- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

The EagleBank Bowl received a significant scheduling boost Thursday. The second-year event switched from a pre-Christmas date to Dec. 29, game organizers said.

The bowl will start at 4:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium and will be televised by ESPN. The game will feature the No. 8 selection out of the ACC against either Army or a team from Conference USA’s Eastern Division.

“I think it’s a great day for us,” executive director Steve Beck said. “Look at what D.C. has going on that week. Christmas is the 25th, the 27th is the Dallas-Redskins game, the 29th we have the EagleBank Bowl and on the 31st is New Year’s Eve. For people making plans during the holiday, I don’t think there’s a better place to be.”

The date change from Dec. 20 provides flexibility for a game attempting to entrench itself in the fabric of the college football postseason.

The bowl had the ninth selection from the ACC last season but found the early date conflicted with final exams from a few schools - notably nearby Maryland. Rather than delivering an ideal local matchup of Maryland and Navy in the game’s first year, the game invited Wake Forest to play Navy in a regular-season rematch. The Demon Deacons won 29-19 before 28,777.

By moving up a slot, Beck is confident his game will land an ACC team. The conference has produced at least eight bowl eligible teams in each season since expanding to 12 teams in 2005.

The Conference USA agreement, a one-year deal, provides stability in case Army doesn’t record its first winning season since 1996. If the Black Knights’ struggles continue, the EagleBank Bowl will have the ability to invite East Carolina, Central Florida, Marshall, Memphis, Southern Mississippi or UAB without needing to scramble to find an additional team.

East Carolina and Marshall are within a 500-mile drive of the District, a crucial consideration for an event eager to attract out-of-town fans. The other four Eastern Division schools are within 1,000 miles.

“Army, we hope they become bowl eligible. The fact is they haven’t been in a bowl for a few years,” Beck said. “Conference USA is a great replacement if there’s a team in the Eastern Division available. It’s going to make it a regional game.”

Beck, who joined the bowl last fall, said preparations are ahead of last year’s pace. He said he expects the bowl to be the center of a week of events in December.

“Last year was a good event that only a few people heard about,” Beck said. “This year is going to be a great event everybody is going to hear about.”

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