American seeking to have flexible bowl lineup
The American Athletic Conference's football media day came and went this week without a formal announcement of the league's bowl contracts for the cycle that will start next season, but associate commissioner Nick Carparelli Jr. said it will be a flexible lineup.
Under the new system, the American's football champion will have a spot in a national top-six bowl -- a "host bowl" -- if it is the highest ranked champion out of the American, Mountain West, MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt. If the American champ doesn't go there, the league would have multiple options to place its champion, finding the best match of geography and a high-profile opponent.
"We obviously would like to have our whole lineup done now, and ideally you'd announce your whole bowl lineup at once. It just doesn't happen that way," Carparelli said. "It doesn't make any sense to force (an announcement) that's not ready to be made. The lineup will unfold naturally as the deals are done."
The American has announced a pairing with the Military Bowl in Annapolis, and commissioner Mike Aresco said the league has "well-developed plans" for a bowl it will operate at Marlins Park in Miami. The league also expects to renew its relationships with two ESPN-produced bowls, the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg and the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. With SMU and Houston joining the league, expect a presence in Texas, in bowls in Fort Worth and/or Houston. The league will likely have several "split" deals, with three appearances in the six-year cycle, and the Hawaii Bowl is likely to be one of those options.
"We're really pleased with the Military Bowl announcement being the first one," Carparelli said. "I think it satisfies our goals: It's a unique destination for people against a quality opponent in our geography. There are five schools that can drive there. We're hopeful our entire bowl lineup reflects that. If nothing else, when our bowl lineup is complete, we'll be able to say we're playing in some great destinations against quality opponents, and that will be something that really separates ourselves from the group of conferences we're being lumped in with."
The Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where Conference USA's champion has played in recent years, is still a possibility, and the league is stressing the flexibility of the upcoming lineup, allowing to optimize every pairing rather than adhere to a strict hierarchy of selections.
"There may be years where we elect to decide at the end of the year where the best place for our champion is," Carparelli said. "You can take account geography, take account who the opponent ends up being. What you're seeing in the bowl system is you don't know at the beginning of the year what the best bowls are going to be. Giving ourselves some flexibility to put our champion in the best location for them against the best opponent that year makes more sense. It could be anywhere in our lineup, to be honest."