What Exactly Did the Sun Belt Sign?

During the football media days the Sun Belt office announced three secondary bowl tie-ins for the 2008 season. Why were these tie-ins not honored?

On July 22, 2008 the Sun Belt Conference announced a secondary tie-in to three different bowls. Here's the excerpt from the press release: "The Sun Belt Conference announced Tuesday that it has signed agreements with the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Papajohns.com Bowl and the PetroSun Independence Bowl. The announcement came at the Sun Belt's annual Football Media Days.

The agreements, which are effective immediately and will impact the 2008 and 2009 bowl games, call for bowl-eligible teams from the Sun Belt Conference to be the first available teams in these bowls should the contracted parties not be able to fulfill their requirements."

Although many at the time questioned this move, it appeared to be a good stop-gap measure until bowl tie-ins are renegotiated in a couple of years. As the season played out this move looked exceptionally genius as if became evident that some of the conferences tied in to these bowls would not be able to fulfill their obligations.

The member institutions and fans of the Sun Belt were led to believe that if their respective university reached the 6 win mark there was a very good chance that university would be in a bowl game. The first error in the release was using the word "bowl-eligible". "Bowl-eligible" is used to describe a team that has a .500 record or better. You see, the NCAA has a rule in place that states (paraphrase) 7 win teams must be selected to a bowl game before 6 win teams unless the 6 win team is from a conference that has a bowl-in. Many Sun Belt fans will recall this is the same rule that allowed Middle Tennessee to play in the Motor City Bowl in 2006.

Based on the wording in the press release one could only think that being a "secondary" conference would carry the same weight as a "primary" conference when it came to bowl selection. If the "primary" conference could not fill the bowl slot then it appeared that a 6 win Sun Belt team could be selected over a 7 win team due to a "secondary" tie-in. If you had that line of thinking, you were wrong.

One could look at the press release and mark that misconception to poor wording. Maybe the press release should have said "call for bowl-eligible 7 win teams from the Sun Belt Conference to be the first available teams in these bowls should the contracted parties not be able to fulfill their requirements."

The good news is any 6 win Sun Belt team would be selected to these bowls over any other 6 win team provided that 6 win team was not in a conference that had a primary tie-in with these bowls. Well, hold up a minute. That's not the way it works either. These bowls chose other 6-6 teams instead of Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. How did that happen?

In the days leading up to the bowl selections, the director of the PapaJohn's.com Bowl stated he had no knowledge of a Sun Belt tie-in for a 6 win Sun Belt team. During this same period of time the NCAA decided to review these contracts.

One has to question, was there ever a contract between these 3 bowls and the Sun Belt? If so, why were they written in such a way that they are meaningless? Wright Waters, the commissioner of the Sun Belt, was touting these tie-ins as the next step in the growth of the Sun Belt. Now we find out they were meaningless. What happened? Was Waters negligent in his execution of these contracts? Did the NCAA put pressure on the Sun Belt to back off? Was there ever an agreement? If there was an agreement, does this same (non)agreement stand in place for the 2009 season as well?

One thing is sure. The Sun Belt member institutions, players, coaches, and fans were sold one story only to find out it was all one big lie. Someone needs to be held accountable and we all deserve answers. If you are looking for answers in the form of a Sun Belt Conference press release, you might want to double-check the wording in the release.

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