Every so many years, conferences renew their affiliations with bowl games. The bowl committees will sometimes realign their position in the selection order among teams within a conference, and other times they will change conference affiliation all together. The last time the BIG EAST went through this process was 2010, signing agreements through 2013.
Three seasons later, six of the nine teams available to be selected for the BIG EAST bowl lineup have left or will be leaving the conference by the time the agreement is due for renewal. Yes, the BIG EAST has already planned to replace the teams on the way out, but are Tulane and East Carolina as attractive to bowls and television networks as Notre Dame and West Virginia? Hardly.
While the BIG EAST's membership was decreasing, other conferences have been more fortunate. With the ACC's membership increasing from 12 to 15 teams (including Notre Dame) and the Big Ten's membership has increasing from 12 to 14 teams over the next couple years, the two conferences are likely to produce more bowl eligible teams than before. Since the number of bowl games is likely to remain at 35, several of the bowls once affiliated with the BIG EAST are likely to look elsewhere.
So let's take a look at the six non-BCS bowls currently affiliated with the BIG EAST and predict which conference they will be affiliated with going forward.
Russell Athletic Bowl
Location: Orlando, Florida
Affiliation: #2 BIG EAST vs. #3 ACC
Date: Between Christmas and New Years
Swag: A $420 shopping trip to Best Buy, Timely watch.
Notes: This is the BIG EAST's top destination outside of their BCS bowl. Players from any northern school would love the opportunity to spend New Years in a nice warm location. Being close to Disney World is an added benefit, plus the Russell Athletic Bowl has the best Twitter account of any bowl.
Prediction: With major turnover in the BIG EAST's membership, plus the loss of Notre Dame as an option, look for this to change. Since the ACC is already affiliated with this bowl, the BIG EAST's spot would most likely go to another newly expanded conference, perhaps the SEC.
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Affiliation: #3 BIG EAST vs. #5 ACC
Date: Between Christmas and New Years
Swag: Shopping trip to Belk department store, Fossil watch
Notes: Hosted in a relatively warm area for late December, this bowl has a history of turning out large crowds. Pitt's last time in this bowl fell on December 26th, which hurt attendance, but the player's were able to take stock cars for a spin at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Prediction: Like the Russell Athletic Bowl, this bowl is already aligned with the ACC. As for the BIG EAST, I can see them remaining affiliated with this bowl. What will most likely change will be the selection order in the BIG EAST, perhaps sending the league's top team not playing in a BCS bowl.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Location: New York, New York
Affiliation: BIG EAST vs. Big XII
Date: A day or two before New Years Eve
Swag: The bowl committee would not disclose gift details for 2012, but last year’s gifts included a Sony video camera, Armitron watch, Balfour ring, and a New Era duffel bag, caps, a winter hat, hoodie, sweatpants, thermal, polo and crew shirt.
Notes: Yes, this is a cold weather city, and that may turn some fans off...but that does not change the fact that this game is played in New York City at Yankee Stadium around New Years Eve. In its three years of existence, the Pinstripe Bowl has selected Syracuse twice and Rutgers once because of the local fan bases.
Prediction: With both Syracuse and Rutgers leaving the BIG EAST, this bowl becomes the hottest commodity on the open market. If there is a single opening in this bowl, I believe the Big Ten gets the nod as it's all part of their plan to expand into the New York market. However, the Pinstripe Bowl can do better than the 7th selection from the now 10-team Big XII conference. I look for this to open the door to an annual match-up between the ACC and Big Ten, the two power conferences with footprints in the New York City area.
BBVA Compass Bowl
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Affiliation: #5 BIG EAST vs. #8/9 SEC
Date: After New Years
Swag: Fossil watch, Oakley Dispatch II sunglasses, wireless portable speaker, backpack, football.
Notes: The game is played in the middle of Alabama at historic Legion Field the weekend after New Years. Translation: the game is played in the middle of nowhere at a stadium that is a dump after everyone has used their vacation and returned to work.
Prediction: The BIG EAST can keep this one, I don't see the ACC expressing any desire to add this bowl to their lineup. In fact, having this affiliation in the ACC would be cause enough for Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech to all leave the conference.
Autozone Liberty Bowl
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Affiliation: #5 BIG EAST vs. #1 Conference USA or #8/9 SEC
Date: New Years Eve
Swag: Sol Republic Tracks HD Anthem headphones, Bulova watch, Nike athletic shoes and sandals, Nike sunglasses, Nike backpack, football.
Notes: This bowl is affiliated with the league in such a way that it does not have to select a BIG EAST team if the BBVA Compass Bowl and the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl do...yet oddly enough, it has the most desirable date of any BIG EAST bowl game. The game also has quite a history and is one of the oldest non-BCS bowls.
Prediction: I could see the BIG EAST's loose affiliation with this bowl going to the ACC in such a way that it would depend on the number of bowl eligible teams in the ACC and SEC to determine who would receive the bid.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Affiliation: #6 BIG EAST vs. Conference USA
Date: Before Christmas
Swag: Jawbone Jambox, Oakley Dispatch II sunglasses, Oakley backpack, Schutt mini-helmet. At least this bowl is showing creativity.
Notes: Another bowl played in a baseball stadium on an undesirable date (sponsored by an undesirable place to eat)...but at least it's in a warm area. The match-up against a lower tier Conference USA opponent doesn't make it very desirable to the power conferences.
Prediction: The affiliations with this bowl will most likely not change. Both Conference USA and the BIG EAST will need to have some bowl games in their lineup, no reason it shouldn't be this one.