The political season is in full swing with Washington DC all aflutter over the upcoming presidential elections as 2008 has all the markings of a watershed year in the national political spectrum. It could also be the year that the nation's capitol sees a college bowl game introduced to its sports landscape and the MAC could play a significant role.
Nationals Park could be the home of the Congressional Bowl
The Congressional Bowl is one of three proposed new bowl games (joining other proposed bowl games for Salt Lake City, UT and St. Petersburg, FL) that will be presented April 30 to the NCAA for potential approval and the odds appear to be in favor of the proposed Washington, DC bowl game and if things work out, the Mid-American Conference may be sending a team to the inaugural edition of the new bowl game under an agreement recently worked out between the bowl organizers and the MAC.
Headed by the Washington, DC Bowl Committee, and co-founder Sean Metcalf, the new bowl has already shored up television support with ESPN on board with a commitment to televise the proposed bowl game on one of its family of networks on December 20. The bowl game is expected to be played in the brand new home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, Nationals Park, or RFK Stadium.
Navy is already on-board as a potential participant in the Congressional Bowl, with a guaranteed slot assuming the Midshipmen finish no worse than 6-6 in 2008. The Naval Academy, which plays as an independent without conference affiliation, has been to five consecutive bowl games and has most recently participated in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl, as it did in 2005. The Naval Academy however is not contractually signed to return to the Poinsettia Bowl until 2010. Meanwhile the Congressional Bowl has already worked out a deal for Army to play in their game in 2009 should the Cadets be bowl eligible, which is far from guaranteed considering the Black Knights have not appeared in a bowl game since the 1996 Independence Bowl.
The bowl deal gets especially intriguing for MAC fans however when reviewing the bowl's tie-in with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
The ACC has signed on to potentially provide Navy's opponent in 2008 but the ACC is only able to promise its number nine selection among its bowl eligible teams. The ACC however has never had more than eight bowl eligible teams since going to its current twelve-team, two-division alignment in 2005 and, prior to the ACC's recent expansion, had never had more than seven bowl eligible teams.
In the event that the ACC (or Navy) cannot provide a bowl eligible team, the MAC is the Congressional Bowl's backup option and would supply the new bowl with one of its bowl eligible teams.
The MAC had four bowl eligible teams in 2007 but only three bowls were available for the MAC as Ohio, at 6-6, sat home as the odd man out.
Using today's formula for bowl eligibility, the MAC, since going to divisional play in 1997, has had no fewer than five teams that have finished "bowl eligible" at the end of the season from 1997 through 2006 and three times (2000, 2002 and 2005) had as many as seven teams with records that would have qualified them for a bowl appearance. Last season's tally of four bowl eligible teams was the conference's lowest such number of bowl eligible teams in the past ten seasons.
Mid-American Conference commissioner Rick Chryst acknowledged that the MAC is involved in discussions with the proposed Congressional Bowl but emphasized that many of the details are contingent upon the bowl's approval.
"My understanding is that there are three bowls applying for approval before the NCAA licensing committee on April 30. Our conversations (regarding possible approval) have been very positive to this point," stated Chryst who also confirmed that the MAC would act as a "backup" contingency for the Congressional Bowl in the event that either Navy or the ACC were unable to provide a bowl eligible team for the bowl game. However Chryst was also careful to stress that no contracts or deals have been formalized nor will they likely be until the bowl organizers hear from the NCAA on their application.
If the Congressional Bowl receives approval and the conference alignments go forth as currently being reported, the MAC would supply a bowl eligible team, but not necessarily the number four team in the pecking order as determined by the conference's final standings.
"As we have done with our current bowl alliances, we would look to provide the best possible matchups for our teams and for the bowls," added Chryst.
The Congressional Bowl, if approved, would represent the fourth bowl tie-in for the MAC which has agreements currently in place with the Motor City, GMAC and International bowls. Prior to Chryst's arrival as commissioner in 1999, the MAC had only one bowl tie-in with the Motor City Bowl. The additional bowl tie-ins represent areas of ongoing development that Chryst sees as vital to the MAC's continued competitiveness and growth.
"We are stronger in regards to bowl representation than at any point in our (the MAC's) history and these opportunities are significant and vital to our members' football programs," noted Chryst. "We continue to expand our opportunities by playing bowl games in world-class cities and competing against some of the nation's premier conferences and teams."
According to Chryst, the MAC's currently in-place bowl alliances remain on solid ground, including the conference's spot in the GMAC Bowl. "We have a very good relationship with the GMAC Bowl and have had a lot of success there," said Chryst. "We just need to re-engage our competitiveness from the last couple of years." The MAC is 5-2 against Conference USA in the Mobile, AL based bowl but has lost the last two games, including a 63-7 loss by Bowling Green to Tulsa in the most recent edition of the game, after winning the first five in the series.
"The International Bowl continues to grow and we couldn't be happier with the progress they have made in bringing NCAA and MAC football to Canada in only two short years," added Chryst when discussing the MAC's relationship with the only bowl game north of the border.
The success of the Motor City Bowl, the bowl with the longest MAC tie-in, remains the lynchpin of the MAC's current bowl alliances. Last year's game, featuring Central Michigan and Purdue, set a new Motor City Bowl attendance record of 60,624. The MAC has posted a 6-5 mark in the Motor City Bowl.
The MAC is 12-12 overall in bowl appearances since the conference expanded to its current two-division setup in 1997.
Meanwhile, a decision on whether the Congressional Bowl receives approval from the NCAA's licensing committee could come as soon as May 1.