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New Year, New Look

The '06 season brings big changes to bowl lineup

Posted: Wednesday July 20, 2005 4:50PM; Updated: Thursday July 21, 2005 4:07PM
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With the addition of another bowl to the BCS, conferences scrambled to redo their bowl alignments.
Doug Pensinger/ Getty Images
Likely Conference Bowl Partnerships
Beginning in 2006
No. 2 Gator
No. 3 Peach
No. 4 Champs Sports
No. 5: Meineke Car Care
No. 6: Liberty or Music City
Big Ten
No. 2: Capital One
No. 3: Outback
No. 4: Alamo/Champs Sports
No. 5: Alamo/Champs Sports
No. 6: Insight
No. 7: Motor City?
Big East
No. 2 Gator/Sun
No. 3 Liberty or Music City
No. 4 Meineke Car Care
No. 5 Toronto?
Big 12
No. 2 Cotton
No. 3 Holiday
No. 4 Gator/Alamo
No. 5 Alamo/Sun
No. 6 Insight
No. 7 Independence?
No. 2 Holiday
No. 3 Sun
No. 4 Las Vegas
No. 5 Emerald
No. 6 Poinsettia?
No. 2 Capital One
No. 3 Outback
No. 4 Cotton
No. 5 Peach
No. 6 Liberty?
No. 7 Music City?
No. 8 Independence?

In the months since the BCS announced it would be adding a fifth game starting next season, the nation's other 24 bowls have found themselves engaged in a furious game of survival-of-the-fittest. Somehow, despite reduction in the quality of available teams -- with two more top-10 squads getting BCS bids each year -- the price of partnering one's bowl with a major conference has managed to go up.

"Because of the diminishment of the Big East, it became a very competitive marketplace," said Tom Mickle, executive chairman of the Capital One and Champs Sports bowls. "Suddenly every bowl in the country from Texas on east was saying, 'We have to have the SEC, Big Ten, ACC or Big 12, and we have to have one of their top five selections, or we're in trouble. Even though the BCS took two more teams, it turned into a seller's market for the conferences. Across the board, bowls are paying more for lesser teams."

The results of the great Darwinian bowl scramble started to come to light this week when the Big Ten and Big 12 announced new bowl lineups -- beginning with the 2006 season -- that scrap such longtime but less-desirable locations as El Paso and Nashville in favor of more appealing spots like Tempe, Ariz., and Orlando. They also introduced the unique, new concept of sharing teams among two different bowls, as the Gator and Sun will do with the Big East's No. 2 team and Big 12's No. 4. The other major conferences are close to finalizing their respective partnerships as well (nearly all bowl contracts expire after this season, coinciding with the BCS' deal, thus causing the massive upheaval).

Mickle's previously third-tier Champs Sports game wound up one of the big beneficiaries, dramatically increasing its payout and profile, as did the upstart Insight Bowl. Others were not so fortunate. "As a younger bowl, it's just harder for us to raise the kind of revenue that these other bowls can," said Fort Worth Bowl CEO Tom Starr, who's game lost out in the Big 12 shuffle.

Here now is a breakdown of the winners and losers in the bowl landscape, both among the conferences and the games:

Winner: Big 12.
The conference, which previously had one New Year's Day bowl berth (the Cotton Bowl) outside of the BCS, gained a second one -- and in the desirable Florida recruiting market no less -- with the Gator Bowl. In a unique four-year deal, the Gator and Sun will share the Big 12's No. 4 pick and the Big East's No. 2 pick (which can include Notre Dame), with each conference going to each destination two of the four years. The conference assured itself a spot in the beefed-up Insight Bowl, which will match up the Big Ten and Big 12's No. 6 teams in a coveted time slot on or near New Year's Eve. All told, the changes netted about a $2 million increase in total payouts.

Winner: Big Ten.
Strong-armed commissioner Jim Delany set out last spring to secure a fourth New Year's Day bowl berth and an additional $2 million in payouts. The first part fell through (the Gator's original plan was to replace the Big East altogether, with the Big 12 and Big Ten instead, but exclusivity provisions in the Big Ten's deal with the Capital One Bowl kept it from happening), but Delany did succeed in beefing up the lower end of the lineup, replacing the Sun and Music City bowls with the more geographically appealing and, at least in one case, more financially lucrative Insight and Champs Sports games.

Loser: Pac-10.
The conference has always been at a disadvantage because of the dearth of appealing bowls played west of the Rockies, but it had to be a slap in the face that a game in its own backyard, the Insight, opted for the Big Ten's No. 6 team over the Pac-10's No. 4. The league still has the high-profile Holiday Bowl for its No. 2 destination and Sun for No. 3, but after that it's a hodge podge of shaky, low-payout West Coast games like Las Vegas, Emerald (San Francisco) and the new Poinsettia in San Diego. Discussions are being held in terms of finding one more spot, but none of the available possibilities are likely to be more lucrative.