Irish remain coveted bowl property
When the Sun Bowl landed the Irish four years ago, it only felt like Bernie Olivas had won the lottery. The game’s executive director went home that weekend hoping that matching Notre Dame with Miami would turbocharge the game around El Paso, Texas.
It did by selling out in barely 19 hours.
“Tickets were gone immediately,” Olivas said. “By the time I got to the office Monday morning after the selection there weren’t any available.”
If Notre Dame returns to El Paso this postseason, Olivas will have to win an actual lottery as the Irish will be coveted property among the ACC’s “Tier 1” bowls, meaning the Sun, Belk, Pinstripe and Music City. The TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly the Gator Bowl) is technically an option, although that would require the Music City to pass on the Irish.
For the Sun, Belk, Music City or Pinstripe to pick the Irish, they must first inform the ACC of their intentions to do so. Then the league will conduct a drawing to determine which game gets Notre Dame. Officials from the Sun, Belk and Music City all told Irish Illustrated that they intend to request the Irish.
The Pinstripe Bowl, where Notre Dame played Rutgers last year, could not be reached for comment, although it’s believed the program is reluctant to repeat that destination in back-to-back seasons. Notre Dame would draw a Big 10 opponent in the Pinstripe, potentially Penn State or Maryland.
The ACC’s other bowl options fit more what Notre Dame wants in scheduling, particularly the Belk (Charlotte, N.C.) and Music City (Nashville, Tenn.). Both have contracts with the SEC, meaning the Irish could draw LSU, Auburn, Georgia or Tennessee.
“We’ll want to be in the drawing and we’ve got a lot of interest,” said Music City Bowl president and CEO Scott Ramsey. “Hopefully there’s interest from Notre Dame that we’re a place the team, players and administration want to go.”
Louisville could be a viable backup option for the Music City while the Belk could settle for North Carolina State. The Sun would have the toughest time travelling an ACC fan base considering its distance from the conference foot print. That’s part of the reason why Notre Dame was so attractive in 2010.
Despite El Paso getting hit with a blizzard the night before the game, that Sun Bowl drew 54,021. It’s averaged 47,986 in the three seasons since.
“Absolutely, we want Notre Dame. Are you kidding me?” Olivas said. “Who doesn’t want to see Notre Dame play live? They’re difficult to see play anywhere else.”
The Sun would match Notre Dame against a Pac-12 team, likely Washington or Utah. The Irish wouldn’t get a regular season rematch with USC, Stanford or Arizona State while the bowl would want to avoid UCLA, which played in El Paso last postseason.
Olivas said the bowl that draws Notre Dame would automatically get the Irish, although Ramsey said the games would likely have to work with the University to ensure the match.
Neither Olivas, Ramsey or Belk Bowl executive director Will Webb knew when the ACC would conduct the drawing for Notre Dame, although the final College Football Playoff rankings could impact the ACC’s inventory.
If Florida State wins out to make the playoffs, Clemson could go to the Orange Bowl with Georgia Tech headed to the Russell Athletic Bowl. That would leave Notre Dame in a pool with Louisville (9-3), Boston College (7-5), North Carolina State (7-5) and Duke (9-3) as the five teams vying for the four slots in the Belk, Pinstripe, Sun and Music City.
Louisville and Duke would be assured to make one of the “Tier 1” bowls at worst by virtue of their record. Boston College or North Carolina State could be left out.
Notre Dame won’t be, regardless of its four-game skid.
“Despite the last game, I think they’re still a wonderful program that we’ll be sitting here looking at,” Webb said. “We have good options. Notre Dame is a great brand.”
While it won’t happen now, Notre Dame could qualify for the TaxSlayer Bowl in future seasons if it fails to make the playoffs, Orange Bowl or Russell Athletic Bowl. The TaxSlayer and Music City have an agreement that states the TaxSlayer can ship its Big 10 team to Nashville and the Music City can send its ACC team to Jacksonville, if both games agree on the swap.
However, Ramsey said the Music City has the right of first refusal on that trade and wouldn’t consent if it meant losing Notre Dame.
“Occasionally we’re going to want the same team as the TaxSlayer, so we needed an internal tiebreaker, a possession arrow,” Ramsey said. “Right now we’ve got that first possession arrow. We put that in the agreement for Notre Dame or if there was some other team that was just really perfect for both of us.
“But once you use that possession arrow, it flips to the other guys.”