As most are aware by now, the ACC has signed on with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl (located at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY) for a six-year term starting in 2014. The game will rotate the league’s third through sixth postseason selections, and will match the ACC up against the Big Ten, the only other major conference with a foothold near the New York area. Obviously, this sets the stage for what should be an interesting battle between the two conferences to gain market share in the nation’s largest television market (and the largest without a major college football team to call its own).
Over its three years of existence thus far, the Pinstripe Bowl has found success in featuring nearby teams Syracuse and Rutgers, and pitting them against Big 12 schools they wouldn’t normally play (or in the case of West Virginia, played regularly for decades). With those two schools off to the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, this move only makes more sense now. It also allows the Pinstripe Bowl to continue moving up in the bowl payout hierarchy, but will that mean a bump up in importance as well? Last year, the Pinstripe Bowl’s $1.8 million payout was 12th among non-BCS games in terms of payout. Now, with a more lucrative setup matching up teams either from nearby campuses or with large alumni bases in New York, I’d bet that number has a chance to increase. The key, however, will be variety.
The biggest knock on the Pinstripe Bowl up to this point is that it hasn’t had to deal with hosting teams outside of the New York/New Jersey corridor, featuring SU twice and Rutgers once — all wins for the “home” team. Northeast football fans don’t exactly have a sterling reputation for traveling, so this arrangement — despite the fact that it’s in the snowy northeast in December — has been advantageous for both sides. I’m doubtful this will continue, however, if the two teams continue to be shuttled off to the Bronx. And that’s where the rest of the teams in their respective conferences come in.
Of the other 27 schools in question (ACC, Big Ten and Notre Dame), at least nine have some sort of foothold in New York. Those schools — Boston College, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, North Carolina, Penn State, Pittsburgh — present some of the strongest brands in college sports and the compelling storylines needed to make the Pinstripe Bowl more important. While SU and Rutgers have drawn well (or at least Syracuse has) at the game, these other schools can do just as well despite the hurdles of weather and New York pricing that come with this event. Each conference’s success in filling seats and subsequently winning this game can also set the stage for which of the two “wins” New York and its over 8.3 million citizens.
Like you, I don’t believe Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s done with expansion, though the current environment and respective grant of rights agreements virtually deem that’s the case for the near future (or at least 2024 or so). I’m also curious to see if the Big Ten network can find its way onto more New York television sets. With the ACC potentially setting up a network of its own, now you’ve got another part of the realignment turf war in play. Could both co-exist in the market? Sure, they certainly could. But for a city that hardly has an allegiance to any one league or team right now, it would seem the time is ripe for a winner to be chosen. TV exposure will be play a part in that, as will on-field success, and where better to debate the two at the same time than on the field in the Bronx?
We don’t know who wins the battle for New York, or when it might be over with (if ever). But at least the Pinstripe Bowl sets the stage for the city to begin to matter more in the college football conversation. It may never have a prevailing team of choice (or will it?), but there needs to be a conference or school that at least helps frame the college football conversation for NYC. I’m hopeful that the ACC becomes New York’s object of affection, but as much as Orange fans (myself included) would love for Syracuse to be the reasoning behind that, it’s also unrealistic. In order for it to happen, it’s a conference-wide effort — they need to show a reach beyond its own city and state borders. The Big Ten may appear to have a headstart on that, but with a nation of shifting demographics to the south (coincidentally, home of the ACC), the tide may end up shifting the other way.