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Posted on Sun, Dec 18, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

Despite panning of Michigan-Virginia Tech matchup, Sugar Bowl officials feel they 'hit the mother lode'

By Staff

Note: This story is from our Advance Publications partners at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. For their complete Sugar Bowl coverage, visit

By Ted Lewis

Since its earliest years more than three-quarters of a century ago, the unofficial goal of the Sugar Bowl has been “The best game possible.” But in the wake of the bowl’s selecting No. 11 Virginia Tech to play No. 13 Michigan on Jan. 3 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, making it the first Sugar Bowl without a top 10 team since 1945, many have seriously questioned if this year that’s the case.

If the assorted slings and arrows were real, bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan would look like Mayhem, the pummeled, bandaged spokesman for Allstate, the Sugar Bowl’s title sponsor.

And it’s somehow overshadowed the fact that six days after the Michigan-Virginia Tech game, LSU will play Alabama for the BCS championship in the Superdome. It comes close to matching the Saints-Vikings NFC championship game of two years ago as the most eagerly anticipated sports event in New Orleans history.


Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan locked in on Michigan because of the Wolverines’ large fan base, which hadn’t been to a BCS bowl since the 2006 season and to New Orleans since 1984.

Melanie Maxwell |

The Sugar Bowl is the host for the title game for the second time under the BCS’ double-hosting format. Local economic impact for the games is estimated to be in excess of $400 million.

“The combination of these two games is of astronomical proportions,” Hoolahan said. “When it’s over, people are going to say ‘Wow.’”

Certainly the LSU-Alabama game has the “wow factor” and then some.

And for all of the arguments about the worthiness of Virginia Tech to be in the Sugar Bowl after the Hokies’ loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game (oddly enough, there’s little knocking of Michigan although the Wolverines are actually ranked lower than the Hokies), the teams are evenly matched. The Wolverines are a two-point favorite.

Point spread alone doesn’t make it the best game possible, but there were other factors at play that led to the pairing, some within the Sugar Bowl’s control and some not and some which could well cause future change in the BCS rules that does at least explain it:

With LSU and Alabama in the championship game, the rules forbade a third Southeastern Conference team in a BCS bowl. So the Sugar Bowl, which had replaced the SEC champion with another SEC team for the past five years, had to look elsewhere instead of inviting No. 6 Arkansas or No. 9 South Carolina.

Unbeaten Houston looked like a lock until losing to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. Although from a non-BCS conference, the nearby Cougars undoubtedly would have brought more fans than previous non-BCS Sugar Bowl participants Hawaii and Utah.

With Houston losing early in the day Dec. 3, Hoolahan was in discussions with the Big 12 to have Oklahoma come to the Sugar Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl had the Sooners beaten Oklahoma State with the Cowboys playing in the Fiesta. Or, there was the possibility of a victorious Oklahoma going to the Orange Bowl with a victorious Virginia Tech (probably ranked No. 5) coming to the Sugar Bowl instead of its fourth trip to Miami in five years. But both Oklahoma and Virginia Tech lost, meaning no swaps.

For some time, Hoolahan had been locked in on Michigan because of the Wolverines’ large fan base, which hadn’t been to a BCS bowl since the 2006 season and to New Orleans since 1984.

The remaining eligible teams were No. 4 Stanford, No. 7 Boise State, No. 8 Kansas State, No. 12 Baylor, Big East champion West Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Stanford, Boise and West Virginia were never under consideration. Neither was Baylor despite the presence of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III whose parents are natives of New Orleans. ESPN apparently didn’t push for any of those teams, either.

That left the choice between Kansas State, which has never been in the Sugar Bowl and Virginia Tech, which had made three appearances since 1995.

Both schools and their conferences made their pitches on Selection Sunday, although K-State Athletic Director John Currie said last week, “I let us down. I didn’t know the people well enough to do what we were supposed to do.”

But Currie added that the relationship between Hoolahan and ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who were football teammates at North Carolina, was a factor.

Hoolahan vigorously denies that, but does acknowledge that the familiarity with Virginia Tech is a factor, especially in a year when double-hosting has his organization stretched to the max.

“We were already bringing in one unknown entity in Michigan,” he said. “And we really saw Kansas State and Virginia Tech lumped together (the Wildcats were No. 10 in all three polls and the Hokies were 11th).

“We came at it from every angle and in the end made a decision based on our best judgment and experiences and what was best for the Sugar Bowl. If the rules were different, it would have been an entirely different game.”

Making those rules different is something Hoolahan hopes happens. While a championship game featuring two teams from the same conference may never happen again, the rules restricting leagues to one at-large team is a hindrance toward making the best pairings for both a competitive and financial reasons (the bulk of the Sugar Bowl’s income comes from ticket sales).

