Big Ten: Sugar Bowl

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Five of the Big Ten's bowl agreements expire after the 2009 season, and not surprisingly, the league has received heavy interest from possible new partners.  

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is in discussions with 11 or 12 different bowls, including the five current tie-ins -- Capital One, Outback, Valero Alamo, Champs Sports and Motor City -- that expire after the season.

"It's a great thing to have competition," Delany said. "The incumbents that we have, we have them for a reason, because they do their jobs so well. But it's really important to understand, from a television perspective and a revenue perspective ... it's got to be the right mix."

Delany identified Texas, Florida and California as three states where the Big Ten needs a strong postseason presence because of its national alumni bases. The Texas Bowl is looking to cement conference tie-ins for 2010 and beyond and would give the Big Ten a second game in the Lone Star State.  

The Big Ten's relationship with the Rose Bowl remains as strong as ever, though a change in the Rose Bowl's selection criteria could keep a Big Ten team from playing in Pasadena once every four years. The Rose Bowl is now required to take an eligible non-BCS team if it loses the Big Ten champion or Pac-10 champion to the national title game. 

The policy would only take effect once during the four-year BCS bowl cycle. 

"There was pressure on us to make that change," Delany said. "The Sugar Bowl has had a couple of [non-BCS] teams and the Fiesta Bowl has had one. We believe very strongly that the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions should always be in the Rose Bowl if they're not playing for the [national] championship. ... That opportunity is still there, but there was a desire by others to see us share that."

Most Big Ten coaches who spoke Monday advocated a longer regular season to shorten the prep time for bowl games, in which the league has struggled in recent years. While Delany reiterated his stance on expansion -- not happening any time soon -- he seemed more open to teams playing regular-season games later.

One possibility is the addition of a second open week during the season, which would push games into the first weekend of December.

"On the issue of the schedule and the bye dates and playing games that late, it's probably worth a discussion," Delany said. "We've never had that before. There's not a rule about that. People have gone to Hawaii. We've never really questioned that. There's some coaches and athletic directors who feel more strongly than others about the need to play games late in the year to stay sharp.

"It is a trend."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Utah Utes finished the season with the strongest résumé for a non-BCS program in recent times.

  • Utah (13-0) was the only undefeated FBS team.
  • The Utes swept through the Mountain West Conference, which reached a new level for a non-BCS league.
  • They beat TCU and BYU.
  • They beat an Oregon State team that knocked off No. 1 USC the week before.
  • And they topped it off with quite possibly the most impressive win of the bowl season, a 31-17 triumph against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Sure, USC looked impressive against Penn State, but the Rose Bowl is a virtual home game for the Trojans. Utah essentially beat Alabama in the Crimson Tide's backyard.

And the amazing thing is, Utah's profile could have been a lot better.

Remember who the Utes beat in the season opener Aug. 30? Michigan. Utah outlasted the Wolverines 25-23 to kick off a very special season.

Now imagine Michigan was Michigan, not the rudderless 3-9 product we saw this fall.

What if this was a standard Michigan team, one that finished the season ranked in the top 20? How much better would Utah look with a win in the Big House against a solid Wolverines squad from a solid Big Ten?

I'm not saying it would have put Utah ahead of Florida in the final polls. But as someone who voted the Utes at No. 2 in the ESPN.com final Power Rankings, I would have given a lot of thought to putting Utah on the top line.

As it turned out, Michigan was one of Utah's least impressive victories. Only San Diego State (2-10) had a worse record. The Wolverines are barely mentioned when Utah's résumé is discussed.

Many teams saw this as a good season to play Michigan. But for Utah, the game in Ann Arbor didn't really help.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There were absolutely no surprises in the Big Ten's bowl lineup Sunday, further illustrating why some if not all of the invitations could have been extended earlier, possibly giving fans a chance to save money on travel expenses.

Last Wednesday, I took a look at some sample airfares from Big Ten cities to bowl destinations. At that time, Penn State fans were the only ones who could book their flights to the Rose Bowl.

Using the same major travel Web site, here's what the airfares would cost if you booked them now, based on a two- or three-night stay. Let's see if the delayed announcements made a difference.

