Sun Belt commish addresses UL, App State bowl options
BOONE, North Carolina — UL went into Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference championship game loss to No. 20 Appalachian State having no idea where it will go bowling this season.
Even after it, the Ragin’ Cajuns were not sure for certain.
The winner of the Sun Belt title game is contracted to play in the Dec. 21 New Orleans Bowl.
But the possibility existed Saturday that even with a win Appalachian State could be headed elsewhere, perhaps to the Dec. 31 Belk Bowl in Charlotte if there are not SEC teams to fill its spot there, or perhaps elsewhere.
The final answer may not be certain until after much of the rest of bowl picture shorts itself out, but if the Mountaineers do not go to New Orleans the Cajuns would be next in line.
Reached late late Saturday afternoon, New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante said it "probably" would not be until late Saturday night or sometime Sunday that his game knows its matchup.
Related:UL-Louisiana Tech in New Orleans Bowl would be 'great'
More:UL athletic director thinks Billy Napier will stay with Cajuns after season
“We’re gonna follow our contracts,” first-year Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill told two reporters from Louisiana before Saturday’s game. “It is set up so the New Orleans Bowl can get the champion, and that’s my expectation.”
But that could change after Saturday afternoon's developments.
What if the New Orleans Bowl is willing to forego the contractual obligation so it can get UL and App State can go elsewhere, and what if if it’s a financial windfall for the conference?
Gill was asked both questions.
The New Orleans Bowl already has indicated it would welcome the Cajuns, who have played there five times since 2011, with open arms.
“I’m not gonna get into that, in terms of speculating,” Gill said. “Those aren’t the nature of our conversations.”
“The nature of our conversation is the winner of this game is going to the New Orleans Bowl. And we feel good about that. We feel that’s a great option, that’s a great bowl.”
Related:National bowl game projections for the Ragin' Cajuns
More:See Ragin' Cajuns vs. App State football highlights, score from the Sun Belt Championship
When pressed, however, Gill did allow for some wiggle room.
Asked if the league would have open ears if the possibility of App State going somewhere elsewhere was presented to him, Gill said, “I think at the end of the day we’re open to any kind of conversation that makes sense for the Sun Belt.”
“At the end of the day we want to put our teams in the best positions,” the commissioner added. “But we want to respect our bowl partners. We want to make sure we respect the contracts we have, so that’s kind of where are.”
Gill said the Jan. 6 LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, will be the “next bowl” in the pecking order after New Orleans, and “we’ll kind of work through that.”
More:UL feels it owes Appalachian State
Gill said Mobile will have priority over the other three Sun Belt bowls as the No. 2 to pick, but “in consultation with the league.”
So if App State were to go to New Orleans, UL could land in Mobile — somewhere the Cajuns never have played, and somewhere they evidently also are wanted.
Asked after Saturday's 45-38 loss if UL indeed will go to Mobile should App State end up in New Orleans, UL athletic director Bryan Maggard told The Daily Advertiser, "All I know is they get the second pick ... and whoever they chose to go with they'll go with."
The Cajuns, Maggard indicated, will go wherever they are assigned.
The Sun Belt also has contracts with the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama; the Cure Bowl in Orlando, where UL lost to Tulane last year; and the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, which is in the last year of its deal with league.
Ranked No. 21 by the College Football Playoff committee, App State also has an outside shot at going to the Cotton Bowl as the highest ranked team from a Group of Five conference.
The Mountaineers started the weekend ranked behind Memphis, Boise State and Cincinnati, however.
“I know that the chances are obviously small based on the way those teams are kind of aligned in the rankings,” Gill said Saturday, “but I’m still optimistic, depending on what happens today, and what happens across the country.”