With many of the Big Ten's bowl agreements expiring after the 2013 season, the Big Ten is rethinking many of their current relationships with bowl games. Some are set in granite, like the Rose Bowl. Others have long term agreements, like the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. But others are more tenuous, and are open for change.
Currently after the BCS bowl games, the Big Ten has agreements with the Capital One, Tampa's Outback Bowl, Jacksonville's Gator Bowl, Phoenix's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Houston's Meineke Car Care Bowl, Dallas' Heart of Texas Bowl, and Detroit's Little Caesar's Bowl.
As I see it, the attractiveness of an bowl revolves around these four attributes:
Desirable Location. Is it a place that football fans want to spend their Christmas break at? Let's make it clear: the bowl games in Boise, Idaho and Shreveport, Louisiana are mocked for a reason.
Ease of Travel: Air travel during the holidays is expensive, and sometimes difficult to set up a couple of weeks before Christmas. If the destination is within a days drive, that's always an attractive option for fans.
Day/Time of Game: Bowl games within a day or two of Christmas force fans to make a choice between celebrating the holiday with family or following the team. Almost always, family wins out. Also, not everybody gets the week off between Christmas and New Year's. Those afternoon games on workdays are frequently not seen on TV by fans who can't get the time off. So those are games you want to avoid relationships with as well.
Television & Opponent: Nearly every game is televised by ESPN now, but a few games get bumped to the digital cable-only ESPNU network. It's no good to play if your fans at home can't watch. And opponents matter as well; you want the game to feature a matchup with a quality opponent, which means you have to make sure that bowl has an agreement with another good conference.
Needless to say, the Little Caesar's Bowl fails almost every criteria. The game typically is on ESPN, but it's in Detroit. (Not attractive). It's the day after Christmas. (Not attractive) And it's against a MAC opponent. (Not attractive.) So even though it's an easy trip for many Big Ten fans, it's not a good bowl for the Big Ten.
What makes for a good bowl for the Big Ten? There is no perfect bowl, so any bowl is going to require compromise. The Rose Bowl is a given. Starting in 2014, the Big Ten has secondary arrangement with the Orange Bowl to alternate with Notre Dame and the SEC as an ACC opponent. So that's a second top bowl. The Capital One and Outback bowls are in Florida against SEC opponents; those should stay as well, as long as they stay on New Years' Day.
After that? The Gator Bowl might be one too many Florida bowls, and is a candidate for dropping because, well, Jacksonville isn't exactly a tourist mecca. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl has potential. The Phoenix area is a great location, but last year's game kicked off at 9 pm central time. Considering the number of eastern time zone Big Ten teams, that's too late. Plus, Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium is going to be closed for a year or two for a complete renovation. Where will it be played during those years?
Houston is a good location for a lower-tier bowl game: an NFL stadium. It gives the Big Ten an opportunity to play in Texas, which could be useful for recruiting. The "Heart of Texas" Bowl in Dallas has a television problem; it kicks off at 10 am on New Year's morning (after everybody is still recovering from the night before) on ESPNU. That's a bowl that needs to go unless it gets a better timeslot.
Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggests adding the Holiday, Pinstripe, and Fight Hunger Bowls to the mix. The Holiday is an underappreciated bowl game with possibly the best destination in California. That's an easy choice. The Pinstripe Bowl is just a novelty. Baseball stadiums are fine for football games once, then you realize the sightlines are horrible. And in Yankee Stadium in December, the weather is awful. The Big XII is leaving this game for a reason; the Big Ten shouldn't be chasing the Big XII's rejects. The "Fight Hunger Bowl" is an interesting idea, and while San Francisco is a nice destination, the Big Ten should be above playing bowl games in converted baseball stadiums. Look elsewhere.
Instead, the Big Ten should look towards Tennessee. Memphis' Liberty Bowl and Nashville's Music City Bowls may not have vacation weather, they are each drivable from most Big Ten schools. Neither are glamorous destinations, but when you think of it as a weekend road trip to follow your team, it's much easier to do than California or Florida.
If you want another presence in Texas, look towards the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Not an easy travel destination, but a nice destination. For an east coast destination, maybe the Charlotte "Belk" Bowl, though that's not exactly drivable except for Ohio State, Rutgers, and Maryland.
What bowl games make the most sense for the Big Ten?