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Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
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KAjunRaider Offline
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Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
Troubled Waters: Misunderstanding agreement costly to Sun Belt teams


Commissioner's bowl agreement had no teeth from beginning
Bob Heist • bheist@theadvertiser.com • December 21, 2008

Was it Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the ballroom?

How about Miss Scarlet with the revolver in the library?

Or could it have been Professor Plum with the lead pipe in the conservatory?

Wouldn't it be nice if a board game - in this case Clue - could solve the great whodunnit facing the Sun Belt Conference and its football programs.

A record 34-game bowl season kicked off this weekend, and by the time it's over, two Sun Belt teams will have participated: champion Troy tonight in the New Orleans Bowl and Florida Atlantic on Friday in Detroit at the Motor City Bowl.

That's great. It's a nice reward for the youngest Division I-A conference in the country.

But there's just this little problem that two more Sun Belt teams were expected to be playing - UL and Arkansas State.

So again, whodunnit?

"The issue isn't with us," Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters said. "We followed the agreement. If a seven-win (Sun Belt) team was available, we'd have taken them - we had to take them.

"But a six-win team was different. It's in the agreement that a six-win team would be 'made available' to the poll of other available 6-6 teams. From there our (selection) committee considered all the options and decided on a team outside the Sun Belt Conference (Northern Illinois)."

"I'm sure," Setters added, "the (Papajohns.com and St. Petersburg) bowls followed a similar procedure."

And that in a nutshell is why UL and ASU are home for the holidays - they finished bowl eligible but with the dreaded 6-6 record. And it didn't matter that Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters had an "agreement" that made league teams the contingency for the Independence, Papajohns.com and St. Petersburg bowl games if the SEC, Big East and Big 12 came up short of fulfilling their contractual tie-ins.

"It's been kind of confusing for all of us," UL director of athletics David Walker said.

So how did we get here?

THE AGREEMENT

The first mistake by the Sun Belt was not insisting on a binding contract when a deal in July was consummated and announced at the league's media days.

Instead, the document used was a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which can be defined as an agreement between parties that indicates an intended common line of action, but doesn't hold a legal commitment.

In other words, Waters, on behalf of the conference, entered into a gentleman's agreement with the Independence, Papajohns.com and St. Petersburg bowls. Nothing more, nothing less.

"If I had to do it again, we'd have paid lawyers to put it into contract form from a MoU," Waters said. "But nobody raised an issue, and it was never raised by the bowls until Notre Dame and N.C. State were 6-6 and available. It is what it is."

What's interesting is that apparently no conference school is in possession of the MoU. Walker, for one, said UL officials have never seen it. In fact, Sun Belt Associate Commissioner for Communications John McElwain said it would not be released, either.

McElwain's response came when he was directed by Sun Belt Conference executive committee president Frank T. Brogan - the president of Florida Atlantic - to make a statement. Brogan did not return a phone call looking for comment on the MoU that was signed.

"I thought I knew the intention when we did this," Waters said. "Legal counsel even went back to look at the notes from the MoU that was signed. They saw the intention but didn't think the language was there to protect us."

"It would be interesting to see the exact wording in the agreement," Walker said. "But in the end, we're all accountable for not asking the approriate questions as to what could happen."

THE NCAA FACTOR

The value of the failed MoU, according to Waters, is that this year a Sun Belt team with a winning record would be protected from bowl game exclusion, which happened to an 8-4 Troy team in 2007.

The problem is an agreement for that wasn't necessary. The NCAA had already addressed the issue, guaranteeing all teams with winning records first choice, when contracted conference slots couldn't be filled, over bowl-eligible 6-6 teams.

All the MoU did was specify the bowl a 7-5 Sun Belt team would go to, if openings existed, over all other available at-large teams with winning records.

Those were the terms the bowl games operated under, which made the agreement toothless.

Waters himself helped perpetuate the Sun Belt's misunderstanding of the agreement in an email response to a BlueRaiderZone.com (the scout.com website for Middle Tennessee) member a week or so before bowl selections were announced:

"If an opening exists (we anticipate an opening in PapaJohns and Independence, but not St. Pete) a Sun Belt team with a winning record (7-5 or better) trumps all teams regardless of records. If all teams with winning records are obligated and an opening still exists a Sun Belt bowl eligible team (6-6) trumps all other bowl eligible teams.