OHIO STATE

  • Bowl destination: Tostitos Fiesta (Jan. 5 Glendale, Ariz.)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $408, departing Columbus on Jan. 3 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 6. 
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $315, departing Columbus on Jan. 3 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 6. 
  • Fare difference due to delayed announcement: $93

MICHIGAN STATE

  • Bowl destination: Capital One (Jan. 1 Orlando, Fla.)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $343, departing Detroit on Dec. 30 and returning from Orlando on Jan. 2
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $373, departing Detroit on Dec. 30 and returning from Orlando on Jan. 2.
  • Fare difference due to delayed announcement: It was actually cheaper afterward. 

IOWA

  • Bowl destination: Outback (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $672 (with two stops), departing Cedar Rapids on Dec. 30 and returning from Tampa on Jan. 2
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $499, departing Cedar Rapids on Dec. 30 and returning from Tampa on Jan. 2.
  • Fare difference because of delayed announcement: $173

NORTHWESTERN

  • Bowl destination: Valero Alamo (Dec. 29 in San Antonio)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $322 departing Chicago on Dec. 27 and returning from San Antonio on Dec. 30.
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $372.50, departing Chicago on Dec. 27 and returning from San Antonio on Dec. 30.
  • Fare difference because of delayed announcement: It was cheaper afterward. 

WISCONSIN

  • Bowl destination: Champs Sports (Dec. 27 in Orlando, Fla.)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $364 (with two stops), departing Madison, Wis., on Dec. 26 and returning from Orlando on Dec. 28. The cost would be $365 nonstop departing from Milwaukee.
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $344 (with two stops), departing Madison, Wis., on Dec. 26 and returning from Orlando on Dec. 28. The cost would be $365 nonstop departing from Milwaukee.
  • Fare difference because of delayed announcement: $20 from Madison, no difference from Milwaukee. 

MINNESOTA

  • Bowl destination: Insight (Dec. 31 Tempe, Ariz.)
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 9: $530, departing Minneapolis on Dec. 29 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 1
  • Roundtrip airfare on Dec. 3: $480, departing Minneapolis on Dec. 29 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 1.
  • Fare difference because of delayed announcement: $50

The delayed announcement wasn't too expensive except for Iowa fans, who could have saved a lot by booking their Outback Bowl flights last week. Ohio State fans living in an area hit especially hard by the economic downturn also wouldn't mind holding onto an extra $100. 

I understand the BCS and the bowls wanting to make a big splash by announcing all the selections on one day, like college basketball does in March. But for once, it would be nice to see the college football powers-that-be do something that actually benefits the fans. It was painfully obvious that Ohio State would receive an at-large BCS berth early last week, so why the delay? All the other Big Ten tie-in bowls could have given out their invitations last week.

College football probably will never give the fans what most of them want (a playoff system), so the least it could do is allow them to save some dough on bowl travel. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Barring a major surprise on Sunday, No. 10 Ohio State will be going to a BCS bowl for the fourth consecutive season. 

The Buckeyes needed No. 5 USC to beat UCLA today and the Trojans obliged, posting a not-too-impressive 28-7 victory at the Rose Bowl. USC will be heading back to Pasadena to face No. 8 Penn State on Jan. 1, while the Buckeyes in all likelihood will receive a BCS at-large berth to the Fiesta or Sugar bowls. 

Georgia appears headed to the Capital One Bowl, where it likely will face No. 21 Michigan State. And as I reported earlier, Minnesota is a near lock for the Insight Bowl, while Wisconsin would go to the Champs Sports. 

The only major decision Sunday involves Northwestern and Iowa, which both are vying for the Outback Bowl. Northwestern won the head-to-head and has a better overall record, but all indications I've received this week point to the 22nd-ranked Wildcats going to the Alamo Bowl and Iowa heading to the Outback. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

My good friend Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for CNBC and used to do the same for ESPN.com, had an excellent blog post earlier this week about how the Big Ten's delay in announcing bowl pairings likely will increase travel costs for fans

Flights aren't getting any cheaper, and in an already struggling economy, Big Ten fans could have some tough decisions about whether or not to travel to their teams' bowl games. Keep in mind that Big Ten fans usually have to travel farther than anyone else to bowls and live in states (Michigan, Ohio) that are being hit extremely hard by the economic downturn. 

