Christmas Bowl: Pac-12, Mountain West not interested for now, BYU keeping options open
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of BYU, Utah and Utah State doubtlessly would enjoy a December college bowl game in the City of Angels, but unfortunately, such a thing is currently farther away from becoming a reality than it appears.
Since 2009, Los Angeles businessman Derek Dearwater has been in contact with conferences, universities, TV networks, sponsors and college football bowl insiders in a furious attempt to make a new bowl, the Christmas Bowl, a reality, and in the process, the bowl is avidly targeting organizations with ties to the Beehive State's FBS programs.
In an age where there are bowl games in cities that aren’t exactly travel destinations, an early-December bowl in Los Angeles seems long overdue, but there is no shortage of hurdles for Dearwater and the aspiring bowl to overcome before any invites are extended to Utes, Cougars or Aggies — or anyone else.
The birthing process for new college football bowls
In 2010, the Christmas Bowl was very close to getting NCAA certification, but came up short. In it's failed attempt, the bowl missed one key criterion for certification: qualfying conference affiliation.
In order for a bowl to exist, it must have a venue, a TV contract, a $2 million insurance policy, personnell with bowl management experinence, and a conference. The Christmas bowl has the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, a TV proposal in place, an insurance policy in the works, and George Perles, the former coach of Michigan State and founder of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
But when the Christmas Bowl failed in 2010, it lacked that final ingredient that would have put the game on the college football map — a conference with enough confidence in Dearwater and his group to go all-in and formally tie itself to the bowl.
Unfortunately for Dearwater and his group, this is an ingredient the bowl still lacks.
The potential tie-in for BYU, Utah and Utah State
Dearwater understands the importance of convincing schools to align with his bowl.
"We've courted the conferences as much as we could — we still are," he said. "We've identified the best possible fits for our game because we know regional teams will perform best at our game relative on attendance."
Specifically, Dearwater said he is targeting the Mountain West Conference, BYU and the Pac-12 as ideal teams to participate in his bowl game. The realization of those tie-ins is still very far off.
In both a powerpoint presentation provided by the Christmas Bowl and in phone conversations, Dearwater identified the Mountain West as an "anchor conference" — a conference that would supply a team to play in the bowl on an annual basis. When asked if the realization of this relationship was possible, Mountain West officials told the Deseret News that the MWC school presidents are currently not interested in pursuing the relationship.
Dearwater said BYU has been very supportive of the bowl's intentions, and BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe went as far as to draft an official letter of support for the bowl's existence. He said he understand's the value of having BYU participate in the bowl, even if it were only for one year.
"There's no question," he said. "There are more BYU fans down here than any part of the country. They do well, they cheer well, they love their team. It would huge success to have them align with us for one year out of the next six."
Dearwater also said he was shocked by the amount of engagement and new followers his bowl's official Twitter account received from BYU fans after the account mentioned the Cougars last week.
When asked about a potential agreement with the Christmas Bowl, BYU officials said Holmoe has been in contact with several bowls nationwide and keeps such communication private for a variety of reasons. If an agreement were to be reached, officials said, the school would announce it publicly.
As for the Pac-12, Dearwater said he knows getting the conference's seventh team is unlikely at best, a fact the Deseret News confirmed. When asked, Pac-12 officials said they had been contacted by the bowl, but had not requested further information and were not pursuing a relationship.
"We understand that they're not aligning they're No. 7 selection at this time, so we're hopeful to maybe incorporate them in our lineup in the next few years," Dearwater said. "We would love to find a way to get the Pac-12 involved and do something maybe by aligning for one year down the road."
Dearwater said the Bowl has reached out to a number of conferences across the nation, mentioning specifically the American Athletic Conference — formerly known as the Big East — and Conference USA to shore up the pool of potential participants. Messages and emails sent to those conferences by the Deseret News enquiring about the Christmas Bowl went unreturned.
While the NCAA approval deadline for the 2014 season's bowls is April 1, 2014, Dearwater said he will know long before then whether or not his aspirations will actually become a reality.
"Most conferences are lining things up over the next 40 days," he said. "If you don't have a conference agreement, you have nothing."
Without explicit support from the Mountain West, BYU and the Pac-12, it appears that the Christmas Bowl has an extraordinary fight for survival on its hands.
Christmas in California
If the Christmas Bowl is able to align with BYU, the MWC and the Pac-12 in some capacity, and if it received its certification, it is likely that Utah teams would probably play in the game at least once over the next several seasons.
A deal with BYU could put the Cougars in the game a couple of times between 2014 and 2019. Utah State’s recent success gives the impression the Aggies could contend near the top of the Mountain West. It is conceivable the Christmas Bowl could become a Beehive State football exhibition. But, like football teams across the country, Dearwater and his Christmas Bowl team still have plenty of work to do before anyone can count on a bowl appearance in Los Angeles.
Ryan Teeples is a respected marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. and a Deseret News Sports business contributor. Landon Hemsley is the producer of Deseret News web sports.
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