It took a lot longer than anyone expected, but the Big Ten has finalized a new contract with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl that runs through the 2013 season.
The Detroit-based bowl will select the No. 8 team from the Big Ten and pit it against the No. 1 or No. 2 selection from the Mid-American Conference. The Big Ten previously had put its No. 7 team against a MAC opponent in the former Motor City Bowl.
The Big Ten announced the rest of its new bowl lineup in October, and while the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl wasn't included, officials on both sides always expected an agreement. ESPN will continue to broadcast the game.
"Big Ten appearances in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl have produced some of the event's most memorable matchups and we look forward to more exciting competition," league commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. "With the number of Big Ten alumni in the Detroit area and an outstanding facility like Ford Field, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is a natural addition to our bowl lineup."
I doubt this announcement will fire up Big Ten fans, but at least it virtually assures that every bowl-eligible team from the league will find a postseason destination. We won't have many seasons like 2007, when every Big Ten squad but Minnesota reached the six-win plateau. Although the league's new bowl lineup is very SEC and Big 12 heavy, I think it creates a bit more manageable slate for the Big Ten, which played by far the nation's most challenging postseason schedule in recent years.
The big question is how often the Big Ten will send a team to Ford Field. Only two Big Ten teams have played in the bowl since the agreement began before the 2002 season. If the Big Ten doesn't have an eligible team, the bowl will select one from the Sun Belt.
Here's the final draft of the Big Ten's new bowl lineup, beginning this fall:
No. 1 team: Rose Bowl/BCS vs. Pac-10/BCS, Jan. 1
No. 2 team: Capital One Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1
No. 3 team: Outback Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1
No. 4/5 team: Gator Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1
No. 4/5 team: Insight Bowl vs. Big 12, Dec. 31
No. 6 team: Texas Bowl vs. Big 12, late December
No. 7 team: Dallas Football Classic vs. Conference USA or Big 12, Jan. 1
No. 8 team: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl vs. MAC, late December