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New Year, New Look (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday July 20, 2005 4:50PM; Updated: Thursday July 21, 2005 4:07PM
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Loser: Big East.
Not that it wasn't to be expected after losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, but the conference's bowl lineup looks pretty thin. The only deals in place are for the Gator (which is now only two out of every four years) and Sun for the No. 2 team and the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte for an undetermined spot. The conference is still working on a third non-BCS partnership, most likely with the Music City or Liberty bowls. There's a possibility of another deal with the Motor City or to join forces with a new game in Toronto if it's approved next year.

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Winners: Champs Sports, Insight Bowls.
No games raised their statures more significantly than these two -- and it's no coincidence that they're run by bowl veterans (Mickle and Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker) who are accustomed to raising large amounts of money. The Insight Bowl, which previously matched the Pac-10 and Big East, played at Bank One Ballpark in front of crowds in the 45,000 range and paid the minimum $750,000 per team, will nearly double its payouts, move to 75,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium and match teams from the Big Ten and Big 12. Getting the Big Ten was a particular boon for the game because of Phoenix's huge base of Midwest transplants. Arizona State's home game against Iowa last season drew significantly better (71,700) than any of its Pac-10 opponents.

The Champs Sports game, boosted both by an increased investment from its sponsor and a guarantee from the county government to provide up to $1 million in the event of insufficient ticket sales, is spiking its payout from $750,000 to roughly $2 million, moving from a forgettable pre-Christmas date to Dec. 28 or 29 and replacing the Big 12's No. 7 selection with the Big Ten's No. 4 or 5 (to be shared with the Alamo).

Winner: Liberty Bowl.
After last year's intriguing Louisville-Boise State matchup, the longtime Memphis game, which for the past six years has hosted the Conference USA and Mountain West champions (except last year, when Utah went to the BCS), finds itself with a host of options. With a New Year's Eve date and an attractive payout in the $1.5 million range, the Liberty has been talking with the ACC, SEC and Big East and may wind up with a SEC-Big East or ACC-SEC matchup.

Losers: Alamo, Independence Bowls.
Despite consistently providing one of the more high-profile non-BCS games, featuring the fourth choices from the Big Ten and Big 12, and payout approaching $2 million, the San Antonio game finds itself squeezed down a notch on both conference's pecking order. In the two years when the Gator Bowl selects a Big 12 team instead of the Big East, the Alamo will move down to No. 5, and in the two years when the Champs Sports gets the Big Ten's No. 4, it will move down to No. 5. And that's in addition to the increased likelihood of either or both conferences now sending a second team to the BCS.

The Independence, meanwhile, which has been a Shreveport, La., mainstay since 1976, is still awaiting word on whether it will retain its current partnerships with the Big 12 and SEC. The SEC end is fairly certain, but the bowl is one of three (along with Houston and Fort Worth) vying for the Big 12's seventh and final spot, which, with the increased pool of BCS teams, is more like an eighth choice, and the conference is unlikely to regularly produce that many bowl-eligible teams.

Losers: Houston, Fort Worth.
The young games were already fighting for survival (Fort Worth drew just 27,902 last year and recently lost its sponsor) and may soon find themselves without major-conference partners (in the past Fort Worth had the Big 12's No. 8, while Houston had the Big 12's No. 5 or 6 and the SEC's eighth). Houston should be all right if it locks up one of the two biggies and Conference USA, which now includes several Texas teams, including UTEP, which bought more than 20,000 tickets to last year's game. Fort Worth, however, is facing an uphill battle.


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