Big Ten commits to Detroit by partnering with Lions for bowl

Posted on July 18, 2013

While the Big Ten has continued to rework its bowl schedule beginning with the 2014 season, one thing became certain on Wednesday: The conference will continue to play a game in Detroit.

The Big Ten and the Detroit Lions have entered a six-year partnership for a bowl game to be played at Ford Field beginning in 2014. What that game will be called, who will be the title sponsor and what conference will join the Big Ten in the bowl game remains to be determined.

“When we started meeting with our athletic directors and potential and existing bowl partners last November, our goal was to create a national slate,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “This Detroit opportunity is in our footprint, and we’ve got a great football partner in the Detroit Lions.”

The inaugural game is scheduled to be played on Dec. 30, 2014.

The announcement also likely means the end of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the game that had been played at Ford Field since 2002, when it moved from the Silverdome, its home since its inception in 1997 as the Motor City Bowl.

While Little Caesars Bowl officials have held out hope they can continue to play in Detroit, the possibility of two Detroit-based bowl games seemed to be dashed Wednesday.

“I would highly doubt that given the current landscape,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “We think the resources that we have to bring to bear, that the community has to bring to bear, are formidable. But if you looked at any city right now across the country, there are very, very few that can support two major bowl games. That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen, but our involvement will be limited to this one in a direct format.”

Little Caesars also reiterated its support for one game moving forward after its agreement ends with this December’s game.

“… we’re very pleased that Detroit will remain in that spotlight as a result of this announcement,” Ed Gleich, senior vice president for Little Caesars, said in a statement. “The economic impact of a collegiate bowl game in Detroit is significant, and we fully support this positive development that will benefit the entire metropolitan Detroit community.”

Lewand said the Lions have been in discussion with several possible partners to become the title sponsor, adding it is an attractive proposition for many companies.

“Clearly, we’ve got a track record of having partners at the local level which showcase the best of what Detroit has to offer, and there are certainly a lot of companies in our area that fit that bill,” he said. “But that’s not to say that there are not other companies that are looking to gain a foothold in Detroit as our footprint grows and as our community grows. We think this presents an exciting opportunity for those types of partners as well.”

Who that partner will be on the field remains to be seen, as well.

The Mid-American Conference has joined the Big Ten throughout the history of the Little Caesars Bowl, but it is believed the MAC will be left out of the new agreement.

Multiple reports have suggested the Atlantic Coast Conference will join the partnership, though those details have yet to be finalized.

“Clearly, we’ll be adding another conference partner,” Lewand said. “We’re in final discussions with another very dynamic collegiate conference that we expect to join the mix in the next couple of weeks.”

One issue with the Little Caesars Bowl was the fact a Big Ten team played in the game only three times — (Northwestern in 2003 and Purdue in 2007 and 2011.

But the Big Ten’s new bowl-selection system will likely create more opportunities to send a team to Detroit on a consistent basis.

In an effort to create new, quality matchups, the Big Ten will no longer follow a straight pecking order in determining bowl berths. Instead, there will be a three-tier system, with the new game in Detroit likely falling in the third tier

Nothing has been announced officially, but the top tier would likely include the Capital One, Outback and Holiday bowls, while the second tier would include the Gator and Music City bowls along with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl. That would put the Detroit game with the Heart of Dallas and Armed Forces bowls.

The Rose Bowl remains in its own tier for the Big Ten, and the league also will appear in the Orange Bowl at least three times between 2014-26.

“As we go into this new cycle, we’re proud Detroit can be part of that,” Delany said. “We’re also excited about the potential new partners from television and sponsorship, as well as opponent. We think that the signals are positive in all of those areas. While they are not completed, they’re positive and we want to keep getting fresh. We want to keep all of our games fresh and we’re very excited about the announcement today.”