While other leagues already have announced bowls, the Big Ten likely will wait until Sunday to announce all the pairings because the league hopes to get two teams into BCS games, which would shuffle the selection. Penn State fans are the only ones who can book their bowl travel plans right now. 

It's a tough situation. Non-BCS bowls like the Outback, Alamo and Insight could assume Ohio State will get a BCS at-large berth and extend invitations to teams that they think will be available after the final BCS standings are released. But things could change this weekend, and bowls could miss out on more attractive teams.

Still, Rovell brings up some excellent points as he describes his own difficulty in trying to attend Northwestern's bowl matchup:

When you look at the attendance for these second-tier bowls, you are going to see one thing that's going to be interesting. While you'll still be able to correlate size of fan base to butts in the seats, you'll notice that the bowls that will do better will be the bowls in which at least one of the teams is within a 12-hour drive. That's probably the max someone is willing to drive, even with cheap gas prices. ...

The only thing that can be done for me is for the Big Ten and the bowls to realize that, for the sake of these unprecedented times, they should announce all the Big Ten slots [minus where Ohio State goes] now. Otherwise, I'll be watching on my flat screen.

I went to a major travel Web site and looked at air travel costs from Big Ten-area airports to some possible bowl sites, based on two- or three-night stays. I'll revisit this in a few days to see if these costs increase. These are estimates.

OHIO STATE

Possible bowl destination: Fiesta (Jan. 5 in Tempe, Ariz.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $315, departing Columbus on Jan. 3 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 6. 

Possible bowl destination: Sugar (Jan. 2 in New Orleans)

Roundtrip travel cost: $305, departing Columbus on Dec. 31 and returning from New Orleans on Jan. 3.

MICHIGAN STATE

Possible bowl destination: Capital One (Jan. 1 in Orlando)

Roundtrip travel cost: $373, departing Detroit on Dec. 30 and returning from Orlando on Jan. 2. 

Possible bowl destination: Outback (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $418, departing Detroit on Dec. 30 and returning from Tampa on Jan. 2 (note: You could reduce the cost by flying into Orlando, only 81 miles away). 

IOWA

Possible bowl destination: Outback (Jan. 1 Tampa, Fla.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $499, departing Cedar Rapids on Dec. 30 and returning from Tampa on Jan. 2. 

Possible bowl destination: Alamo (Dec. 29 in San Antonio)

Roundtrip travel cost: $348, departing Cedar Rapids on Dec. 27 and returning from San Antonio on Dec. 30. 

NORTHWESTERN

Possible bowl destination: Alamo (Dec. 29 in San Antonio)

Roundtrip travel cost: $372.50, departing Chicago on Dec. 27 and returning from San Antonio on Dec. 30.

Possible bowl destination: Outback (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $402, departing Chicago on Dec. 30 and returning from Tampa on Jan. 2.

WISCONSIN

Possible bowl destination: Champs Sports (Dec. 27 in Orlando)

Roundtrip travel cost: $344 (with two stops) departing Madison, Wis., on Dec. 26 and returning from Orlando on Dec. 28. The cost would be $365 nonstop departing from Milwaukee. 

Possible bowl destination: Insight (Dec. 31 in Tempe, Ariz.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $458, departing from Madison, Wis., on Dec. 29 and returning from Phoenix on Jan. 1. The cost would be $402 (with two stops) from Milwaukee. 

MINNESOTA

Possible bowl destination: Champs Sports (Dec. 27 in Orlando)

Roundtrip travel cost: $330, departing Minneapolis on Dec. 26 and returning from Orlando on Dec. 28. 

Possible bowl destination: Insight (Dec. 31 in Tempe, Ariz.)

Roundtrip travel cost: $480, departing Minneapolis on Dec. 29 and returning from Phoenix on Dec. 31. 

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