GREENSBORO, Ga. | The ACC will welcome the Congressional Bowl as its ninth postseason tie-in this season, though the new game’s date could pose conflicts with conference schools still in the midst of final exams deep into the third week of December.
Maryland concludes final exams on the same day as the Dec. 20 game at Nationals Park, while both Boston College and Virginia Tech complete exams two days earlier - creating the possible need for juggling schools late in the conference’s bowl selection process.
“We’ve been up front with the bowl about that,” Michael Kelly, the ACC’s associate commissioner for football operations, said at the league’s football kickoff event. “They know it, and the schools know about the opportunity. I think there’s at least nine of our schools that can do it. There’s two or three that have said they can’t. We haven’t formalized it yet.”
The school with an obvious conflict is Maryland, which (if available) would be a natural fit for the nascent bowl game. In recent years, coach Ralph Friedgen was reluctant to schedule bowl practices more than once during exam week, and even then it usually fell on a Sunday.
The date, though, might not hinder Maryland’s participation. Brian Ullmann, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director for external operations, said the athletic department has received permission from professors for players to take exams at a later date in past years.
“It does pose some problems, but as of today we couldn’t say, ‘We can’t accept a bid,’” Ullmann said. “I’m confident we’d be able to figure it out.”
Navy, which has a one-year agreement to play in the Congressional Bowl if it wins six games, finishes exams Dec. 18.
A source familiar with the bowl said there is optimism the game can land a date between Christmas and New Year’s Day in future years. That also would move the game well past the end of the fall semester and perhaps late enough to avoid forcing teams to spend Christmas in a hotel.
A later date could prove critical to the game’s long-term success, especially since the ACC would prefer to avoid logistical questions connected with final exams. The league faced a similar situation in 2004, when Virginia declined an invitation to the Dec. 21 Champs Sports Bowl because of its exam schedule and ultimately played in what is now the Humanitarian Bowl nearly a week later.
The ACC hasn’t had an agreement with a pre-Christmas bowl in the last three years.
“It is important for the future and we’ve made it pretty much conditional that future discussions would be dictated by having a post-Christmas game,” Kelly said.
Any concerns about exam schedules could prove irrelevant anyway. The Congressional Bowl has the ninth selection among ACC schools, and the conference has produced only eight bowl-eligible teams in each of its three seasons as a 12-school league.
But if nine teams are eligible, it would be possible for other bowls - such as the Humanitarian Bowl, the Boise, Idaho-based game in its final year of an agreement with the ACC - to swap teams to make sure each eligible program can participate in the postseason.
“With those lower selections, the business points are pretty similar,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t hurt us that bad. We can be pretty flexible in terms of ‘Hey, we’re sorry this team simply isn’t available’ or ‘They are available and would love to be in D.C.’ We’ll have more of those subjective discussions when we get closer.”