The new bowl lineups for the Big Ten for 2010-2014 have been reported, and the first insta-analysis is that they might be better for the Big Ten teams on the field. However, if the conference was looking for a better fan experience, or for more fans to travel for that matter, then I think they missed the mark.
The upshot of the changes are thus: The Alamo Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl depart, replaced by the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, the Texas Bowl in Houston and a new game in Dallas as a sort-of sub-Cotton Bowl (like the Champs Sports is a sub-Citrus/Capital One Bowl). All other tie-ins would remain.
For those scoring at home, that's eight guaranteed slots for an 11-team conference. But since the bowl system is all about fan experience and subsequent cash flow from said fans to the bowls and participating schools, it's worth taking a look at what we're giving up and what we're getting.
The Alamo Bowl was always an underrated venue, primarily because the experience of attending the game was so amazing. San Antonio rolled out the red carpet to traveling fans and media, all of whom spent considerable amounts of time on the city's famed RiverWalk. Great margaritas, great Mexican food, great weather, great all around. Oh, and it's consistently one of the most-watched bowl games all year.
The Champs Sports Bowl was cool for two reasons. One, it got you to Orlando between Christmas and New Years. Two, because it was tied in with the Capital One Bowl, attending fans got to experience a big bowl atmosphere with a smaller-tiered game.
Of the new ones, the Gator Bowl is the only one I'm really excited for. It'll be a New Year's game in Florida, which is nice, but there's a significant downside - it's in Jacksonville. All in all, that's a nice enough town, but is it really a major tourist destination? Not really. Would you ever choose to vacation there over other Florida cities like Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale or Key West? Probably not.
The jury is out on the two Texas bowls for me. The destinations are good - Houston and Dallas - but I don't know how many fans are going to want to head to Dallas to watch their team play some random C-USA team. For me, I'd rather MSU go to Detroit and play a good MAC team - it's cheaper for everyone involved.
The biggest problem is the elevation of the Insight Bowl from 6th in the pecking order to 4th or 5th. That's a terrible idea. Some Big Ten schools might be big in Phoenix/Tempe - Ohio State for example - but not many are, and Michigan State surely isn't. Remember two years ago when MSU almost went to that bowl game (but we were saved by the Champs Sports and the Insight's daft idea to take Indiana over anyone else)? The entire Spartan fan base basically said they'd go to Orlando or Detroit, but not Phoenix. That should tell you something.
Now, if these new bowls can provide the same fan experience as the Alamo or Champs Sports bowls, I'll revisit this posting. For now, however, I'll keep up hope that MSU qualifies top three in the Big Ten, so Spartan fans don't have to be the guinea pigs for the new bowl affiliations.