Sun Belt looks to renew, alter bowl deal

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sun Belt Conference expects to extend its affiliation with the New Orleans Bowl, and wants to be able to send a team other than the conference champion to that game.

"We're going to have to have some flexibility to make sure we're providing the best team for not only this bowl, but other bowls," Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said Tuesday as the conference wrapped up two days of online and telephone interviews with its member football teams, known as "media days."

Waters said it is increasingly important to have bowl matchups that "make geographic sense" as the Sun Belt seeks to boost attendance and thereby make its teams more attractive to bowl committees.

It is not yet clear if that will become much of an obstacle to the Sun Belt renewing its current agreement with the New Orleans Bowl, which runs out after this season.

For now, New Orleans Bowl officials do not appear to be on board with the idea of hosting any other Sun Belt squad but the league champion.

"We have already presented a contract to the Sun Belt Conference to host their champion through 2013, as we have done since the inception of the bowl," New Orleans Bowl chairman Paul Valteau said in a written statement.

Valteau declined to discuss the possibility of alternative scenarios, saying it was New Orleans Bowl policy "not to comment on any agreements until they are complete."

The Sun Belt Conference has sponsored Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs since 2001, when the New Orleans Bowl also was created as the league's only bowl tie-in.

The conference will have nine football teams in 2009: Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy and Western Kentucky.

In recent years, the conference has sent more than one team to bowl games. Last season, conference champion Troy went to the New Orleans Bowl and Florida Atlantic went to the Motor City Bowl.

This season, the Sun Belt has affiliations with the Independence Bowl, PapaJohns.com Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl. Whether the Sun Belt sends teams to any of those games depends on a variety of factors, including whether other leagues have enough teams with the minimum six victories required for bowl eligibility.

The Sun Belt's headquarters are in New Orleans, and Waters stressed that "the New Orleans Bowl has been a really good thing for this league, and we will work through those issues and be with them for a long time."

Waters added, "The New Orleans Bowl would want an opponent who would put people in stands, and we want that also."

Last December, Troy's matchup with Southern Mississippi of Conference USA drew a New Orleans Bowl record crowd of 30,197 to the Louisiana Superdome.