When the conference commissioners who control the BCS meet next spring, amending that rule is sure to be on the agenda with speculation running high that all qualifying standards may be eliminated when the next cycle of games begin in 2014 although the albatross the Big East has become has many wishing it could be done before then.

Even more important to the bowls is the elimination of the post-Jan. 1 BCS bowls because of the problems they cause for those with school and work conflicts such as this year’s game is doing to the Sugar and Orange bowls.

While much has been made of Virginia Tech’s inability to sell its official allotment of 17,500 tickets (Michigan is within 2,000 of its allotment), West Virginia, which has never been to the Orange Bowl, and Clemson, which hasn’t played in it since 1982, have sold only 5,000 and 8,000 tickets respectively to their game, which will be played the day after the Sugar Bowl.

“These items are going to be brought up and discussed,” Hoolahan said. “And if our partners in this consortium agree, then the rules will be modified to the benefit of everyone.”

Meanwhile, Hoolahan and the rest of the Sugar Bowl staff and volunteers have two games to prepare for.

“We’re looking at the biggest game in our history - a monster game,” he said. And we’re looking at an outstanding Sugar Bowl with brand-name programs whose fans we’re confident will be here in large numbers and which will deliver the numbers our TV partner desires.

“We feel like we’ve hit the mother lode.”

Ted Lewis can be reached at or 504-232-5071.



Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 6:22 a.m.

@Bobby.."pretty embarrassing when "little brother" whips your ass 4 times in a grateful you didn't play the badgers once let alone may be in the meaningless Sugar Bowl...but you are still Sparty's FOUR TIMES in a row forgot the most important comparison with Sparty..28-14...NUFF SAID!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 5:54 p.m.

How do these numbers strike you? 67-30-5 in favor of U of M... Just 37 more years, if you win them'll be TIED!!! yeah for you!!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 11:46 p.m.

Here's a crazy idea. What if the 10 best teams actually played in the five major bowl games? It might demonstrate to the rest of the world that America cares about something other than money.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:43 p.m.

Thanks for pointing out the bowl games are about money Captain Obvious. College Football and athletics in general is about money. I'll tell you one thing though, if there's two teams that both travel well and sell tickets, all else being even, MICHIGAN will get the nod EVERY TIME WHY? BECAUSE WE'RE MICHIGAN, the winged helmet, the block M, tradition, class, etc. the list goes on......Go Blue !!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

@Turd Not just talking about Sparty, I'm talking about ANYone saying UM doesn't belong. Although I'll include those crybabies from East Lansing every chance I get. Furthermore, I believe this is one of the better BCS matchups, two class coaches, programs, and universities and definitely the best team available for UM to play. Better the Hokies than sorry teams like Houston, Boise, etc.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

SCOTT, Boise plays ONE decent team a year and they always have more than a month ( sometimes a YEAR) to prepare for them. The rest of the teams they play are cupcakes, and the only other conf. team that's decent is TCU and they've been losing to them. Boise doesn't belong in the convo for BCS or NC, ever.....


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:34 a.m.

Boise has beat Oklahoma, Virginia Tech(last year), and SEC runner up Georgia (this year). They are anything but sorry.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

everywhere Big Blue plays, the draw a croud. They draw their fans. UM is the big ten rivial. Sure the hairless nuts draw a thugish croud...


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

BTW Sparty Congrats on keeping your 25 year Rose Bowl streak alive LOL, and your BCS bowl streak alive of never being in one!!!!!!!! PATHETIC!!!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

I'm not sure why people are still talking about who "deserves" to go, BUT a 10-2 UM team who PLAYED 10 BOWLBOUND TEAMS THIS YEAR ON THEIR schedule (a record), and BEAT 8 BOWLBOUND teams (Lsu and Ok st only other teams to do so), speaks for itself. As far as loser Sparty goes, you had your chance and choked as usual. UM improved after the loss to Sparty, and SMOKED Neb, who smoked you fools, and we beat ND, who also manhandled you losers. Here's a Stat for Sparty, COMMON OPPONENTS Neb, Iowa, Minny, ND, NW, Ohio, UM 236 OPP 130. SPARTY 125 Opp'll ALWAYS BE LIL BROTHER, NUFF SAID!!!!!!!

