On Wednesday, the NCAA licensed the Congressional Bowl, which, according to officials, wants to invite a service academy team every year – a rotation of Navy, Army and Air Force.
Navy is locked in for ’08 (if it wins six games and, thus, becomes bowl eligible), and Army has signed on for ’09.
Bowl officials want Air Force in ’10. Can it happen?
It will be complicated, as Air Force is affiliated with the Mountain West Conference, while Navy and Army are independent. But it's not out of the realm of possibility as long as the league athletic directors approve a plan.
As explained in the above linked article, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun likes the idea of securing direct tie-ins with bowl games like Navy has had in recent years (for instance with the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl and the 2008 Congressional Bowl).
Calhoun wants the academy to be aggressive in its pursuit of such partnerships because he thinks the opportunity to play in the postseason is an enormous benefit to the program. It provides additional practice days and creates publicity for and excitement within the program.
A bowl in D.C. is especially intriguing because of the amount of graduates living in the area, not to mention the proximity of several Air Force bases and the Pentagon.
Moreover, he worries that Air Force could be left out of the postseason even if it becomes bowl eligible. Remember, even as late as early November in 2007, when the Falcons were 6-3 and technically bowl eligible, there were worries that they wouldn’t make it to a postseason game.
BYU seemed all but locked into the Las Vegas Bowl (even if Air Force had tied the Cougars for the league title – still a possibility at that point – the widespread belief was that the LV Bowl would select BYU). The Poinsettia Bowl was out because Navy was well on its way to securing the aforementioned automatic bid and the bowl wouldn’t host a re-match (Navy and Air Force played earlier in the year). That left the New Mexico Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl for what looked to be three bowl eligible teams – Air Force, New Mexico and TCU.
Well, everything worked out, as Air Force accepted a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl and TCU snuck into the Texas Bowl because the Big 12, with which the Texas Bowl had an affiliation, sent two teams to the BCS and thus did not have a bowl eligible team for the Texas Bowl.
But what if the Big 12 did have a team? Then one of the bowl eligible MWC teams would have been left out, as happened to Wyoming in 2006 – the Cowboys were bowl eligible at 6-6 and did not go bowling. In 2007 there were 32 bowl games for 71 bowl eligible teams.
Calhoun believes at least five of the MWC’s nine teams typically will become bowl eligible each year. And the MWC has just four bowl tie-ins. (They might have had five, but on Wednesday the proposed Rocky Mountain Bowl, which would have been held in Salt Lake City and pitted a MWC team against a team from the Western Athletic Conference, was denied a license). That makes a direct tie-in with the Congressional Bowl a good solution, he said.
“First and foremost, it’s another bowl opportunity,” Calhoun said. “We’re always going to have five (teams) eligible, some years six. So what (a partnership with the Congressional Bowl) does now is maybe it frees up a year where if a team is 6-6, they go to a bowl.”
Calhoun knows why the conference is hesitant: Let’s say Air Force makes a deal with the Congressional Bowl in 2010 that says if the Falcons are bowl eligible, they get an automatic bid to the bowl. What happens if the Falcons go 10-2 that year and win or tie for the conference title? The league would want them in one of its own bowl games.
But Calhoun is quick to remind folks that last year, though Air Force finished second in the league, it could not be chosen by the Poinsettia Bowl, which has second pick of MWC teams, because of the deal with Navy.
So what’s the solution? According to Javan Hedlund, the associate commissioner for communications at the MWC, a potential Air Force tie-in with the Congressional Bowl would have to be approved by all the conference ADs and the league’s bowl partners.
Here’s my plan: Let Air Force arrange its own tie-in with the Congressional Bowl every three years. It will stipulate that Air Force will go to the Congressional Bowl if it becomes bowl eligible unless A) the Falcons win the league title, in which case the Las Vegas Bowl can take them, or B) the Falcons are one of only four bowl-eligible MWC teams and they need to fill a spot in one of the MWC’s four bowls.
How does that not make sense for everyone? It gives the league a chance to keep the Falcons if they win the MWC championship and guarantees the league will fill its four bowl slots. But it also gives the Falcons a chance to play a game that embraces service academies (like the Armed Forces Bowl) in an area that has plenty of built-in graduates and fans.
Air Force was approached by the bowl game but referred the game to the MWC, as its first obligation is the league. But Calhoun’s right. This is a no-brainer.
The academy and the league need to make it happen.