The College Bowl Season is Beginning to Take on a New Look

May 4, 2006

By Brian Hardy


Brian is an assistant editor for and contributes on a regular basis.
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In case you missed it, last week, the NCAA approved four new bowl games. One of the newly added games includes a fifth BCS bowl, which will serve as the national title game that will take place in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 8. But as fans begin to check out next season's bowl schedule, the date of one game in particular may catch the eye - in fact, we may be seeing the start of a different look to bowl scheduling, dictated by the television networks.


While the newly licensed New Mexico Bowl and Birmingham Bowl are both tentatively scheduled for dates in December, the new International Bowl in Toronto, Canada will be played Jan. 6 -- only two days before the BCS national championship game.


In other words, a game featuring the second-or-third-rated team from the Mid-American Conference against the fourth-or-fifth-rated squad in the Big East will be played after the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange Bowls and just two days before the BCS title game.


What exactly is the thinking behind this?


We may just be seeing the start of a more scattered bowl season where the traditional order of bowl games, from the smaller-names to the bigger-names, is abandoned.


For the time being, the International Bowl stands as the only game between the four BCS bowls and the BCS championship, but don't be surprised if this is just the first of several changes.


Ken Hoffman, Executive Director of the newly licensed International Bowl and of the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, said the Jan. 6 date was picked for several reasons.


"It was important for us to have the game on Saturday so that people could come to Toronto and make a weekend out of it," Hoffman said.


Hoffman also mentioned that Jan. 6 was a date when the Rogers Centre - formerly known as SkyDome - was available.


But perhaps the most interesting reason why the date was chosen was that it allows them to take advantage of the newly created "BCS window" that now exists as a result of having the BCS national title game a week after the four other BCS bowls.


"The Jan. 6 date sets the International Bowl apart from others," Hoffman said. "We're the only college football game that day. And I wouldn't be surprised if you start seeing other bowl games start to do the same."


In addition, Hoffman said that ESPN, the network televising the International Bowl, was very excited about the date because it "coincides with their coverage of the NFL Wildcard games on that day, so if makes for a very exciting day for football fans."


While no other bowl games have changed dates to this time, the idea that others may follow suit if not soon, then down the road, certainly looks like a strong possibility.


The Liberty Bowl, which has a tradition of being played on New Year's Eve, left open the possibility of a change to the first week of January down the road.


"Our niche has been New Year's Eve and for next year, we're going to stay on that same date." Harold Graeter, Executive Director of the Liberty Bowl said. "But, we did look at a similar date [as the International Bowl] and we would consider switching dates in the future," he added.


Similar sentiments were expressed from the Tom Starr, the Executive Director of the Fort Worth Bowl - another one of the pre-New Year's Day bowl games.


"We're locked in on the 23rd of December for next season, but we've expressed a willingness on our part to move to the first week of January," Starr said. "We are flexible with our dates. We're not set on a particular day."


Starr also added that ESPN, the network that owns and operates the Forth Worth Bowl, has a big say as to when the bowl game will be played.


Another one of the pre-New Year's Day bowl games, the Independence Bowl, does not have any current plans change its date, according to Patrick Meehan, a spokesperson for the game. But again, if the network that televises the game wanted to change it to a date similar to the International Bowl -- expect it to happen.


"We're happy falling between Christmas and New Year's, Meehan said. "But if ESPN told us to change the date, then we would. It's pretty much what they tell us is what we go with."


So the question remains, is the International Bowl just the start of the breakup of the traditional bowl schedule that college football fans have grown accustomed to? Will we see more of these non-BCS bowls move to dates after New Years and before the BCS title game in this newly created "BCS window?"


The answer to that may just rest with the fans, whose interest translates into the ratings that might push other games to that first week of January.




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