Today's bowl announcements not good news for independent BYU
If they become bowl-eligible with six wins or more this season not a gimme considering the difficulty of the schedule the BYU Cougars will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 27 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. What about 2014, and beyond? Certainly, the Cougars won't be returning to the KFH Bowl, which moves to the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara (Levi's Stadium). That's because the bowl announced Monday that it will pit foes from the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences for six straight years, beginning in 2014. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego also made an announcement Monday, saying the Big Ten will replace the Big 12 and face a Pac-12 opponent in that post-Christmas bowl game. That the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is not available to independent BYU is mildly disappointing for BYU fans. There are a lot of them in the Bay Area, and it is one less postseason option for the Cougars.
BYU ever receiving an invitation to return to the Holiday Bowl is a very, very slim possibility, bowl director Bruce Binkowski told me last winter at the Poinsettia Bowl, so today's announcement out of San Diego is not all that disconcerting for the Cougars. They saw it coming. They were never really in the picture for the bigger, more lucrative of San Diego's two bowl games. Also Monday, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, announced that it has extended its partnership with the Pac-12 for six more years beginning in 2014. According to a Sun Bowl release, its selection committee is "currently under negotiations to bring a quality opponent from a current Bowl Championship Series conference to match up with the Pac-12." The bowl currently matches teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference against teams from the Pac-12. So where does that leave BYU, which does not have any bowl contracts past this year? When he met with reporters on May 29, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said he is currently negotiating with several bowls and was hoping to have some news soon. It wouldn't be a surprise if that news comes Wednesday during the football media day. But don't count on it. "We are in talks right now, as most people are," Holmoe said. "It is different as an independent because most of the talks with bowls [center] around conferences. I think when we first went into the ESPN contract, which was tied into our independence, a lot of the ADs and commissioners were thinking that it might eventually open up a little bit more, maybe like it had in the past, where the bowl games wouldn't be as tied to the conferences. And that was a real positive, thinking that we could go like the old days, where you could kinda negotiate your bowls. I mean, it wouldn't be as free-standing as it was. But I think that it is kind of going to be similar to what it has been. So I wouldn't anticipate that the Cotton Bowl is going to open up. I would think that the teams and the conferences will align as they have in the past cycle in the future cycles." Monday, Holmoe's prediction came true with the Sun Bowl, Holiday Bowl and KFH Bowl announcements. Bowls want that security that comes with ties to specific conferences. "There are a few more bowls that we are in discussions with, but any game that we have played in the past would be happy to have us back," Holmoe said. "And there are a few other games that we haven't been in that we are having discussions with. You are talking about a six-year cycle that most of the bowls, and the conferences, are looking at, so we have kinda tried to fit into that." Holmoe said he doesn't want to get locked into the same bowl year after year. "I think it is important for us as an independent, one of the things we want to do is get out, and give access to our fans, and be able to show the country BYU Cougar football," he said. "So what we did the last years in bowls is we played in four different bowl games, and I would like to do that in the future. It is a different cycle, so things are a little bit different as far as that goes, but I can see possibly playing one or two bowl games for two years, possibly three. Or we could play six games in six different bowls." As an independent, BYU obviously has to hammer out its own bowl agreements, whereas in the past it went where the Mountain West Conference was contracted to go, which often meant Las Vegas. Holmoe said he has been in discussions with both bowls and conferences, perhaps hoping to be a part of a league's contingency plans. "In some cases the bowls will want to come to us if they are not aligned. Some of them are aligned, but have openings. When I say both, some of the conferences don't necessarily like locking themselves into a six-year [agreement] with the same conferences because generally teams follow a similar slotting of where they finish. So, for example, there was the possibility that we could play Oregon State three times in a row in the Vegas Bowl. We are a good change of pace for a game. Whether it was any year around those slots, that's where the conferences were available. Some of them are going, 'Look, you are not getting into our game. We got it. Thanks for the call.' Others are like, 'that's interesting. That might be helpful.' And then even if you don't do that, you can still set the tempo for the future so that you might be able to negotiate. We actually had that in the past, where if we finished at a certain level, a bowl would let us out and we could go to a different bowl that had an opening or was tied to conferences. I am leaving ourselves open, but I am hoping that we can contract with bowls like we did when we went independent. We didn't do them all at first. But we could possibly do a couple in the next couple of months. We could do a multiple [deal], but I wouldn't see anything being more than three years, out of six. One of the things that is nice and we have to follow the same strategy or tact as we are with scheduling, since we have the opportunity to go to multiple bowls that other people don't, is to take advantage of that. So I mean, we could play in the you name the bowl, six years in a row. But would that be the best for our program? I doubt it. Because you would maybe be playing the same conference, and that limits what you can do. I kinda like the idea, and so does Bronco, of spreading it out. We might be in a bowl game that is an unusual bowl game, but for what we are, and for who we are in a given year, it might be great. Now, to do that, you spread out, and it might not be great for the fans in a given year. You like to stay somewhat close to home and the West. But maybe one or two years you can expand and go somewhere new. I am not trying to float out any rumors. I don't have anything [concrete], but I am talking with some people preliminarily to see what their interest is." Would BYU be interested in playing in a bowl game in Los Angeles, if that long-rumored game gets set up? "Hey, I am interested in all the possibilities of a bowl game," Holmoe said. "There are some [bowl] games that look to be coming on. But there are so many bowl games. Those games have to be approved on an annual basis. And so I certainly wouldn't want to get us in a bowl game that doesn't come off. And that's possible. We probably would make sure that there is a pretty darn good shot that that game would be played that year."