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VOL. 129 | NO. 137 | Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ehrhart Touts Liberty Bowl to SEC Schools

By Don Wade

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HOOVER, Ala. – Steve Ehrhart has work to do.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The 56th AutoZone Liberty Bowl isn’t until Dec. 29, but the bowl’s executive director knows the time is now to make his case to SEC athletic directors.

Thus, Ehrhart has been a very visible presence this week at SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham. This is the first year of college football’s new four-team playoff format and it has resulted in a shake-up in the way teams will find their way into bowls below the top-tier level.

The AutoZone Liberty Bowl has six-year contracts with the SEC and Big 12, but no longer will a “pecking order” determine where teams land.

“In short strokes, we’re part of the six-bowl pool,” Ehrhart said. “After the Capital One Bowl (which has an SEC tie-in), there are six bowls (with SEC connections) that are absolutely equal. We have the same payouts, same ticket requirements.”

The five other bowls to which Ehrhart was referring: the Outback Bowl in Tampa; the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville; the Belk Bowl in Charlotte; the AdvoCare Texas Bowl in Houston; and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville.

“After Dec. 6, they’ll say to those eligible teams you rank one, two, three the bowls you’d prefer to go to,” Ehrhart explained. “And they’ll ask each bowl to rank in order – one, two, three – the universities that you’d like. And then they’ll consider that. But they made it very clear it will be the conference’s decision about who goes on behalf of the SEC.

“So that’s a big change from the old days when there was a pecking order and somebody would take third and somebody take fourth and all that thing.”

Which is why Ehrhart was looking to get face time with folks here this week; next week, he’ll attend Big 12 Media Days in Dallas.

“On one hand, there’s no real recruiting pitch in the sense that you can’t be offering early and you don’t have control of the deal,” Ehrhart said.

Naturally, Ehrhart followed that statement with all the pluses of the Liberty Bowl, including its history and convenient location for fans from many SEC and Big 12 schools.

“It was important for us to get the Big 12 on the other side, too,” he said. “For example, one of the Dallas papers talked about, could there be a Texas-Texas A&M match-up in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl? Which there could be. Kansas and Missouri, they lost that great rivalry when Missouri left the Big 12. They could bring that rivalry back together in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Matter of fact, we were just talking to the Missouri AD about that very thing.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘sales pitch,’” Ehrhart said, “but it’s keeping the dialogue going with them and making sure with the new plan everybody understands.”

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