Ever wondered how your favorite college football team ended up in its postseason bowl game? Turns out it’s much more complicated than you’d think.
Before the flashy television announcements, better known to college football fans and teams as ‘Selection Sunday,’ there are weeks of negotiations and discussions.
The first Sunday in December is just the day it all gets gifted to fans with a pretty bow on top.
So inside the Charlotte Sports Foundation office, a few minutes drive from Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, there is a team of people trying to work out just that: Which teams will be playing in every bowl – specifically in the Belk Bowl, held at 1 p.m. on Dec. 29 in Charlotte – at the end of the month?
Wait for the dominoes to fall
It’s 2:04 in the afternoon, and the dominoes to determine who goes where are about to start falling. At 2:10, Will Webb, the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, huddles over an iPad in the center of the exposed-brick office. It’s tuned into ESPN, where the teams ranked No. 6 through No. 25 are about to be announced.
Webb’s particularly interested in two ACC schools: Notre Dame and N.C. State. If the Fighting Irish land in the Top 11, they’ll head to a New Year’s Six bowl, one of the highest-profile postseason games. If not, they’ll likely be in the Citrus Bowl. He advises that since the Big Ten gets a spot in the Orange Bowl, that Orlando will have two ACC selections – and that they are likely to take Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Webb also wants to see if the Wolfpack is ranked, which would enhance N.C. State’s standing in the top tier of ACC Bowls (Music City, Gator, Sun, Pinstripe, and Belk).
Webb watches intensely, a box of catered sandwiches next to the iPad on the table. It’s been a long day already and there’s plenty more to do. Everybody’s got to eat.
The rankings roll. Notre Dame is No. 14, so they’ll be in the Citrus Bowl instead of a New Year’s Six. That’s one domino. And with Virginia Tech likely to the other Orlando bowl, that leaves N.C. State in the Tier One pool, with preference to Pinstripe or Belk.
Webb retreats to his office, and at 2:14, he gets a text message. Boston College to Pinstripe, which leaves Sun for N.C. State. Two more dominoes. Wolfpack fans, who in past years haven’t bought all available tickets, will head to a smaller venue where that’s less of an issue.
None of those matchups, though, at least not this season, are surprises. The executives responsible for each of the bowls with ACC tie-ins (the Belk Bowl is one) meet annually about three weeks before Selection Sunday to run through potential pairings. This year, it was over dinner in New York, where these conversations start, “in earnest,” according to Webb. Essentially, which bowls would be interested in which schools? Based on geographic proximity and social media buzz, directors discuss their preferences.
(In years where Notre Dame’s standing is more up-in-the-air and middle of the pack, bowls will draw from a hat for the Fighting Irish. That name brand is always a big draw, Webb says, even if the team is 0-11.)
Avoid the leak
At 2:30, a Wake Forest fan tweets a parody song at the Belk Bowl Twitter account, asking to be taken there. Webb and others laugh at the video, but also nod their heads in approval. If they can get Wake Forest, which is likely, this is proof the fans will be pleased.
At 2:46, the phone rings. Usually, in the case of the Belk Bowl at least, the ACC calls Webb with news before the SEC. But given the conference championship the night before, the SEC calls first for once. Webb takes the news, chats for a minute or two, and then hangs up.
The SEC is sending Texas A&M to Charlotte, just like Webb would have hoped. Belk’s preferences, like every bowl, are for nearby schools and big names. Wake Forest is near. Texas A&M is a name, especially after the Aggies recently hired Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State on a massive 10-year contract.
Webb says the SEC will announce their team at 3:30, so the news waits. In the meantime, that gives everyone about 40 minutes to prep GIFs, logos, press releases, and more for the reveal. Everyone in the office springs into action.
At 2:54, Webb calls Texas A&M to congratulate the school on hiring Fisher and to welcome it to Charlotte. He discusses preliminary plans for when the university will have its “site visit,” where football operations staff, managers, trainers, alumni, and other school officials will visit Charlotte in the next week to assess its hotels, its restaurants, the stadium, and venues for functions. In that regard, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Motor Speedway are both big perks for the Belk Bowl to offer.
At 3:11, Webb gets back on the phone with the ACC and the decision is made – the Belk Bowl will get Wake Forest. The ACC wants to announce quickly, so Webb has to hurriedly call and officially invite the Deacons. The ACC’s desire to announce is predicated on getting the news out first. Belk won’t make its official announcement of the SEC team until 3:30, but by 3:15, it’s all over Twitter
The 3:30 announcement comes and goes, and Webb calls the staff into his office to thank them for their tireless efforts. But there’s still so much work to be done, planning the site visits and coordinating press conferences and, of course, selling tickets. But the moment of excitement, the reveal, has gone smoothly. While other announcements come in (N.C. State to the Sun Bowl is one of those later in the day), Webb and the Belk Bowl got exactly what they wanted.
Now it’s a countdown to kickoff.