The Mid-American Conference has had good fortune in landing bowl berths for its football teams during the past several seasons. On four occasions since 2008 five or more teams have been selected.
But it has been just that; good fortune. The MAC has automatic tie-ins with three bowl games and the rest, with the exception of Northern Illinois qualifying for the BCS a year ago, have resulted from other conferences not producing enough bowl-eligible teams to fill their obligations.
Now the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, once known as the Motor City Bowl and the MAC’s longest-tenured bowl partner since 1997, will cease to exist after next month’s game at Ford Field in Detroit.
“We’ve been sitting with three primary bowls, and we’ve always been scraping to find other slots for our schools,” commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “It’s difficult because you’re always at the mercy of outside forces, so the goal for some time, while also preparing for issues in Detroit, has been to grow our primary bowl partners.”
Mission accomplished. In a series of recent announcements, the MAC has shared in the formation of four new bowl games and added a new affiliation with an existing bowl. With several of them operating on a rotating basis among multiple leagues, it will guarantee the MAC of having at least five guaranteed bowl destinations for member teams on an annual basis.
Those destinations, we might add, are better than ever.
Steinbrecher said the league began the expansion push by extending agreements with the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with which the league has been affiliated since 2001, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, which has been on the MAC schedule since 2009.
After that, the conference found strength in numbers. The MAC is one of five non-BCS conferences, the so-called Group of Five, and Steinbrecher said it was important “to make sure we were all helping each other out.”
Make no mistake, though, the MAC was one of the proactive, driving forces in the creation of new bowl games in Montgomery, Ala., Boca Raton, Fla., and Nassau, Bahamas. A fourth new bowl is slated for Marlins Park in Miami.
This season, the MAC will remain affiliated with three primary bowls — Detroit, Mobile, and Boise.
Starting in 2014 and contracted through the end of the 2019 season, the MAC will have teams locked in to three bowls — Go Daddy, Famous Idaho Potato, and Camellia Bowl (Montgomery) — every year.
A rotation of four other games will always accommodate two additional MAC teams. They include the Bahamas Bowl, the Boca Raton Bowl, the Miami Beach Bowl, and the existing San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
In those games, MAC teams will face opponents representing the new American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Mountain West.
The MAC’s contract with the San Diego game includes a secondary clause for four of the six years that stipulates the league will serve as a backup in the event a primary team does not fill its spot. For example, Army is slotted into the Poinsettia Bowl in 2015, but if it is not bowl eligible, the MAC would provide a substitute.
In addition, under the new BCS format that begins in 2014, the highest-rated champion from the Group of Five will automatically be awarded a berth in the Peach, Cotton, or Fiesta bowl on a rotating basis.
“We certainly expect to have our champion competing for that bid on an annual basis,” Steinbrecher said.
Like the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, two of the new bowls (Camellia and Boca Raton) will be owned and operated by ESPN, which Steinbrecher lauded as “a good partner that provides a tremendous marketing push and financial stability.”
Steinbrecher and his fellow commissioners from the non-power conferences have certainly done their parts to bring together civic, corporate and TV partners in a variety of locations to enhance bowl opportunities for their member schools. Now it’s up to those schools and the fans to make it work.
“These steps help grow our brand and the next step is to grow our following,” Steinbrecher said. “Any time we’ve been considered for an at-large bowl berth the first question asked deals with how many people travel and what’s a reasonable expectation for ticket sales. We need to continue to improve. I believe some of these attractive destinations should help.
“Don’t forget, this is still relatively new for us. We’re barely more than a decade removed from being a one-bowl conference. We’ll grow into this, I think. These attractive destinations should help. There’s a lot of sun and sand now.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.