"This allows Sun Belt teams to stay regional and try to build our fan base. Bowls want teams that travel, we need to prove we can travel and the best way to do that is stay regional."

"We played this past year under a misconception," Arkansas State head coach Steve Roberts said.

THE ESPN EFFECT

One of the major players in the scenario that unfolded was ESPN Regional Television, Inc., which owns and operates the Papajohns.com and St. Petersburg bowls as a subsidiary of parent company ESPN.

In July, Pete Derzis, Senior Vice President & General Manager for ERT, said, "This agreement protects the future success of our events ... We are taking this step to be able to present college football fans with two quality teams for our postseason bowl games."

Those two quality 6-6 teams ended up being Memphis (St. Petersburg) and N.C. State (Papajohns.com). Notre Dame, which joined N.C. State as the most attractive options from the poll of 6-6 teams, ended up in the Hawaii Bowl - another ESPN Regional Television property.

Obviously, ESPN feels the Sun Belt Conference doesn't own the stroke of an independent power like Notre Dame or the ACC and Conference USA as a regional attraction. So when a 7-5 record was factored out for UL and Arkansas State, the door to be excluded among the poll of 6-6 teams was open.

"We value our relationship with the Sun Belt and believe the contingency plan we jointly developed with the league was in everyone's best interest," said Jenny Zimmerman of ESPN Communications. "The driving factor (of the MoU) was the regionality opportunity for a backup position. According to the NCAA, the contingency contract was valid for teams with seven wins or more."

THE I-BOWL STANCE

A lot of venom has been spewed north from Lafayette since the folks in Shreveport with the Independence Bowl selected Northern Illinois over the Cajuns.

But in the end, the I-Bowl - just like St. Petersburg and Papajohns.com - had the right to do so because the MoU negotiated by Waters did not legally obligate it to the Sun Belt contingency teams.

Better yet, the I-Bowl had the backing of the NCAA.

"The intent of the language in bylaw 30.9.2.1 is to ensure that a primary (or secondary) agreement does not prevent a team with a winning record from being selected in favor of a 6-6 team," said Christopher Radford, the NCAA's Assistant Director of Public and Media Relations.

"However, when only 6-6 teams remain in the at-large pool, it is the responsibility of the bowl and conference, respectively, to determine (when writing/signing the contract) how binding their agreement will be."

The onus of that understanding - or lack thereof - would appear to fall directly in the lap of Waters, though the Sun Belt league office maintains the bowl games did not hold up their end of the bargain.

"We know what was agreed to," McElwain said.

There was also political maneuvering among state legislators that the I-Bowl - which receives more than $350,000 from the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism - was out of line for snubbing UL and making the game an in-state affair between the Cajuns and Louisiana Tech.

Setters disagreed.

"What's getting lost is Louisiana Tech is a school from Louisiana, too," she said. "We made a commitment to the state by picking Tech. We also feel, due to funding that is certainly related to tourism, that we want to get people in here to see what Louisiana has to offer - especially the northeast corner of the state.

"This goes well beyond a financial commitment (to another school in the state). This is three hours on ESPN and the exposure that's involved with that. Chicago (the home region of Northern Illinois) is a very large market to promote ourselves in and I think that was a factor considered by our selection committee."

NOW WHAT?

If Waters' understanding of the contingency agreement from the summer had played out, four Sun Belt teams would be playing this bowl season. Instead it's two and what was lost to the conference was between $1.3 to $2.1 million - a combination of two payouts from the Independence ($1.1 million), St. Petersburg ($1 million) and Papajohns.com ($300,000) bowls.

That's a steep price tag. But what may be even more costly is the lost exposure and respect the league could have garnered with solid performances on national television.

It's as if the conference took one step forward with a bowl outside the MoU - the Motor City Bowl - taking a 6-6 Florida Atlantic team, but two steps back when the three bowls involved with the agreement turned their backs on UL and Arkansas State.

"We always try to make things a learning process," Waters said. "Certainly we had some heartbreak last year when Troy was left at home with a winning record and that issue was corrected.

