June 6, 2013
Orlando was the ACC football champion's bowl home from 1987-91. More recently, the city has hosted an ACC team for the last 12 postseasons.
Given that history, Orlando is the natural choice to replace Atlanta atop the conference's non-playoff bowl pecking order. And that is precisely what the ACC and Russell Athletic Bowl are poised to finalize.
Combine that swap with a Gator Bowl reunion and Pinstripe Bowl addition, and the ACC gets the postseason upgrade officials envisioned when they added Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville to the league and included Notre Dame in its bowl pool.
Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports and Orlando's two postseason games, said bowls and conferences across the country are "getting close" to finalizing long-term contracts that will start in 2014, the same season in which college football's four-team playoff debuts.
"I'm not sure anybody's in a position to formally (announce)," Hogan said, "but we've never made it a secret that our intention is always to work hard to be at the very top of selection orders with our partners. … Whether we can get that done remains to be seen, but we feel good about it."
Hogan wants the Russell Athletic to have the first choice of ACC teams after the league's champion, which in most years will play in the Orange Bowl against the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference or Notre Dame, an opponent pool far superior to the current BCS structure.
Moreover, Hogan all but confirmed the Big 12 will replace the American Athletic Conference, the former Big East, as the ACC's Russell Athletic opponent.
"It's not official, and we have options," Hogan said, "but the Big 12 is one of those options at a very high level."
With Big Ten and Southeastern Conference teams continuing to clash in the Capital One Bowl, Orlando will be a postseason home for all but one of college football's five major conferences — the Pacific 12 being the exception.
The Cap One used to be called the Citrus Bowl, and as such contracted to invite the ACC champion from 1987-91. Virginia lost to Illinois there after the 1989 season, and a year later, Georgia Tech earned a share of the national title by defeating Nebraska in the Citrus.
When Orlando added a second bowl in 2001, the ACC returned to the city. Virginia Tech defeated Rutgers there in December.
The Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Bowl is the ACC's longest-running postseason partnership at 22 years, and in eight of the past nine years, a ranked ACC team has played there. But for the 2014-25 seasons, the Chick-fil-A will be among the six bowls rotating playoff semifinals, prompting the ACC-Russell Athletic upgrade.
Orlando's Citrus Bowl stadium doesn't rate with the Georgia Dome but soon will. A $200 million-plus facelift is scheduled to be about 90 percent completed by the 2014 postseason.
"We'll have what amounts to a new stadium," Hogan said. "Just the two upper decks are going to remain. Everything else, including escalators and elevators and (concourses) is all brand new from the dirt up."
Another soon-to-be-announced change to the ACC bowl landscape: a game against the Big Ten in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Moreover, ESPN's impeccably connected Brett McMurphy reports that from 2014-19, the ACC and Big Ten will rotate slots in the Gator and Music City bowls, each league playing three times in each game against the SEC.
The ACC sent teams to the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Gator from 1996-2009 before the Gator partnered with the Big Ten and SEC.
Bowls in Charlotte (Belk) and El Paso, Texas (Sun) will remain ACC destinations, and ESPN also reports that the ACC and Big Ten likely will play in a bowl staged at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions' downtown domed stadium.
Unlike present arrangements, conferences will have far more say in assigning teams to their respective bowls, hopefully creating more attractive matchups and avoiding repeat trips for teams — Georgia Tech, for example, played in the last two Sun Bowls.
Moreover, onerous ticket demands will disappear. Virginia Tech was on the hook for 13,500 Russell Athletic tickets last year, an impossible task after a disappointing 6-6 regular season. The Hokies sold fewer than 3,000, and with help from the ACC had to pay for the remaining 10,000-plus.
"I think there's a real motivation to attack school expenses for appearing in bowl games," Hogan said, "whether that be in the form of great deals on hotels, cost-free practice sites. … Chief among them is a reduction in ticket commitments, which will be virtually universal around the country. …
"Everybody's looking for ways to create some flexibility … to get highly competitive teams that don't play a lot and put them on the field. It's compelling and rewarding. I think you'll see a lot more of that … in the new era."
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