ByHarry MiniumConference USA is at times a convenient punching bag for some in the media, but not even the most cynical among us can knock the league’s uncanny ability to snag quality football bowl games.
C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod recently announced the league’s bowl lineup for the next six years, 2020 through 2025, and it provides the league’s 14 members a minimum of seven bowl slots per year in some pretty exotic locations.
Senior Associate Commissioner Merton Hanks also played a role in putting together the attractive bowl package.
C-USA has traditionally negotiated bowl packages comparable to or better than other Group of 5 leagues. C-USA has more guaranteed bowl games than the Sun Belt (five) or Mid-American Conference (four) and can negotiate to place other teams in bowls should more than seven qualify.
All games likely will be televised by an ESPN-affiliated network.
Old Dominion is coming off a 1-11 season and first-year coach Ricky Rahne faces a difficult schedule that includes home games with Virginia and Wake Forest, so expecting a bowl bid in 2020 might be overly optimistic.
But when Rahne takes the Monarchs to a bowl, and it’s not a matter of if but when, it will be a good one.
“Commissioner MacLeod and Merton Hanks did a great job of setting up this deal,” Rahne said. “It speaks well for our league that ESPN believes we will fill that many slots. That shows our league has a lot of respect.
“The bottom line is that if you get eligible, you’ve got a great shot at playing.”
Some bowl details: C-USA will continue to send teams every season to the Bahamas Bowl to face a MAC opponent and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl to face a Sun Belt team.
C-USA will send teams to the Hawai’i Bowl in 2020, 2022 and 2024. C-USA will also send teams to the Independence Bowl in 2021 and 2025 and the bowl will have a secondary agreement with the league every other season.
The final four or five bids, depending on the season, will come from 12 other bowl games.
The potential C-USA bowls, in my preferred order of preference:
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans, La. – I lived in New Orleans as a child and it’s one of my favorite cities to visit, so I’m not unbiased. I’ve never eaten anything less than a great meal in the Big Easy, Bourbon Street always raucous and the people there, an eclectic mix of many cultures, are friendly and interesting. And did I mention the Superdome is the most awesome stadium I’ve ever seen?
Myrtle Beach Bowl, Conway, S.C. – The inaugural game will be played at Coastal Carolina University, where ODU Senior Associate AD Bruce Stewart helped the school usher in football. Coastal doesn’t have a classic stadium but Myrtle Beach has great beaches and golf and plenty of nice beach-front hotels. More importantly, it’s located just 5 ½ hours from Norfolk and would give ODU fans a chance to drive to a bowl game.
Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, Fla. – Tampa is a great city in a warm locale just minutes from one of the best beaches in Florida. The game has a good history and is played in Raymond James Stadium, home of Tom Brady and the Bucs.
Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. – Boca has great beaches and restaurants and is a beautiful place to visit. FAU Stadium is comfortable (ODU’s S.B. Ballard Stadium was partially designed after FAU Stadium) and a five-minute drive to the Atlantic Ocean.
Fenway Bowl, Boston, Mass. – OK, I’m a Red Sox fan. It’s cold in “Bawston” in December, but you get to play in the first bowl ever in one of America’s iconic stadiums. Fenway Park was built in 1912 and is the oldest Major League Baseball Stadium.
Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. – The third of three potential C-USA bowl games played in Florida. The game is held in Exploria Stadium in downtown Orlando just minutes from Disney World.
Hawai’i Bowl, Honolulu, Hawai’i – It’s a difficult destination to reach, but once you get there, you won’t want to leave. Aloha.
Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, the Bahamas – ODU won this game in 2016, beating Eastern Michigan in its first bowl game appearance. Like Hawaii, it’s a difficult to reach but a beautiful place. My wife, Ellen, and I spent two days there after the bowl game. We love the Bahamian people and their culture.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas – The first of three C-USA affiliated bowl games in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. There’s a good chance ODU would play a military academy, which makes for good TV ratings. Army, Navy or Air Force have played in 10 of the last 14 games.
Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. – Shreveport doesn’t have beaches but the game matches C-USA against a Power 5 school, likely from the ACC or SEC, and that’s a great opportunity to make a statement. Louisiana Tech made a statement last year by shutting out Miami, 14-0.
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. – Another bowl in which a C-USA team can make a statement. The bowl usually matches the SEC vs. the AAC, but if either league doesn’t have enough eligible teams, C-USA would likely provide a replacement. Birmingham is a football crazy city. The 71,594-seat Legion Field is short on creature comforts but long on history.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, Dallas, Texas – The game is held in late December, when more TV eyes are watching bowl games. And who wouldn’t want to play in the historic Cotton Bowl?
New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M. – New Mexico is a long way from Norfolk, but it is one of the most beautiful states in America. A Mountain West team would be the most likely opponent.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas – The bowl is played in a booming suburb about 30 minutes from Dallas in the same stadium where the Football Championship Subdivision championship game is staged.
Camellia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. – C-USA teams have played in two of the last three Camellia Bowl games. Montgomery is the Alabama state capital and has a ton of history, including key points in the Civil Rights movement. IA long-shot destination for ODU.but if you’re ever there, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a must-see.
LendingTree Bowl, Mobile, Alabama – The last 11 games have featured MAC and Sun Belt teams. Mobile has a nice downtown area and the USS Alabama is on the waterfront but I doubt if ODU will play there anytime soon.
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