"The Big East is dead! The Big East is dead!"
Didn't it seem to be the mantra of all doubters across the college football land just one year ago this time? Especially from fans from the major programs in the other BCS conferences. They were just licking their chops and waiting for the Big East to lose their automatic bid and open up another spot seemingly for at large bids for the other power conferences. Even the Mountain West was crowing about being as good as the Big East or possibly (gasp!) even better.
Thankfully West Virginia put an end to all that nonsense by jumping out to a 28 point lead and holding on to victory against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. In case you forgot, the Bulldogs happened to be the champions of the almighty SEC – AKA, the best football conference in the land.
Another blow was landed against the case that the Big East is a doomed conference sure to lose its national profile and BCS membership recently when the NCAA approved all of the applications for the upcoming 2006 bowl lineup. All the conference's doubters and haters must have noticed that among those approvals were two new bowl games that have since announced tie-ins with the Big East. The International Bowl, to be played in Toronto, Canada against a member of the MAC and the Birmingham Bowl, which will be against a bowl-eligible team from Conference USA.
Add those two new bowls to the four other bowl games the Big East is already tied in to for 2006 (BCS, Gator or Sun Bowl, Houston Bowl, and the Meineke Car Care Bowl) and that gives the eight team conference six bowl slots for the upcoming year.
Does that sound to you like a conference in peril?
And I know I've heard some of the sneers regarding the less than exotic locales of Alabama and Ontario. Considering that other BCS conferences send teams to bowl games to such sought out venues like Shreveport, LA and Boise, ID, I don't know if that's really fair. And there are some great positives to consider when assessing the new bowl game schedule for the Big East bowl by bowl.
BCS: This is the obvious one. No matter if it's the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, or the new championship game, the Big East still has a place reserved for it's champion at one of the five biggest games in college football. And it also means that any recruit who commits to a Big East school has a legitimate chance to play in a BCS (and possible national championship) game every year.
Gator or Sun Bowl: For the next four years, the Big East runner up (if not an at large bid for a BCS bowl bid) will play in either the Gator or Sun Bowl. This unusual arrangement came into existence when Gator Bowl officials panicked after the Big East lost Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. Now the Gator Bowl has the option to pick the third or fourth team from the Big 12 instead of the Big East runner up (or Notre Dame once, if they are available) for up to two of the next four years. Regardless, the game is still currently played on New Year's Day in front of a national audience. The Sun Bowl is also a very historic bowl game and gives the Big East runner up a chance to prove itself against a top Pac 10 team.
Houston Bowl: This is the wild card. If the Houston Bowl can be certified for 2006, the Big East will have five bowl games played on or after December 31st. Generally, the later the bowl is played the more exposure, larger audiences, and bigger payouts. Now more than ever, the Big East needs to play in as many high profile bowl games as possible. Houston is also a fantastic football destination, especially considering it's a football mad city. The bowl game itself is played at a top notch NFL (and former Super Bowl) venue.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Often underappreciated by even Big East fans, this bowl is also played at a NFL venue and generally draws some of the biggest crowds during the bowl season. It's also very close to most of the teams in the Big East and gives the conference a chance to play its most hated rival conference, the ACC.
International Bowl: So what if it's in a cold weather climate and against a MAC team? It also happens to be the only current bowl played outside of the USA and also will be the last bowl played before the national championship game. All eyes will be on this game, and it's another opportunity for a Big East team to spotlight itself to a primetime audience.
Birmingham Bowl: Although Alabama before Christmas might not at first seem to be the most exciting experience for a bowl game, it is a hot weather destination in a city rife with football tradition and nostalgia. The city has been longing for another bowl game and is planning to build a brand new stadium to host the bowl game, as well as potential future Big 12 championship games and the occasional Auburn or Alabama contest. It also guarantees at least six teams from the Big East (as long as they are bowl eligible) will play on national television during bowl season.
And that's not too bad for an eight team league.
The Dawg would not be surprised if the Big East walks away from the Gator Bowl altogether when its current contract with the bowl is up in four years. It just seems like the Gator has never really been very accommodating to the Big East, while always pandering to the ACC. The Sun Bowl would be a great yearly option for the Big East, especially if the bowl could move to New Year's Eve or Day and increase the pay out enough to entice the Pac 10 to send its second best team to El Paso instead of the Holiday Bowl. This is not as far fetched as you would think, considering that the Holiday Bowl is played earlier and generally does not have the same exposure on the East Coast as many of the other bowls played before New Year's Day.
Regardless, it appears that the Big East has certainly reclaimed its status as one of the top power conferences in all of college football. With a new bowl lineup and new top programs emerging, college football fans shouldn't be too surprised if the Big East starts winning most of its bowl games in the next few years.
Most importantly, Big East football isn't going anywhere on the national scene, it's definitely here to stay.
Steve Gephart can be reached at email@example.com
In the Dawg House: May 29, 2006
This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.