David Vande Bunte

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

I posted this on MLive last week in response to an MSU fanboy, but I think it bears repeating here, with a few minor tweaks to make it more of a general comment, rather than directly pointed at Sparties...Lets look at the BCS standings, with particular attention to those teams who might claim they got snubbed in favor of Michigan and Virginia Tech: #1 LSU: BCS National Championship Game. (BCS/AQ SEC Champ) #2 Alabama: BCS National Championship Game. (BCS At-large) #3 Oklahoma State: Fiesta Bowl (BCS/AQ as Big XII Champ) #4 Stanford: Fiesta Bowl (BCS At-Large) #5 Oregon: Rose Bowl (BCS/AQ as Pac-12 Champ) #6 Arkansas: ineligible for a BCS game because rules only allow 2 per conference. #7 Boise State: BSU didn't win their conference, and no 1-loss team from a non-AQ conference was going to be selected to a BCS Bowl. #8 Kansas State: This is the only team with a legitimate complaint. KSU did kinda get hosed. #9 South Carolina: same situation as Arkansas. #10 Wisconsin: Rose Bowl (BCS/AQ as Big Ten Champ) #11 Virginia Tech: Sugar Bowl (BCS At-Large) #12 Baylor: 3 losses. Sorry. #13 Michigan: Sugar Bowl (BCS At-Large) #14 Oklahoma: 3 losses, ranked below both UM and VT anyway. #15 Clemson Orange Bowl (BCS/AQ as ACC Champ) #16 Georgia: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #17 MSU: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #18 TCU: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #19 Houston: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #20 Nebraska: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #21 Southern Miss: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #22: Penn State: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #23 West Virginia Orange Bowl (BCS/AQ as Big East Champ) #24 Texas: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. #25 Auburn: BCS ranking makes them ineligible to be selected. After looking, who exactly got snubbed? Not who SHOULD they have taken, but who COULD they have taken, using the BCS rules in place?


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

I agree the point you're making. Which is that the current rules force the BCS to take teams that are not in the top 10 and whose performance has not earned a BCS bid. I agree that Arkansas, Boise state, Kansas state, and South Carolina are more deserving but the BCS rules cut them out. If you are one that is proud that we eked into a bowl game that we didn't earn, be thankful that we do have a top 10 fan base. There is no other explanation for this. This is what makes the BCS a joke. While this year we are the benefactors, in the long run the BCS cannot survive by deliberately putting anything other than the best performing teams on the stage. that is all.

Lorain Steelmen

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Sugar Bowl officials, will actually be gettiing an excellent team in Michigan. msu faded as the season progressed, and by season's end, the two best teams inthe league were Wisconsin and UM. Had Um gotten a shot the Badgers instead of msu, Um would probably be going to the Rose Bowl instead of Wisconsin.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

This year though it's the best Back In Game Possible. Because that's exactly what the Wolverines did.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 3:18 a.m.

This is a case of a good stiff upper lip from the Sugar Bowl. The BCS is what it is, and a prior poster was spot on when he said its about the dollars. In the end, this is still the first Sugar Bowl since 1945 without a top 10 team. This is what the BCS did for college football.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 3:02 a.m.

Since the BCS started back in 1998.The Conference with the Best Record is The BIg East.The Worest is The Big Ten.Only year they had a winning record in Bowls Games was 2003.Last Year 0 and 5.Now The BCS stands for Big Conference Schools.They don't want the Small Schools Beating The Big Boys.Last Year TCU vs The Badgers.Boise St.Beats everybody they Play on the Big Stage.3 or 4 years ago Utah Ran All Over The Crimson Tide in The Sugar Bowl.They Don't want that happening again.Merry Christmas you got a Gift going to this Bowl.YOU'D BETTER WIN IT.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 2:37 a.m.

Good for New Orleans. A great place to receive an economic boost! Wish I was going, good go for a classic po boy!


Sun, Dec 18, 2011 : 9:30 p.m.

I think it is about time for va tech and mich to play, though I am uncertain why either team "deserves" it based on the fact that there are higher ranked teams out there. It is understandable when finances are factored in, but what the article does not explore is why Boise state and Kansas state were excluded so quickly, especially Boise state with the tradition of upsetting big teams like oklahoma and Georgia. If it is truly about the best match ups, then Boise state should have been considered. If it is just $$$, then the committee should have the guts to admit it, though these games should also move the games to a better time for it's fans to get there.


Sun, Dec 18, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

Yes, revenue production is what the various bowl committees are ultimately interested in. But second to that, I think the Michigan / Virginia Tech match-up is intriguing. Let's not forget that VT (yes, playing in a less-than-strong conference ... ditto the Big 10 of late) has been the most consistent double-digit win team for the past decade. And Michigan has reasserted itself on the national stage. Both teams have something to prove. I think there'll be a lot of heart displayed on the field that night.