Gator Bowl opening could loom for Big 12

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big East's hard-line pronouncement about its availability for the Gator Bowl might add another potential suitor into the Big 12's upcoming bowl mix.

New Big East commissioner John Marinatto told the Tampa Tribune that he is unwilling to continue the "shared-pick" arrangement that sends the Big East No. 2 team twice and the Big 12 No. 4 team twice in a four-year period to the Jacksonville-based bowl.

"It would be doubtful," Marinatto told the Tribune. "It's not what we want and not what we're going to try for. It's not on our agenda. We believe the Big East has earned that, we don't want the hybrid model.

"If we have to go somewhere else, so be it."

In the other two years of the shared pick, the No. 4 Big 12 team will go to the Alamo Bowl and the No. 5 Big 12 team will go to the Sun Bowl. That will be the case during this upcoming season.

New agreements will begin in 2010 and Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has been working furiously over the last several weeks with various current partners and potential new bowls for destinations for his teams.

Big 12 teams have played in the Gator Bowl in two of the last three seasons, with Texas Tech meeting Virginia in the 2008 game and Nebraska and Clemson meeting in the 2009 game. The Big 12 has won both of those games.

Beebe said last week that the Gator Bowl has been a strong arrangement for the Big 12 for several reasons. First, it is a New Year's Day game that provides the strong kind of exposure that the conference craves. Secondly, it is based in Florida to give them a consistent recruiting presence in another part of the country.

But the Jacksonville trip is an expensive one for Big 12 fans -- particularly if they are forced to buy their airline tickets inside a 21-day window from the game.

The Big 12's current bowl arrangement provides its winner to the BCS and its No. 2 team to the Cotton Bowl. That long-term relationship is unlikely to change -- particularly as the Cotton Bowl moves to the Dallas Cowboys' plush new stadium in Arlington, Texas.

But after that, the Gator Bowl could get in the mix for a No. 3 team which is currently held by the Holiday Bowl. Bowl sources indicate the Alamo Bowl also is interested in that team and the Houston Bowl could be interested as well.

A more regionally based bowl such as the Alamo or Texas bowl might make more sense and prove more attractive to more Big 12 schools because of its proximity inside the conference's geographic footprint.

Even with a higher payout at another bowl in another part of the country, that number could be diminished if the Big 12 school wouldn't sell its quota of tickets. The conference's teams would be more likely to sell those tickets if they played in a bowl game where fans could drive.

But both bowls would struggle matching the sizzle of playing inside Florida -- particularly considering every Big 12 team normally plays at least one game inside the state of Texas as part of its regular-season schedule.

I expect a lot of posturing and positioning in the next several weeks. But however it plays out, the Big 12's stature among the bowls has never appeared stronger.