The notion of playing football at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 30 might seem like a foreign concept these days. But the romance of reviving football at the new Stadium and the significance of having a college football bowl game in New York matching teams from the Big East and Big 12 conferences is an idea that might do for Big East football what the basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden has done for Big East basketball.
No one is more excited about the Syracuse-Kansas State matchup than Orange coach Doug Marrone, a Bronx native who grew up as a Yankees fan and has revived Syracuse football in just two years on the job. "Our players are excited about coming here and playing," Marrone said Tuesday at a Stadium press conference to promote the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl. "We've gone through some tough struggles with our program. We haven't gone to a bowl since 2004. We haven't had a winning season since 2001. To say we're excited is an understatement.
"From being born and raised in this city, I can't tell you what it means to have a bowl game here at Yankee Stadium. We can reach out to all the potential student-athletes in our New York City metropolitan area to one day be like me when I sat down in Yankee Stadium and said to myself, 'I want to play there. I want to be there.'
"I talked to my parents and told them I was getting ready to do a press conference at Yankee Stadium, and I told them it truly is a dream come true for someone born and raised in the Bronx."
This has been a down year for Big East football, a "bleep on the screen," Marrone called it. Connecticut won the automatic BCS bid and will play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl despite the fact the Huskies aren't in the top 25 of the BCS rankings (though West Virginia is No. 22). Although the Big East is sending four other teams to non-BCS bowls, the Pinstripe Bowl offers a unique opportunity to build the audience for Big East football in its largest market. New York is a market being eyed by the Big Ten as it considers possibly inviting Rutgers, Syracuse or Pitt in future expansion plans.
As a hedge against future raids by other conferences, the Big East recently invited TCU of the Mountain West to join, which the Horned Frogs gladly did for the chance to compete for the league's automatic BCS bid. A school from Fort Worth might not seem like a geographical fit, but it certainly is an economic fit because it brings such a strong football program.
"We're excited to add a program like TCU that's in the top five in the country right now," Marrone said. "It opens our market to the Texas area. My point has been that I trust our presidents, our athletic directors and the Big East to do the right thing for this conference. When they make a move they feel is going to better the conference, you have to be excited about it. I look forward to it. I think it's great."