More bowls priority for Sun Belt ADs

Brad Stephens

WKU found itself without a bowl last season despite a 7-5 record.

That scenario could play out again for the Toppers and other Sun Belt Conference teams before 2014.

Sun Belt athletic directors discussed potential changes to the bowl system last week in New Orleans.

WKU Athletic Director Ross Bjork said “the first priority” for the league is getting more bowls with Sun Belt ties. Currently the New Orleans Bowl and the Bowl in Mobile, Ala., have primary tie-ins with the league, and bowl tie-ins cannot be re-allotted until the current Bowl Championship Series cycle ends after the 2013 season.

“We’ve got to get more primary agreements and we’ve got to get more secondary agreements,” Bjork said. “And the window to do that right now is closed.”

Bjork said several sites were talked about as bowl tie-ins which would “make sense” for the league, including the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. 

But there’s a chance some of those bowls won’t exist when the next bowl cycle rolls around.

One proposal would require seven wins for bowl eligibility, as opposed to the current minimum record of 6-6.

That model would accommodate teams with winning records like the 2011 WKU squad, which was shut out of a bowl while 14 teams with six wins were selected.

But the decreased number of eligible teams would logically decrease the number of bowl games.

Bjork said he favors a model in which 6-6 teams could be selected — but only after all teams with winning records have been accommodated.

Whatever changes occur to the bowl system go in part through WKU President Gary Ransdell.

Ransdell represents the Sun Belt as part of a 12-member BCS Oversight Committee which has final say on bowl matters.

That committee will meet several times over the next few months to discuss bowl models before bidding out a package to television networks, Ransdell said.

“It’s a very fluid process but one that’ll be important in defining the future of the BCS,” Ransdell said.

Bjork said the automatic qualifier status which gives the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-10 and Southeastern Conferences easier access to BCS bowls will reportedly be eliminated, helping leagues like the Sun Belt.

Middle Tennessee State Athletics Director Chris Massaro said he hopes that elimination of the AQ will open the door for Sun Belt teams to play in big, revenue-producing bowls.

“I want to make sure that conferences like ours … have got meaningful postseason if somebody goes 12-0,” Massaro said. “No. 1, let’s take care of the top.”

Bowl discussions have taken place during a transitional phase for the Sun Belt, as Commissioner Wright Waters is retiring this summer.

Waters’ replacement has yet to be named.

Bjork said that has put discussions about early invitations on hold.

Last year, the New Orleans and Bowl bids were given to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State in late November, though WKU still had a chance to win the league.

“I think people know how we feel about it, and we’ll address some of those things with new leadership in the conference,” Bjork said. “Wright’s done a great job of growing football, but some of the new ideas honestly just need to wait until we have a new commissioner.”