"This year, hopefully we build on this. We believed the agreement covered 6-6 ... now, hopefully, the standard is we don't get to 6-6 but winning (records). We want our teams to win enough to get to the BCS.

"We've learned every win is important, obviously."
04-02-2009 01:21 PM
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KAjunRaider Offline
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
The Daily Advertiser's Bob Heist took honorable mention (in APSE writing contest) in the Explanatory story category with his extensive feature on the Sun Belt Conference's failed bowl agreement that ended up costing UL a bowl bid



The rest of the story
04-02-2009 01:22 PM
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KAjunRaider Offline
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
For the upcoming football season:

Will a 7-5 Cajun team be the "obligated" team for one of the bowls over a 7-5 Northern Illiniois ?
04-02-2009 01:46 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
(04-02-2009 01:46 PM)KAjunRaider Wrote:  For the upcoming football season:

Will a 7-5 Cajun team be the "obligated" team for one of the bowls over a 7-5 Northern Illiniois ?

Short answer IMHO is yes.

THATS what the agreement said, that if there were multiple "Winning" teams avaialble at large, those bowls have a understanding that a SUNBELT winning team would go.

Its when the 6 and 6 happened that screwed it all up.

But Im no expert.
04-02-2009 02:07 PM
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Burn the Horse Offline
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
the Independance Bowl's snubbing of UL was the most rediculous of all of this. They invited Northern Illinoise, who's fan attendance and level of play can't be better than UL's. On top of that, UL is in the same state, which would have garanteed better attendance than NIU could have ever hoped for. That was so stupid.
(This post was last modified: 04-02-2009 02:46 PM by Burn the Horse.)
04-02-2009 02:46 PM
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Post: #6
RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
The I-Bowl decision was a payback. The bowl's former director is asst AD at NIU.

Here's what's missing from the article.

Would ESPN Regional or the I-Bowl have signed the deal if it had included 6-6 teams? As this year demonstrated, given a choice of a 6-6 BCS school (Birmingham) or 6-6 where their good buddy was (I-Bowl) they preferred to go with the name or the buddy.

For the record. Birmingham was at the ASU-Troy game prepared to hand an invite to Troy if ASU won.

I had hoped to see ASU play in Birmingham or Shreveport but the simple fact of the matter is if ASU hadn't had a six point swing when our holder fumbled setting up the winning points for USM, ASU would have made it to 7-5, and triggered the agreement and USM would have stayed home. If ASU doesn't blow a two score lead in the fourth quarter against the Cajuns, ASU triggers the agreement. If ASU doesn't blow a two score fourth quarter lead against the Panthers, ASU triggers the agreement.

Believe me, I am far more frustrated about shooting blanks three times out of five in games determined by a TD or less than some contract or memo.
04-02-2009 03:43 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
My thing is that we are always likely to have at least one 6-6 team in our standings. It would be nice for the SBC 6-6 team be picked over at least a 6-6 MAC team, esp. with the bowl being in the Southeast corridor.
04-02-2009 04:19 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
Agree but that means paying the dollars. I still think after this season when bowl deals start expiring and the WKU/USA tourney money starts flowing the outlook gets better.
04-02-2009 04:36 PM
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Joel Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
If Waters would just get us two guranteed bowl tie-ins and put us on equal footing as the other non-BCS conferences we wouldn't have this problem... We need AT LEAST one more guranteed tie-in for 2009 (hopefully the new Orlando bowl) and have three by 2010... enough is enough!
04-02-2009 05:14 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
the MAC's ESPN agreement gives their conference a household name. each week, millions of Americans see teams like C. Michigan, Buffalo, Ball State, NIU, Toledo, and others battle it out. they may suffer when it comes to attendance due to many games being played during the week, but the benefit of that is those teams are known and people will tune in to watch them in post season. The Sun Belt has the worst television contract of all the Conferences. People just don't know us or what we have to offer. We NEED a better contract, play more games during the week. I would LOVE to lock in a weekly Tuesday night game. Spread it around, but make sure to give the better teams a couple more spots to make sure our best product is being seen. It may hurt attendance, but it'll get the Belt out there and give bowls the assurance that people will be watching.
04-02-2009 05:27 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
Honestly, a weekly conference game on a designated weeknight to get our teams on ESPN/ESPN2 would be good for the conference. As long as the schools that are hosting heavily promote the game in advance and do something unique to get the fans out, we should be able to get a respectable crowd on hand.

