Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso... | by Jay

Sun Bowl officials are courting the Dome...

Per the El Paso Times:

The Vitalis Sun Bowl has figured out a way to get Notre Dame on its radar screen.

Sun Bowl selection committee chairman John Folmer confirmed Tuesday that the game is on the verge of finalizing a four-year contract this week potentially matching Notre Dame or a team from the Big 12 or Big East with the Pac-10 third-place team beginning with the 2006 game.

"We're hoping that comes to pass as early as Thursday afternoon or maybe Friday," Folmer said of the deal, which is not yet in writing. "This scenario would offer us great flexibility. And with Notre Dame part of that scenario, what a great opportunity that would be for El Paso."

The agreement is similar to a verbal deal, reported this week by the Florida Times-Union, that's been reached between the Gator Bowl and the Big 12, Big East and Notre Dame to play an Atlantic Coast Conference team.

Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett declined to comment on that pending contract, but said his game "has been in discussion with the Big 12 for some time" and "desires to have a relationship with the Big 12."

Under the terms of the Gator/Sun deal, the Sun Bowl would wait until the Gator Bowl picked either the No. 5 Big 12 or No. 1 or 2 Big East team or Notre Dame, leaving the Sun Bowl with the remaining options available.

Notre Dame, a favorite among local football fans, hasn't played in any of the previous 71 Sun Bowls despite efforts to bring the storied program here in the past. With 640,000 Catholic members in 10 West Texas counties making up the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Sun officials believe the Irish's potential presence here would be a huge coup.

"Without a doubt, Notre Dame is the school with the biggest football tradition in the country," Sun Bowl Executive Director Bernie Olivas said. "I'm a huge Notre Dame fan myself. It would probably be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them play in El Paso, but that's only if we're able to seal this deal."

For Notre Dame to end up here for the first time, the Irish would have to be bowl eligible -- but not Bowl Championship Series eligible -- which they haven't been in six years, making them available to one of the Big East-tied bowls, including the Gator and Sun. Each bowl would only be able to play host to the Irish once in the four-year agreement.

"Notre Dame would be a tremendous draw in this area," said Robert Sanchez, a Coronado High School teacher and lifelong fan of the Irish. "Everybody's a fan of the Fighting Irish and they know about the symbolism and history that Notre Dame brings, like 'Touchdown Jesus' and the 'Knute Rockne era.' There is a gigantic fan base here."
Call this the "6-5" fallback.

One thing that's interesting: with the Big XII and Big East cozying up in not one, but two bowls, you have to wonder if a stronger Cotton Bowl option for ND is also forthcoming.