Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
ASU deserves better than Big Easy snub
Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn watches the first half of their NCAA college football game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. Nebraska won 42-13. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
LITTLE ROCK It appears the Sun Belt Conference has allowed the New Orleans Bowl to slap Arkansas State in the face. Again.
This year, the slap includes Middle Tennessee and possibly Louisiana-Monroe.
This Saturday in Jonesboro, Arkansas State (8-3 overall, 6-1 Sun Belt) takes on Middle Tennessee (8-3, 6-1) for the conference championship. Louisiana-Monroe finished its regular season 8-4 and 6-2.
The winner of Saturday’s game should get the bid for the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22.
That bowl extended an invitation last weekend to Louisiana-Lafayette (7-4, 5-2), which has a game against Florida Atlantic remaining.
So the bowl that is meant for the Sun Belt champion could be going to the conference’s fourth-place team, and if it does it should forever more be known as the Louisiana-Lafayette Big Easy Bowl.
It certainly won’t mean much to future Sun Belt champions to earn a spot in the New Orleans Bowl.
True, there are waivers that allow the New Orleans Bowl to take a team other than the champion, if the champion is placed in a bowl of at least equal pay. That isn’t hard to find since only two bowls pay less than New Orleans.
Here is where the rub should come for ASU. This could be the third time the Red Wolves have earned a trip to New Orleans and the third time they didn’t get to go.
The first was because of Hurricane Katrina, when the bowl was moved to Lafayette, La., which is a nice little city but not a vacation destination.
Last year, the New Orleans Bowl wanted Louisiana-Lafayette to help with shrinking attendance, and it did, while ASU went to the GoDaddy. com Bowl in Mobile, Ala. It should be added that the Red Wolves went without complaint.
Now it looks like they may be playing to return to Mobile.
Let’s face it, driving the underwater tunnel and seeing the USS Alabama are fun the first two minutes of the first visit.
The GoDaddy.com Bowl would rather have someone else. No bowl likes to get the same team two years in a row because the chamber of commerce wants hotels and restaurants filled. The prospect of back-to-back trips from Jonesboro to Mobile isn’t that exciting.
There is an outside chance that ASU could end up in the Liberty Bowl or perhaps the Independence Bowl.
The SEC has nine teams eligible for 11 bowls, including either Alabama or Georgia playing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.
Normally that would leave the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport open to invite at-large teams.
Last year the Compass Bowl did not get a SEC team, so it is supposed to move up in the picking order and could take Ole Miss, which is bowl eligible and has a fan base that is ecstatic about the future of the program.
The Liberty Bowl would obviously be a great fit for the Red Wolves Nation, and Shreveport wouldn’t be bad either. Shreveport is a hidden jewel (try Superior Grill and you’ll agree).
Birmingham, well, it has a deep history of football, but it’s mostly between Alabama and Auburn. But it does have a Superior Grill, too.
Arkansas State definitely deserves the best bowl it can get. The Sun Belt needs to quit pretending that the New Orleans Bowl is for its conference champion.
New Orleans is a great, great city — especially if you can avoid Bourbon Street — with its world-class restaurants, and that was a big part of the appeal of making it the site of the bowl for the Sun Belt champions.
Now, it is the Louisiana-Lafayette Big Easy Bowl.
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/28/2012