend that soon."

Ferrante indicated that while a final agreement has not be completed, the possibility of the Sun Belt not being involved every year is being considered.

"There are a bunch of different ways that could look," Ferrante said. "It could look like we have an anchor conference and there are sharing of sides on the opposite side. Could be we just have two contracts with just two conferences. And if there are opportunities that could come up during the course of the year to switch based on someone might be eligible here, then there are conversations about there being opportunities to help."

A Sun Belt source indicated the new bowl agreement is expected to be for six years and the New Orleans Bowl would hold the right to trade its Sun Belt selection to another bowl game in two of the six years. The bowl would not be able to pass on taking a Sun Belt team without finding a replacement bowl.

The new contract is expected to no longer contain any requirement about taking the league champion, though Sun Belt rules require that the champion is guaranteed a bowl slot and either GoDaddy or New Orleans would have take the champion if no other bowl were available.

Ferrante noted that flexibility in bowl assignments is something many people want to happen.

"I think everybody wants it. That is kind of a trend. You are probably going to see a lot of the bowls that might have partnerships with two or three Maybe even four conferences. And where there is variety each year. We like our position with the Sun Belt we like the history that we have with the Sun Belt and like I said, we are pretty far down the road. I feel pretty confident they are going to be with us."

AStAteNation Editor Jeff Reed contributed to this report.