We are hands down better than the MAC... we should be able to get more bowl tie-ins and more national exposure. NO EXCUSES!!
04-02-2009 05:44 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
well, the teams in urban areas would probably have a better chance of bringing in good attendance with promotion. Troy, and the other rural based schools, would not. Troy must rely on our die hards, evening kickoff times, and good turnout from the students, just to get a nice looking turn out. the city of Troy isn't large enough to draw a significant number of randoms off the street.

Still, I would certainly be in favor of the Belt locking up the Tuesday night primetime game each week. the Conference needs it.
04-02-2009 05:53 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
I suspect that ASU and Troy rely more on people living more than an hour from the stadium for attendance than the typical MAC school.

It is an ugly chicken/egg situation though with television. You aren't on TV, people think you don't have a good product and don't come to games. People don't come to games TV thinks there is no interest.

What adds to this is there is a perception that there are people who won't buy a ticket but will watch the local team on TV. Let's say it is 1% of the market. For the most part the MAC wins the market issue.

Then there is another issue to contend with, C-USA. You are ESPN and you want low-cost filler for the nights that the rich boys won't play. Up north you have one option other than lower tier Big East, the MAC. Want a Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday product attractive to that region... you go MAC. What about out west? Well it used to be MWC with a little dash of WAC, but the MWC went off and left ESPN so they have one option... the WAC. Now how about across the south? There is us, but there is also C-USA (who will play weeknights on CSTV as well). Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida all have C-USA teams. We can offer Arkansas with 2.5 million people and Kentucky with just over 4 million that C-USA isn't present in, but they also offer Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Mexico 03-wink (UTEP jab for those not paying attention). They've got more recognizable names and the occasional break into the Top 25.

ESPN doesn't look at it as Sun Belt vs. MAC as we do, they look at as Sun Belt vs. C-USA in trying to figure out who gets those weeknight filler games.

As for the Orlando bowl talk, the rumor mill seems pretty definite that Orlando has been unable to secure adequate financing for the $2 million letter of credit to get a game going.

That pretty much precludes another game getting going this year and you have to wonder how stable the St. Pete game is after that financial disaster this year. Falter again this year and ESPN Regional may pull the plug.

Now when contracts expire after this year, the league should be on a better financial footing (thanks WKU and USA) to negotiate with them
04-02-2009 06:35 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
Another hypothetical question-

CUSA doesn't make their bowl allotment. There are two teams with winning records (not 6-6) that aren't contractually obligated to bowls already- a 7-5 Sun Belt team and an 8-4 MAC team (or WAC team, or Independent, etc.).

Are these bowls contractually obligated to take the Sun Belt team, or is there another qualifier in this mysterious, unavailable Memorandum of Understanding that allows the Sun Belt team to be passed over?
04-05-2009 09:36 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
well from what i understand, and correct me if i am wrong, but the bowls must take 7-5 teams before they can bring in 6-6 teams, regardless of conference tie-ins.
04-06-2009 08:00 AM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
(04-06-2009 08:00 AM)Trojan Delta Chi Wrote:  well from what i understand, and correct me if i am wrong, but the bowls must take 7-5 teams before they can bring in 6-6 teams, regardless of conference tie-ins.

That is incorrect. A tie-in contract ensures that a 6-6 team will have a bowl bid whether or not a team with a true winning record is available.

Remember 2007, when you guys had an 8-4 record. Teams that earned tie-in bids that season over you:
Nevada
Maryland
Colorado
Alabama
California
Oklahoma State
04-06-2009 12:04 PM
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RE: Award-winning Article in Lafayette paper dealing with "memorandum of understanding"
ah, well i stand corrected. that's a shame though, the NCAA shouldn't allow that to happen. If there is a team out there who derserves a bowl bid, they should get that over a lesser team who's conference has a tie-in. Just goes to show that college football is big business. It is more concerned with money, and less concerned with doing what is right.
04-06-2009 12:27 PM
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