Just days after extending its contract with the Sega Sports Las Vegas Bowl, the Mountain West Conference renewed its contract with the AXA Liberty Bowl. For the next three seasons (2002, 2003 and 2004) the MWC championship team is guaranteed a trip to Memphis to play the top team from Conference USA.
The Liberty Bowl, the nation’s seventh oldest bowl game, continues to be the only non-BCS game to feature conference champions.
“By continuing our partnership with the Mountain West, the AXA Liberty Bowl is able to feature teams that win their way to Memphis each year,” said Steve Ehrhart, the Liberty Bowl’s executive director. “The AXA Liberty Bowl is about winners and we’re excited to continue that tradition. The Mountain West features some of the most entertaining and elite football programs in the country, and we’re pleased to show fans from the western part of the U.S. what Memphis has to offer.”
Since the Liberty Bowl’s inception in 1959, the game has featured such prominent football programs as Notre Dame, LSU, Tennessee and Miami. The Rams have been featured twice, including a 23-17 loss to Southern Mississippi in 1999 and a 22-17 win over Louisville in 2000. Last year’s game featured Louisville negating BYU’s BCS worthiness by defeating the Cougars, 28-10.
Since the Liberty Bowl first signed an agreement with the MWC in 1999, the game’s attendance has increased 13 percent, including last year’s crowd of 58,968 fans. MWC teams are 6-3 in bowl games through the past three seasons and their combined bowl winning percentage of .667 is the third highest in the nation during that time.
“The relationship with the AXA Liberty Bowl has been very important to the development of football in the Mountain West Conference,” said MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson. “The annual opportunity for two Top 25 teams to meet in the bowl has given us great latitude and advantages in regular-season scheduling. The rich tradition of the bowl makes it a most appealing destination for our champion.”
Throughout its 44-year history, the Liberty Bowl has featured former Heisman Trophy winners such as Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie, Terry Baker and Ernie Davis, as well as coaching legends like Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, Johnny Majors, Tom Osborne and Lou Holtz. NFL stars such as Donovan McNabb and Antowain Smith have also led their college teams to Liberty Bowl victories.
The Liberty Bowl, which serves as a national showcase for world renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has a contract with ESPN, which will televise the games through 2008. n