“It will feel good to run out of that tunnel one more time before I take my talents to the next level,” [Ray] Graham said.
“Any bowl, except Birmingham (Compass Bowl),” he added with a laugh. “Three times in a row. I think they may not even allow us in there. Wherever we go, we are going to make the best of that bowl game and have fun. Another win will help solidify the season.”
We all hoped, any place but Birmingham.
So, in the end it comes back to Birmingham. All those hopes for a New York Brawl. Or even a trip to a bowl named for a chain that is a poor-man’s Applebees. Gone. Dashed against the forces of a 6-6 record, and the fervent desire of everyone else to avoid the BBVA Compass Bowl as well.
I get it. All who point out the obvious. That if Pitt didn’t want to go to a third straight trip to Birmingham, then they should have showed up for the first three quarters of the UConn game. Or the first quarter of the Syracuse game. Or finished the job against Notre Dame. There is no question that this team had opportunities. Couple that with the Big East bowl tie-ins, and it is really easy to say Pitt got what they deserved.
Except that it is three bleeping times to the same crappy bowl. And lest anyone forget, Pitt got bumped way down to the BBVA in 2010. They finished 7-5 and 5-2 in conference. Not great, given the expectations, but consider that USF and Louisville finished worse. Cuse had the same record overall, but lost to Pitt. Last year, attempts to evade the BBVA were thwarted by a pissed off Big East because Pitt was heading to the ACC (not an issue as much this year since only Cinci will still be in the Big East by 2014). So, at some point there has to be a balancing out of things. Right?
It seemed things were going to break right late Sunday. That Northern Illinois qualified for a BCS Bowl meant that Oklahoma wasn’t going. That meant the Big XII pecking order would potentially drop WVU past the Holiday Bowl and within reach of the Pinstripe Bowl. That would allow the Pinstripe Bowl to also reach for Pitt. Something that seemed like a sure bet. A sure sell out and some actual buzz about the bowl. But it isn’t like Pitt was the only one pushing and working the phones. And unlike Pitt, other schools would actually get help from their conferences.
The Big XII was working things hard — and holding out hope for Oklahoma to a BCS bowl. That meant the Pinstripe couldn’t be sure it would get the Hoopies before making the decision on the Big East team. So they took the sure thing with regards to ticket sales.
Pederson said there was talk about reviving the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, but bowl officials opted for in-state Syracuse against the Mountaineers.
The Orange shared first place in the Big East with Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati, finishing ahead of fifth-place Pitt. Syracuse also defeated Pitt, 14-13.
“The Pinstripe Bowl felt like they had to move quickly (Sunday), and at that point, they weren’t sure who the other side of the game was going to be,” Pederson said.
“They weren’t 100 percent sure they were going to have West Virginia. They decided to go with Syracuse, which is in their home state. They were good about it.”
The conspiracist in me can’t help but irresponsibly speculate that neither Pitt or WVU pushed too hard for a Big Apple Brawl to actually become reality. With the Backyard Brawl on hiatus for a while, neither would want to really remind/annoy their fanbases about the fact that this rivalry game is dead.
That decision left only one other destination that could keep Pitt from Birmingham. The Beef O’Brady Bowl. If they could work a deal to switch with the BBVA. It wouldn’t be the same kind of competition. A future Big East member in Central Florida instead of Ole Miss. But it would be in St. Petersburg, Florida. It would take place over the winter break. And… it wouldn’t be Birmingham.
And honestly, I have to believe both bowls would have been willing to make the switch. You can not convince me that the people in Birmingham wanted Pitt back for a 3d straight year. They know ticket sales would be even worse than last year which was damn poor. And St. Pete’s local community would be much happier getting ACC-bound Pitt over MACtion from Ball State.
But — and this is again speculation — two things probably worked against Pitt. The first is that it is highly unlikely the Big East wanted to have UCF face Pitt. Too much risk for the potential reward. As much as they would love to see Pitt lose to the incoming UCF Knights. If Pitt beat UCF, it would be a stark reminder of what the Big East is forced to trade down to get. Plus, a game like this would mean continual chatter for the entire game about Pitt leaving the Big East and the overall condition of the conference. They didn’t want that. So, they probably at least made their feelings known about whether they wanted Pitt in that bowl.
More importantly, both BBVA and Beef are TV Bowls owned and operated by ESPN (which is also why it would have been possible for this trade). So what the local chamber of commerces, hotel chains, ticket sales and people in the respecitve cities want, is secondary to what Bristol says. Pitt in the Beef Bowl probably wouldn’t make much of a difference beyond a couple tenths of a point on a Friday night bowl game.
A Pitt-Ole Miss bowl game is a more compelling, and likely to draw decent enough ratings for an early Saturday, post-New Year’s Day Bowl than anything else they could put out there.
“We’ve been given a great opportunity to play a quality program like Ole Miss,” first-year Pitt coach Paul Chryst said in a statement Sunday. “I know they finished the season strong and looked impressive in winning the [rivalry] Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. We are appreciative of the City of Birmingham and the BBVA Compass Bowl for giving us the chance to play one more game this season.”
…And once this game is over, may we never set foot in this city again.