Liberty has secured a two year bowl tie-in agreement with the AutoNation Cure Bowl for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The American Athletic Conference and the SunBelt Conference are scheduled to play each year in the AutoNation Cure Bowl; however, with this secondary bowl agreement, it will give the Flames the opportunity to replace a team if either conference fails to field enough deserving teams.
The AutoNation Cure Bowl is played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida each December. The game is televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. The 2018 game will be played on December 15th, while the 2019 AutoNation Cure Bowl will be played on December 21st.
“The goal of the AutoNation Cure Bowl is to raise funds for cancer research, and the mission of what they are doing aligns well with us,” Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw stated. “We’re excited about the opportunity to go to Orlando for a postseason bowl destination. We thought that would be an exciting destination for our student-athletes, as well as our fans.”
Of the 6 FBS Independents, only Liberty, Notre Dame, and New Mexico State have bowl tie-ins for 2018. BYU previously had a tie-in with the Poinsettia Bowl, which has been discontinued. Beginning with the 2019 season, the Cougars have a deal in place with the Hawaii Bowl. Army no longer has a formal bowl tie-in, and UMass doesn’t currently have one either.
“The reaction I have received in the last couple of hours is that this is an incredible coup for Liberty football,” McCaw said. “What I’m excited about is it provides extra motivation for our student-athletes. They have something to play for in terms of postseason, and that’s going to be a great encourager for them as they go through preseason practice and the regular season.”
The Orlando Sports Foundation hosts 3 bowl games each year, including the Cure Bowl, and McCaw formed a relationship with them while he was at Baylor when the Bears competed in the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2015, helping lead to this agreement.
The 2018 season acts as the 2nd of its two-year FBS transition process, but the NCAA bylaws do have provisions for the Flames to qualify for a bowl game in 2018 provided Liberty has successfully transitioned to year two of its FBS transitional status and has won the required 6 games. In order for Liberty to earn a bowl spot in 2018, the Flames would need to have 6 FBS qualifying wins, which could include 5 FBS wins and 1 FCS win, the AutoNation Cure Bowl would have to be unable to fill its slots with an AAC and SunBelt team, and all of the 6 FBS qualifying win teams would have to have an opportunity to get to a bowl game. If all of those conditions are met, Liberty would be in line for an invitation to the Cure Bowl before any of the 5 win FBS teams.
In 2 of the last 3 years, the SunBelt and AAC have been unable to fill all of their bowl slots. If that happens again in either of the next two seasons, and the Flames are bowl eligible, Liberty will be in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. The one exception to that is, in 2018, if there are enough deserving, 6 win FBS teams to fill all bowl spots, one of them would be in line for the bid to the Cure Bowl before Liberty.
“What (this agreement) really affirms for us, is the viability of being an FBS Independent long-term, and that’s the direction we’re headed,” McCaw said.
This agreement will run through the current bowl cycle, which expires in 2019, and McCaw says Liberty will reevaluate its options for the next bowl cycle, which begins in 2020. There have been rumors of as many as 3 new bowl games being added during the next cycle.