BIG EAST BOWL CENTRAL
To be fair, a lot of us hadn’t heard of Belk, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s or BBVA Compass either.
But that’s precisely the reason that those three companies have attached their names to bowl games that are affiliated with the BIG EAST Conference.
The BIG EAST played its first season with its current bowl partnerships in 2010 and it’s, hands-down, the strongest group of bowl partners in the conference’s history. And that’s good news for the entirety of the BIG EAST, which is the only conference in college football that has sent each of its members to a bowl game in the past two years.
Let’s say that again. Every BIG EAST team has played in a bowl game in the past two years.
Further, every BIG EAST team has won a bowl game in the past four years – a fact that no other conference comes close to claiming.
When John Marinatto became the BIG EAST commissioner in 2009, the first major task facing him was renewing or retooling the conference’s bowl agreements. To that end, the commissioner made clear that there were three key attributes he was looking for when choosing which bowls the conference would consider:
The goal was simply to have BIG EAST-affiliated bowl games in cities that fans and teams would want to visit. The end result was a lineup that includes games in Orlando, Charlotte, New York City, St. Petersburg, Birmingham and Memphis.
The BIG EAST sought to play the strongest possible opponents in the postseason, and the lineup reflects that. The bowl arrangements put the BIG EAST representatives against opponents from the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Conference-USA.
Not quite the same as destination, but close. Geography has more to do with whether fans are able to easily attend a game, as opposed to whether they would want to. Consider that New York and Charlotte are major airline hubs and that Orlando, St. Petersburg, Birmingham and Memphis are reasonably accessible from BIG EAST cities.
With that criteria in place, here’s a quick rundown of the BIG EAST’s bowl arrangement, aside from the Bowl Championship Series, which will be visited later this week:
Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
The Champs Sports Bowl has the first pick of eligible BIG EAST teams after the conference’s BCS bid has been claimed. The BIG EAST team will face an opponent from the ACC in Orlando, though the bowl may select Notre Dame in place of the BIG EAST representative once during the four-year term of the arrangement.
Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C.
The BIG EAST has been a charter affiliate with the Charlotte-based bowl game, which has been an undeniable success since its inception in 2002. The game has averaged more than 62,000 fans annually at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers. Again, the BIG EAST team faces an ACC opponent. Belk, a department store chain based in North Carolina, signed on as the game’s title sponsor beginning in 2010.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Bronx, N.Y.
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl was played for the first time last season as Syracuse edged Kansas State in a thriller, suggesting that it wasn’t a bad idea at all for postseason football to return to New York City. Played at what might be the finest sporting venue in the United States, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl pairs a BIG EAST opponent against a team from the Big 12 at Yankee Stadium.
BBVA Compass Bowl, Birmingham, Ala.
The bowl’s slogan, “Southern Hospitality. Serious Football,” says it all. Visitors to Birmingham are at once overcome by the welcoming nature of the local population and consumed by the passion for college football in Alabama. The BIG EAST has fit right in to the tune of a 5-0 record in the bowl. The BIG EAST’s opponent comes from the SEC under the terms of the agreement that began last season. BBVA Compass, a financial holding company headquartered in Birmingham, became the title sponsor last year.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Another game that has been very good to the BIG EAST, which is 3-0 in the series, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl puts the conference’s representative against an opponent from Conference USA. There are few better December destinations in the United States than St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field – the home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays – makes for a unique, yet functional, football stadium. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is a restaurant franchise based mostly in the Gulf Coast of the United States.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.
The BIG EAST’s bowl agreements mean that the conference will send two teams to either the BBVA Compass Bowl, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl each year. If a BIG EAST team goes to Memphis, it will face either the Conference USA champion or an SEC opponent.
The bowl formula has worked for the BIG EAST. In the Bowl Championship Series era (1998-2010), the BIG EAST is a combined 40-25 in bowl games, with the .615 winning percentage standing as the second-best of any conference. The BIG EAST was 4-2 in the postseason last year, marking the fifth straight year in which the conference has had a winning record.