By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
Like most businesses, 2020 was a challenge for the Independence Bowl. The 11th-oldest postseason college football game was to produce its first chapter under new title sponsor Radiance Technologies and the debut of a round-robin tie-in system.
Fallout from Covid-19 cancelled the Army vs. Pac-12 matchup, an unfortunate way to begin the new relationships.
One year later, the game returned in style. The highest-ranked team (No. 12 BYU) in the history of the I-Bowl faced UAB on Dec. 18 in front of a network (ABC) audience for the first time in seven years.
“It was great (to be back in the bowl business),” Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters told the Journal. “We were holding our breath (the game would go on this year).”
In the end, the lost year offered the I-Bowl and Radiance Technologies a unique opportunity — 20 months to prepare for their first dance.
“The extra time built our partnership despite the fact there wasn’t a game,” Setters said. “After that disappointment (in 2020), it gave us time to sit down and evaluate all the events we were doing and work with Radiance to see what their vision was – it worked out well.”
The 2021 edition, won by UAB, 31-28, produced 3.22 million viewers million viewers (coincidentally boosted by a Covid-cancelled NFL game set to run concurrently), the largest audience for the game since 2015 (Georgia Tech-Tulsa, 3.42M). Viewership jumped 36 percent from the previous edition on ESPN two seasons ago (Louisiana Tech-Miami, 2.37 million).
This year, it’s Army’s turn against a member of The American Athletic Conference.
“As far as bowl games go, we have the hardest working staff and group of volunteers in the country — a lot of folks before me who have worked hard for years to get this foundation to a point where it is today,” said this year’s bowl chairman, Rob Rubel, a Centenary graduate whose term begins in March. “I’m just proud to have a chance to play a role in moving the whole thing a little more in the right direction. Radiance Technologies is as good of a title sponsor as we could have ever hoped for.”
More changes to the I-Bowl’s schedule are expected. In September, BYU (currently an Independent) announced the intention to join the Big-12 (likely in 2023). The Cougars were to return to Shreveport against the Pac-12 in 2023 and Conference USA in 2025, the final year of this bowl cycle.
Replacement options (if needed) are expected to be discussed soon.
Now, it’s time for I-Bowl officials and Radiance Technologies to turn their attention toward Shreveport’s 46th bowl game.
“Everything we’ve heard (Radiance) was really happy,” Setters said. “We’re reviewing things (about the 2021 game) from our end and they are doing the same. We’re going to put that feedback together and start planning for this year.”
Independence Bowl tie-in schedule
2020: Army vs. Pac-12 (cancelled)
2021: BYU vs. C-USA (UAB)
2022: Army vs. The American
2023: *BYU vs. Big-12
2024: Army vs. Pac-12
2025: *BYU vs. C-USA
*BYU likely to be replaced with its move the Big-12
Photo: courtesy UAB Athletics