Sugar Bowl to pit SEC, Big 12 champs

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERTFans make their way around the exterior of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a New Orleans Saints game last year. The Superdome could be named the host of the new Champions Bowl, which begins after the 2014 season.
Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERTFans make their way around the exterior of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a New Orleans Saints game last year. The Superdome could be named the host of the new Champions Bowl, which begins after the 2014 season.

NEW ORLEANS — The Sugar Bowl will turn 81 with a new look and a secured future.

The Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 announced Tuesday that the Sugar Bowl had been awarded the newly created Champions Bowl, choosing the venerable New Orleans institution over the Cotton Bowl.

The new format begins with the Jan. 1, 2015, game, which will be the 81st Sugar Bowl.

“We simply were not going to lose this,” Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said. “We look forward to the tremendous promise this game and these two great conferences have to offer.”

The game, which will still be called the Sugar Bowl and be played in prime time on Jan. 1 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, will pit the highest available teams from the SEC and Big 12 eight times over the 12-years of the agreement.

In the other four years, the Sugar Bowl will be the site of a semifinal playoff game under the new BCS format, which also begins in 2014.

That deal, however, has to be negotiated separately with all of the conferences as will one for two national championship games, which the Sugar Bowl has the right to bid on thanks to Tuesday’s announcement.

The semifinal rotation will be announced next year, but it is unlikely that the Sugar Bowl will be a semifinal in the first season of the new agreement.

Monday’s announcement makes certain the Sugar Bowl will be one of three “contract bowls,” the other two being the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl and also played on New Year’s Day.

The Rose Bowl will continue to feature teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12, while the Orange Bowl will pit an ACC team against at-large opponent.

Three or possibly four other games, including the Cotton Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, will be designated as “access bowls,” meaning their teams will be chosen by the same selection committee that will determine the four playoff teams.

The access bowls will be played on New Year’s Eve, and the number of times they will be playoff semifinal sites has yet to be determined.

“This is a big deal for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana,” Doug Thornton, regional vice-president of SMG, which manages the Superdome, said. “It’s a vote of confidence by event planners for New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl because of our ability to host major events in a destination city.

“From the very beginning, everyone with the Sugar Bowl showed good instincts about the way this would play out. They deserve a lot of credit for being very competitive with a tough opponent.”

That opposition included Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in whose stadium the Cotton Bowl is played and which already paired teams from the SEC and Big 12.

But the Sugar Bowl was determined to make a competitive bid for the game, reportedly double that of the $6 million the Sugar Bowl has been paying annually to be part of the BCS.

Cotton Bowl Executive Director Rick Baker congratulated the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday but added that his game fully intended to be part of the playoff structure.

To beat out the Cotton Bowl, Hoolahan emphasized, it will take securing the support of all elements of the hospitality industry. Otherwise, the Sugar Bowl would have had to curtail its numerous auxiliary events, which was not acceptable to the membership.

“Now the real work begins,” he said. “A collaborative effort will be required to meet the long-term obligations that success in this endeavor will require.”

That’s due, Hoolahan added, to the new contact allotting almost all revenue for the game, save ticket sales, to the SEC and Big 12. That includes an estimated $80 million from ESPN for the broadcast rights to the event, the equivalent the Big 12 and Big Ten get for the Rose Bowl, although a deal with ESPN for the Sugar Bowl has not yet been announced.

Thornton agreed.

“The landscape of college football has changed,” he said. “Every one of our hospitality associations will be called on to join us in supporting this important event and in our pursuit of the national championship.”

But it was not finances alone that won the day for the Sugar Bowl.

The game’s long association with the SEC, unofficially from its beginning in 1935 and officially since 1976, played a big part as well.

“New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl are synonymous with postseason college football,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “Having the Big 12 and SEC in a bowl game together only adds to the list.

“We look forward to competing against the Big 12 as a new championship tradition begins in New Year’s Day.”

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said his league was looking forward to the new venture.

“We are thrilled about our long-term association with our SEC colleagues and to be in partnership with the Sugar Bowl,” he said.

Ten cites were originally invited to bid on the Champions Bowl after the SEC and Big 12 announced its formation in May.

Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta also submitted bids before the leagues narrowed their choices to New Orleans and Dallas, which had been considered the frontrunners from the start.

“The stakes were high and the competition was heated,” Hoolahan said. “Both cities recognized the value of the game and launched all-out efforts to land this prestigious event.

“We were able to prevail, and that makes this one of the most important days in our history.”