On Tuesday, news circulated that Boston, which is likely to host a bowl at Fenway Park, could join Myrtle Beach and Los Angeles as the hosts of new bowls when the new bowl cycle starts in 2020.
While the perpetual “there are too many bowls” grouches came out en masse, the bowl is a huge plus for the conference.
Playing For Respect
First, it matches the American with a team from the ACC. Throughout the Playoff era, the Power Five has attempted to distance themselves from their Group of Five counterparts. To see this trend, one needs to look no further than bowl match-ups.
Currently, only five bowls regularly showcase a Group of 5-Power 5 match-up, the Military, First Responders, Birmingham, Las Vegas, and Armed Forces Bowls. In some cases, like the Heart of Dallas and Armed Forces Bowls, these bowls are so low in the selection order that the primary Power Five conferences do not fill the slot.
Four other bowls give Group of Five conferences back-up tie-ins, the Quick Lane, Independence, Cactus, and Red Box Bowls. However, these bowls only defaulted to their backup tie-ins six times out of their twenty combined match-ups.
The Fenway Park Bowl will give the American four tie-ins against Power-5 conferences, the most among the Group of Five conferences. This, along with the occasional appearance as an at-large in more prestigious non-New Year’s Six Bowls, like Memphis 2017 Liberty Bowl appearance, helps the conference’s profile immensely.
Furthermore, their relatively frequent bowl match-ups with the Power Five work hand in hand with their “Power Six” campaign to distance themselves from their Group of Five colleagues.
Aside from more chances to play the Power Five, the Fenway Bowl helps their northeast and mid-Atlantic counterparts. Everyone knows the American is a conference with a large geographic sprawl. As a result, this poses problems in accommodating members come bowl season, with Conference USA facing similar problems.
Previously, the only option for schools such as UConn, Temple, and Navy was the Military Bowl in Annapolis. Additionally, this prevents these schools from using bowl slots that give little benefit to the school and organizers.
Temple has made appearances in Boca Raton, Shreveport, and St. Petersburg, in addition to their 2016 Military Bowl appearance in the current bowl cycle.
UConn was “blessed” with a trip to St. Peterburg in 2015, and only drew 14,652 fans. Boston is an easy trip for these schools and their fans, compared to the likes of Frisco, TX or Boca Raton, FL.
Navy’s bowl appearances have consisted of “trips” to the Military Bowl in 2015 and 2017, along with an appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2016.
Navy faces a similar problem to Army where their bowl options mostly consist of these two bowls, limiting the diversity of their options. The Fenway Bowl should provide a change of scenery for Navy fans.
There’s Just Something About Fenway
Sometimes the venue is all that makes a bowl great. Few bowls reside in a venue as sacred as Fenway. Middle-tier bowls such as the Pinstripe, First Responders, and Birmingham bowls set themselves apart from their peers for this reason, and there’s a reason the Rose Bowl is so renowned.
I am not comparing this new bowl to the Rose Bowl, but becoming a part of Fenway’s rich history is not something the American should take lightly.
The American won big time in gaining not only another bowl partner, but one with the potential that the Fenway Park bowl has. Not only does it provide the conference a fun game at a historic venue, something the other Group of 5 conferences mostly lack, but it provides yet another opportunity for the conference to separate themselves among their peers. Fans of the American should join with New England football fans and rejoice at this news.