CHICAGO — The Big Ten’s future bowl lineup could receive a radical — or reserved — makeover this week when league officials, administrators and football coaches conduct their annual meetings.
Five of the league’s seven contracted bowls are up for renewal following the 2009 season. League officials plan to discuss each bowl this week, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the league will “explore the (bowl) landscape.”
“We keep in touch with our incumbents,” Delany said. “We really can’t engage in negotiations with others normally under most of the agreements until we engage in good faith negotiations with the incumbents. We can look around, chit chat, find out if there are others that might be interested, but we can’t engage in any sort of serious discussion on business issues until we go through the process with our own.”
The Big Ten has agreements with the Rose Bowl and the Insight Bowl (Phoenix area) until 2013. Bowls up for renewal after the 2009 season include the Capital One and Champs Sports (Orlando, Fla.), Outback (Tampa, Fla.), Alamo (San Antonio) and Motor City (Detroit). The Big Ten’s champion automatically qualifies for the Bowl Championship Series, which includes the Rose Bowl. The league’s runner-up — if it does not qualify for a second BCS bowl — is designated for the Capital One Bowl. The Outback Bowl receives the third team, followed by either the Alamo Bowl or Champs Sports Bowl, then the Insight and Motor City bowls. Last year’s bowls totaled nearly $35 million in revenue for league schools.
The Big Ten last renegotiated bowl contracts in 2005 when it added the Champs and Insight bowls and dropped the Music City (Nashville, Tenn.) and Sun (El Paso, Texas) from its bowl lineup. Delany said at the time the league wanted to add destinations that cater to alumni, many of whom live in Arizona and Florida.
“I have to say we love our alignment,” Delany said. “It’s been good to us. We’ve adjusted from time to time, and even when we’ve adjusted in the past it’s always difficult.
“We never really had a bad bowl relationship. It’s just whether or not find better ones, whether you can improve your lot.”
The Big Ten became one of the first leagues to secure a tie-in for a non-champion when it sent its runner-up to the Holiday Bowl in 1986. The league ended that agreement in 1994, the same year it secured Capital One and Outback bowl agreements. The league began its relationship with the Alamo Bowl one year later.
The league’s contract with the Capital One Bowl earns the league nearly $4.25 million, the top payout among non-BCS bowl games. But Orlando’s 73-year-old stadium’s potential $175 million renovation has stalled, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The paper reports a slowdown in tourism taxes have placed the project on that community’s back shelf for possibly 10 more years. The Champs Bowl also is played at the same stadium.
“The first thing the commissioners told me was ‘I thought you guys had approved renovation of the stadium. I don’t think you guys realize how important this is for us,'” Florida Citrus Sports chief executive officer Steve Hogan told the paper. ” … I didn’t expect to be shocked as I was about how pointed and concerned our existing sponsors are right now.”
“We’ve been watching it for a long time,” Delany said. “We’ve been encouraging the city, the bowl, the Florida Citrus Association just to make progress, to move forward, because anybody that follows the college game, whether it’s in urban areas or on campus, facilities have been improving over the last 10, 15, 20 years. We’ve been encouraging that. That will be a factor. How big a factor? It’s to be determined.”
There’s also speculation that bowls like the Cotton, Outback or Houston could vault past the Capital One Bowl as college football’s best non-BCS bowl. The Cotton Bowl, once considered among the four best bowls with the Rose, Sugar and Orange, moves into a $1 billion palace in Arlington, Texas this year.
The Cotton Bowl’s agreements with the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences end following this season as well. Its payout was $3 million last year, which would rank third among the Big Ten’s non-BCS bowl agreements. But if the Cotton Bowl increased its payout and made overtures to the Big Ten, the league would listen, as it would with other bowls.
“They become options if people indicate, ‘Hey, we’d like to talk,’” Delany said. “But we really can’t reach out, because we’re involved, initially, in good-faith discussions with our partners. And then we can assess, not only the facility so much — because the facility is part of it — but it’s just part of the package. It’s the opponent, it’s the money, it’s the exposure, it’s the date and then it’s the balance, and how it fits into other things that you’re doing, recruitment is big as well as location of alumni.”
Both Delany and Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said they are pleased with the Big Ten’s current lineup and there’s no pressure to change affiliations.
“Every year we sit down and talk about our bowl affiliations and talk about how this year’s bowls went and which ones are improving and which ones need to be reminded this is important, that is important,” Barta said.
“We have, I think, the best bowl affiliation as a conference. If we could add to that, if we could make it even better, I certainly would be open to looking at that. But I’m pleased with our bowl affiliation.”