The EagleBank Bowl sought to continue to grow its nascent game in the latest round of college football postseason contracts.
Adding a deal with the Big 12 certainly could meet that aim.
The D.C.-based game announced deals with three conferences and two independents Tuesday, agreements that will carry the bowl through 2013.
The ACC will send its No. 8 selection to the game at RFK Stadium for all four seasons of the agreement. Conference USA is locked into 2010 as a primary partner and 2012 as a backup option to Army. The Big 12 will send its No. 8 selection in 2013 and act as a secondary option if Navy is not bowl eligible in 2011.
“We talked to almost every conference, and we just whittled down the ones that really wanted us,” said Steve Beck, the EagleBank Bowl’s executive director. “With the ACC, Conference USA and the Big 12, I feel those are three conferences that really wanted to be a part of the EagleBank Bowl. They were really coming after us.”
The coup of the deals arguably is the addition of the Big 12, which ensures at least one matchup between power conferences for a game established just last year.
It is also a rare case of a contracted ACC-Big 12 postseason pairing. The conferences met in the Champs Sports Bowl earlier this decade and the last two years in the Gator Bowl.
“We’re the only place that has the ACC-Big 12 matchup to my knowledge in the current bowl lineup and, from what I’ve heard, in the future,” Beck said. “I think that’s huge for us. We have three major conference tie-ins and also two out of three independents.”
The Conference USA deal stipulates a “mutually agreeable regional selection” from the far-flung league will send a representative to the District. In all likelihood, it would be a team from C-USA’s East Division.
Navy (2008) and Army (2009) already had relationships with the EagleBank Bowl.
The same is true of the ACC, which sent its No. 9 selection, Wake Forest, to last year’s game before the conference dropped the Humanitarian Bowl and bumped the EagleBank Bowl up a slot in the bowl pecking order.
Both geography and diversity of opposition created appeal for the ACC to remain with the game.
“It is a great destination but also makes sense for us from a recruiting standpoint and also being in such close proximity that fans can get there with relative ease,” said Michael Kelly, the ACC’s associate commissioner for football operations and communications. “It’s a good variety of opponents. It already was with the service academies. Throw in the Big 12 and Conference USA, and there are unique matchups that we don’t always get during the regular season.”
Before the new deal kicks in, however, the game must still determine its participants for this year’s event. The No. 8 selection from the ACC and Army are under contract. If the Black Knights (3-5) cannot win three of their last four games, the bowl would select a team from Conference USA East, potentially East Carolina or Marshall if they are available.
The ACC, which had 10 bowl-eligible teams last year, is struggling to fill its allotment of nine postseason berths. It isn’t a stretch for the conference to produce just seven bowl-bound teams - a scenario Beck hopes does not develop.
“I believe Conference USA is going to give us a very good regional team, so I do not see that being an issue [if Army doesn’t qualify],” Beck said. “As for the ACC, I still have faith they’ll come through with eight.”