Despite surface appearances, however, bowl staffers insist that there was no slight intended toward the Big East. Rather, it was a unique chance to get a school that travels well into their bowl.
"We are certainly very happy with both conferences," said media director Frank Kay. "As far as we are concerned, the Big East is fine. We just signed a contract extension with them. It is just that we had an opportunity to get another attractive team in the mix."
The luster of Navy, in addition to its historic name, comes mostly from the travel support and ticket sales it generates. Meineke Car Care Bowl officials, which depend in large part on filling up a 74,000 seat stadium to keep their bowl in good financial standing, were understandably eager to have a potential 25-30,000 tickets snapped up by Navy. While the new bowl had sellouts in two of its first four seasons (one of those included WVU's massive 45,000+ turnout in 2002), it also had disappointing crowds when Pitt and USF were the Big East representatives. Thus, the chance to almost guarantee another 60,000+ crowd was too good to pass up.
"Our bowl is based on the teams attending, and how many can purchase tickets and attend," Kay noted. "For example, the Peach Bowl sells out every year before the teams are even announced. That doesn't happen here, so we concentrate on making a good college atmosphere for the game, and selling tickets to people that we know are going to attend and follow the teams."
In that light, it's not surprising at all that the MCCB would jump at the opportunity for fan support. Outside West Virginia, Louisville, and perhaps Connecticut, no other Big East team could likely match Navy's potential attendance. However, in doing so, is the bowl hurting the league?
"We don't want to do anything that hurts the Big East," Kay said. "We had this shot at Navy, and felt it was a good deal. The Big East was aware of the deal, and we felt like getting [Navy] in helped the bowl."
Kay also noted that the decision to put Navy in with the Big East rather than the ACC was partly based on numbers. He questioned whether the Big East will consistently have four or five bowl eligible teams, while foreseeing the ACC (with the advantage of 12 teams to the Big East's eight) consistently fielding six or seven per year.
Of course, Kay doesn't mention that his bowl has the number three pick in the Big East (following the BCS and the Sun/Gator alliance), which virtually guarantees that the MCCB will have a Big East team available each year. It's also obvious that the MCCB never considered adding Navy as a possible replacement for the ACC representative. However, Kay is adamant on one point: The MCCB views the Big East as a long-term partner.
"We have a signed contract with the league through 2009, and we also have an excellent tie with our title sponsor (Meineke) in that region," Kay noted. "Meineke is in many Big East markets in the northeast, and that is a natural tie-in that works well for both the title sponsor and the Big East."
Will Webb, executive director of the bowl, echoed some of those points.
"We did not mean for [the Navy deal] to be a slap at the Big East at all. I don't see the Big East going away for us. We think we are a natural fit for both leagues, with our central location we think it is a good fit for them as well."
Webb admitted that while the Big East could get in to the spot this year, in all likelihood a bowl-eligible Navy team would take the position.
"If Navy qualifies, we would probably pick them, in large part because this is the only year we have the chance to do so," he explained. "And while I won't rule out that we won't talk to Navy or some other school about slots in the future, I don't anticipate any further deals at this time."
Webb and Kay, of course, both carefully cover their bases with such statements. While continuing to praise the conference, they are also looking for the best ways possible to fill the seats in the stadium, which is the lifeblood of their bowl. Financial problems have felled numerous bowls in recent years, and although new ones pop up like dandelions to take their place, the entire process makes it difficult for fans to teams to identify with them as they did 15 or 20 years ago. Thus, schools with good fan followings become more attractive to bowls. Many bowls are thus caught in a yo-yo cycle of good attendance years followed by bad, which was aptly demonstrated by WVU and Pittsburgh in the first two years of the Charlotte-based bowl. That's a cycle that Webb wants to avoid, and thus he will keep his options open if there is a chance to attract a team that brings more fans to the game.
"We were disappointed with the Pittsburgh attendance numbers," Webb said, "but South Florida wasn't bad, considering that their bowl game here was just the 100th game of their existence."
While the MCCB certainly put a new twist to making bowl matchups with the Navy deal, it's not likely to affiliate itself with another bowl, as the Gator and Sun have done.
"I don't see us doing that type of a deal," Webb noted. "For us, from a geographic standpoint, it doesn't make a lot of sense. We have had no talks about that, and I don't see us having a split like that in the future."
"When we set the bowl up, we knew it would make sense to have local schools," Kay added. "The ACC is a perfect partner, and the easy accessibility to Big East schools made them a natural. In the long run, the Big East works perfectly for us."
While the Navy deal might seem to run contrary to those statements, both Kay and Webb remain adamant about their bowl's commitment to the league.
"We have had no discussions about dropping the Big East or ending our relationship with the conference," Webb said. "We are excited about our new deal with them."
"What it comes down to, in the end, is that we are happy with both conferences," Kay added.
While there is certainly a bit of political correctness in the remarks of the MCCB officials, the feeling here is that the bowl isn't looking to move away from its deal with the Big East. Unlike the feeling emanating from the Gator Bowl, which has been singularly unenthusiastic about its affiliation with the league, the MCCB does appear, at this point, to be forging good ties with the Big East.