AXA/Equitable Liberty Bowl Executive Director Steve Ehrhart and Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson announced today a three-year agreement that will pit the champion of the Mountain West Conference against the champion of Conference USA in the Memphis Bowl Game beginning in 1999. This year's game will be played December 31, 1999 at 4:00 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on ESPN.
This history-making arrangement marks the first time in the Liberty Bowl's 41 years that a match-up of Champion vs. Champion is guaranteed.
The Mountain West was represented at a press conference by Thompson, John Robinson (Head Coach of UNLV), Sonny Lubick (Head Coach of Colorado State), Chris Hill (Athletics Director of Utah) and Lee Moon (Athletics Director of Wyoming).
Brian Teter (Assistant Commissioner of Conference USA), R.C. Johnson (Athletics Director of the University of Memphis), Rip Scherer (Head Coach of the University of Memphis) and Mike Hamrick (Athletics Director of East Carolina University) represented Conference USA.
Terry Little, Vice President of the Equitable Companies, unveiled plans for a permanent AXA Cup Trophy. The AXA Cup for Excellence will be retained by the winning conference each year.
AXA is the world's largest insurer/asset manager. The Equitable is one of the nation's leading providers of financial services. AXA/Equitable has been the Bowl's corporate title sponsor since 1997.
In 1998, the AXA/Equitable Liberty Bowl paid $1.2 million to each participating team. The Bowl anticipates similar pay out to the Mountain West and Conference USA Champions again in 1999.
The Mountain West Conference engineered a blockbuster seven-year agreement giving ESPN exclusive national television rights to MWC football and basketball. Beginning in 1999, ESPN will produce 19-23 football games involving MWC teams. The agreement calls for minimums of two games on ABC, four games on ESPN and five games on ESPN2. The MWC will be featured a minimum of three times on
ESPN Thursday Night Game of the Week.
Thompson commented, "We're thrilled with our association with ESPN. The Mountain West will be one of the nation's elite football conferences. We look forward to the challenge of facing the champion of Conference USA in the AXA/Equitable Liberty Bowl."
The Mountain West Conference is comprised of eight tradition-rich football powers:
Air Force Academy
San Diego State
These eight universities were previously members of the Western Athletic Conference. However, these eight made a major commitment to compete at the highest level of college football. The result was a formation of the Mountain West Conference.
John Robinson is the new head coach at UNLV. Robinson coached 12 seasons at USC. He led the Trojans to eight bowl appearances, including four trips to the Rose Bowl. Robinson also coached nine years with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. However, it was the promise of an exciting and bright future in the Mountain West that lured Robinson to UNLV.
Robinson said, "The Mountain West Conference will be one of the premier conferences in America. That is a safe bet."