EL PASO, Texas -- This is the third year of a four-year deal between the Sun Bowl and Big East Conference, but Pitt could be the final team from the league to play in El Paso in quite some time.
That's because the Sun Bowl has an arrangement with the Big East, Big 12 and Notre Dame and the Gator Bowl which states that the Sun Bowl will have a Big East team in two of the four years of the deal. And since South Florida played in the Sun Bowl a year ago and Pitt is in the game this year, next year the bowl will have to take a Big 12 team while the Gator Bowl gets either Notre Dame or a Big East team.
Talks between the bowl and the conference are not yet scheduled about renewing the contract but, according to Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas, it is something they hope to begin as early as next week. But one sticking point could be that the Big East has said it no longer wants to be an "either/or" selection with the Big 12.
"After [this agreement ends], we don't know what is going to happen," Olivas said. "The Big East is a good conference for us, they are on the East Coast and turn on a lot of television sets. They've been great to work with, but at this point we have no idea where we are and what we are going to work with.
"I read an article where they said they don't want to have the flip-flopping arrangement [with the Gator Bowl and Big 12], so we have to sit with them and see what they have in mind."
Olivas said the arrangement has worked well for the bowl because it offers a variety of teams to choose from every year. He said the Big 12 brings a lot of regional teams, the Pac-10 brings in the West Coast and the Big East brings the east coast, so the bowl would have some "tough choices" to make if it came down to having to choose two of the three conferences.
One thing, however, which would clearly bring the Big East's stock way up in the Sun Bowl's eyes is their current alignment with Notre Dame. Olivas said if that arrangement is kept in place, the Big East would become even more attractive than it already is.
"Absolutely, we'd love to see Notre Dame in that mix," Olivas said. "That would be very attractive, they attract a lot of people. El Paso is about 85 percent Hispanic and about 90 percent Catholic, and Notre Dame would be a great fit for El Paso."
One of the traditions of the Sun Bowl has been to take the members of the official parties and administrations from the two participating schools to Juarez, Mexico, for a day of sight-seeing and shopping. But it won't take place this year because of the current instability due to an ongoing drug turf war in that region.
El Paso is a border town and Juarez is just across the Rio Grande River. It generally has been a tourist attraction for those visiting this region but there have been more than 1,500 murders there this year. State, federal and local governments have all issued travel advisories for U.S. citizens about how unsafe it is.
The two coaches participated in a news conference yesterday and one of the lighter moments was when Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said to Oregon State coach Mike Riley: "You guys are still two-touchdown favorites, right?" To which Riley answered, "No, I think it is only two points".
A little later, Wannstedt complained that his team hadn't practiced very well and added, "hopefully we have a better practice than we did yesterday or [the line] may go to three touchdowns by game time."
Wannstedt did say later in the day that the Panthers had an excellent afternoon practice.
Paul Zeise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720.