Pitt, Big East Bowl Outlook Improved

Pitt has not been to a bowl game during Dave Wannstedt's first three seasons, but if the Panthers perform as well as expected that could change this year.

And there will be various post-season options if Pittsburgh qualifies, but does not get a BCS bid. A Big East Conference team can be selected for either the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., International Bowl in Toronto, PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. and now the St. Petersburg Bowl in Florida.

"The biggest change that we had was the addition of the St. Petersburg bowl to our bowl lineup, and that was something that we really felt would be an advantage to our conference,'' Pitt athletics director Steve Pederson said. "To get another bowl in our part of the country and particularly in Florida, our fans probably like a bowl in Florida about as well as anywhere that you could go.

"And in keeping with that, the Texas Bowl (Houston) went out of our bowl mix. So, that was the tradeoff. That was our choice. We thought it was a better situation for us. We're in a group of bowls related to the Gator Bowl and the Sun Bowl and the ability of a couple different bowls to pick a Big East team on a different basis.

"So,'' Pederson added, "where we used to have the straight bowl tie-in with the Gator Bowl ... we decided, in conjunction with some other conferences, that it might be better to give some people options to pick the teams that went into the bowl lineup so that there's a spot in one of the bowls, but no guarantee which bowl it will be in a particular year.''

The Big East and Big 12 Conferences -- along with Notre Dame -- forged a bowl partnership in 2006 to assure both BCS Conferences and Notre Dame would participate in the Gator Bowl and Sun Bowl during a four-year period.

Either would choose a Big East team after the Conference's representative to the Bowl Championship Series was determined. The Atlantic Coast Conference provides the opposition in the Gator Bowl and the Pac-10 Conference would be the other participant in the Sun Bowl. The Gator Bowl has the first selection at the conclusion of each season.

During the four years of the agreement, the Big East or Notre Dame would send a team to both the Gator Bowl and the Sun Bowl twice. The Car Care Bowl is in its sixth year with the Big East. This bowl, played in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., picks after the Gator Bowl or Sun Bowl.

The Big East aligned itself with two additional bowls beginning in the 2006 season. The International Bowl, played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, pairs a Big East representative against an opponent from the Mid-America Conference, while the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., matches a Big East team against one from the Southeastern Conference.

The St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field in Florida was added in 2008, as the Big East has partnered with Conference USA to provide the matchup.

Quality wins and attendance, i.e. how well a team travels, play a big part in a team's selection to a bowl game. And as far as Pederson is concerned, ticket sales have stayed a steady course throughout the summer after a hot start.

"We had a very good spring, and then it slows down in June and part of July,'' Pederson said. "But we've ramped up our advertising of late, so that put some energy into ticket sales. We're on a great trajectory right now, but we know that we've got to have a great August to achieve all the things that we want to achieve, but we feel good about where we are right now.

"It's been kind of a steady build, and that's what we hoped to happen during the summer months. Our goal is still to sell it out, and we know that's an aggressive goal. But what we're trying to do every day is find ways to get the stadium sold out and go into the season like we did in 2003. And we're optimistic with the way ticket sales are going now.

"We've still got some tickets left in various areas,'' Pederson added. "In particular, the club areas and lower bowl are getting pretty thin in terms of available tickets right now. We still have a ways to go, but those areas have really sold well. So, we're excited about that, but we still continue to believe that we're a great value. ... It's a great family entertainment value.''

Pitt opens the season with Bowling Green Aug. 30 at noon at Heinz Field.

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