When the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 put what they called the “Champions Bowl” up for bids in 2013, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted to having some apprehension about staging the game inside the SEC footprint instead of his own conference’s, namely Dallas.
“We had to swallow hard,” Bowlsby said Friday before Oklahoma State of the Big 12 met Ole Miss of the SEC in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “I’m sure the SEC would feel the same way if it were the other way around.
“But ultimately we found the right place for this type of game. It’s an absolute home run (Friday night), and I think it’s a cinch to be successful every season.”
To SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey playing in New Orleans only reconfirmed the long-standing ties between the league and the bowl, which go back to its earliest days more than 80 years ago.
“We obviously have a great history here,” he said. “Also, the Sugar Bowl has always distinguished itself as a host of quality events.
“There was obviously a lot of discussion about where and what this game should be. Ultimately, the Sugar Bowl had the same vision that we did.”
All of that was music to Sugar Bowl President Carey Wicker’s ears.
“This is an historic night for us,” he said. “Our organization has many great traditions, and we’re starting a new one (Friday night).”
Friday’s game, which was considered a sellout, was the first of eight such Sugar Bowls scheduled through 2025. In the other three years, the Sugar Bowl will be a College Football Playoff semifinal as it was last season between Alabama and Ohio State.
It was designed to be the SEC and Big 12’s version of the Rose Bowl pairing the two leagues’ top non-CFP semifinalists with a guaranteed New Year’s Day prime-time slot. Before the site was announced, the concept was sold to ESPN for the same money the network pays for the Rose Bowl rights.
“We know that most years one or both of our champions are going to be in the playoffs,” Bowlsby said. “But we want this to be a big game regardless of how it winds up.
“That was a big part of putting it in New Orleans. Oklahoma State has been to a lot of bowl games over the years, and their folks are telling me they’ve never had a better experience. The Sugar Bowl is living up to its reputation, right down to the terrific police escorts.”
And while the teams are chosen by their leagues instead of the bowl doing the inviting, Wicker emphasized that everything else is under the Sugar Bowl’s control.
“It’s still our show,” he said. “Our top priority is that the teams enjoy themselves, and then that we put on a first-class event.
“Both Ole Miss and Oklahoma State have been wonderful guests and have been most appreciative of our hospitality.
“I think what’s come through this year most of all is that the players tell us they consider being in the Sugar Bowl to be a very big deal.”
Next year’s game also will be a Big 12-SEC matchup, while the next CFP semifinal in New Orleans will be after the 2017 season. In a separate deal, the city will host the CFP title game in 2020.