Indeed, things will change as the ACC gains three more members (Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College) over the next couple of years, but as to how much they change and how soon will depend on a number of factors. According to several bowl representatives, the one domino that will have the most effect on the current alliance structure is the new Bowl Championship Series contract. The current BCS contract expires in 2005, and several bowls are taking a wait-and-see approach toward renewing their own contracts, most of which are set to expire in the same year. The idea is that one of them may be added to the BCS mix when the series renews its contract over the coming year.
"It would depend on how the BCS shakes up," said Rob Corolla, Big East Director of Communications. "We hope to maintain great relations with our current bowl partners, but it will depend on how the landscape changes over the next few years."
BCS executives are currently discussing the possibility of a "four plus one" model, in which two teams would be selected out of the current four BCS bowls to play in a fifth bowl for the national championship. Should they agree on this model, several bowls will be lobbying to be included in the new BCS scheme, and there are many who feel the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville is considered a front runner for the fifth bowl slot. If the Gator does join the BCS lineup, it would open the door for one of the other ACC bowls to move up in the pecking order.
One bowl that may be looking to move ahead in the current order is Charlotte's Continental Tire Bowl, which traditionally takes place after Christmas, but is currently behind the Pre-Christmas Tangerine Bowl in terms of selecting teams. Driving distance has always been a major factor for the bowl, and with the increasing number of teams in both the ACC and Big East, CTB representatives are eager to ensure that they are able to select the teams at the top of their priority list. According to Ken Haines, Executive Director of the Continental Tire Bowl, maintaining a strong relationship with both the ACC and Big East, as well as being able to attract teams that travel well, are integral to the bowl's success.
"It's probably a little too early to tell, but it appears we will continue our relationship with the ACC and Big East conferences," said Haines. "The ACC will pick up Virginia Tech, which is a very attractive program for our bowl. The Big East will pick up teams like UConn, who is expected to travel well, and Louisville, which is within easy driving distance. The important thing will be to keep bringing in teams within a reasonable driving distance of Charlotte."
Of course, if an existing bowl were to be added to the BCS lineup, it also would leave open another space for a new bowl to join the ACC alliance. One such possibility is the Outback Bowl in Tampa, which is rumored to be on the outs with the Southeast Conference. The ACC is set to re-evaluate all of its bowl contracts at the completion of next season, and even if it the Gator Bowl remains in the picture, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the conference will look to increase its number of bowls tie-ins.
According to ACC Assistant Commissioner Mike Finn, the conference may look to some cities to host more than one bowl game (like Orlando does with the Tangerine and Capital One bowls) in order to increase the number of bowls in their alliance, but the issue of a conference championship game is first on the priority list.
"We certainly will be looking at more bowl possibilities with the expanded membership," said Finn. "But where those new bowls may be revolves around where the championship game would be played."
Finn stated that the ACC has had inquiries from nine locations: Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, Washington-DC, and East Rutherford-NJ (the Meadowlands). Should the title game land in a city that already hosts an ACC bowl, like Jacksonville's Gator Bowl, it likely would hinder the city's ability to start up a new bowl with an ACC tie-in. The ACC is scheduled to meet about the championship game over the next couple of months.
Whatever happens in the grand scheme of the college bowl landscape over the next couple of years is anyone's guess. The BCS could be expanded to include teams from other Division I conferences, like Conference USA or the Mountain West. And just because Notre Dame extended its deal with NBC doesn't mean it won't have some kind of impact on the BCS/conference affiliation picture. One thing is for sure though: changes are coming. We'll just have to wait until 2005 before the picture gets any clearer.