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September 16, 2019

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Las Vegas Bowl exec talks potential matchup, Marshawn Lynch, new stadium

John Saccenti

L.E. Baskow

John Saccenti, executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, kicks back at Sam Boyd Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.

The Las Vegas Bowl will be celebrating its 25th birthday this year on Dec. 17. Unfortunately for the bowl’s Executive Director John Saccenti, the selection process for the teams competing in this year’s game has been the toughest yet.

The game usually gets the winner of the Mountain West Conference, but late-season, upset losses by Boise State, Wyoming and San Diego State have muddied the waters. On the other side, the game usually gets an attractive school out of the Pac-12 like USC, Washington or Utah but this year there aren’t enough teams in the conference with six wins.

Add to that an unprecedented situation where if Navy beats Temple today, the bowl selection committees may have to wait until after Dec. 10 (when Navy plays Army) to select their teams. This would send the bowls into a unique frenzy.

With all of the chaos surrounding the selection of this year’s game, we spoke with Saccenti to address everything from an update on the selection process to this year’s bowl game Hall of Fame selections.

Question: How has the selection process been this year compared with years past?

Answer: This year has been not even remotely close to the same as years past. As of right now, it’s been pretty challenging on both sides for different reasons. On the Mountain West side you have a couple teams that lost games late in the season in San Diego State and Wyoming. Then Boise State at one point in time was 10-1 on the outside looking in at top-25 that finally lost.

On the other side we are faced with the situation where there’s a good chance we don’t have a Pac-12 team available. To be honest at this point I don’t think we will end up getting a Pac-12 team.

It’s challenging because there are so many bowls now and only so many bowl-eligible teams that don’t have a commitment to another bowl already. You’re facing the possibility of having to take a five-win team.

The way that they handle the five-win teams is they rank them in order of their APR score. From everything I’ve heard, by all accounts the maximum number of five-win teams they will allow to play bowl games is three.

Some of the teams that are listed as potential ones are Mississippi State, Texas Tech, North Texas and Appalachian State.

How has the situation with Navy affected the bowl game?

We are one of the bowls that that could have a serious impact on. There is a potential for that. I hope that there are enough smart people in the room to come up to a resolution and an agreement. If we have to wait until late Saturday and can’t announce or select our teams until two and a half days prior to them arriving here on Tuesday it will make things extremely difficult.

Brett McMurphy used the phrase “paralyze the system,” and I honestly can’t disagree with that.

It could potentially see that group of five representatives coming down to San Diego State or Wyoming. I know it’s a very slim chance but there is the possibility of that. I can honestly say this has been one of the most interesting and challenging years ever.

Does this year feel special, being the 25th year for the bowl game?

It seems a lot more special and there are a number of reasons for that. Twenty-five years is pretty remarkable, not only for the bowl world but from a locals perspective as well. We’ve been going for 25 years, and we are the second-longest-running annual event in Las Vegas to only the National Finals Rodeo.

When we came on board there was an uproar because we were bowl No. 16 and people said, “We cant’ have 16 games, that’s too many.” Well now here we are with 40. I’d love to go back into that pool of teams.

Looking at all the pictures from past Las Vegas Bowls and even though I wasn’t here for all of it, it’s a nice trip down memory lane.

How great has it been to have a personality like sportscaster Brent Musburger around the game for so long?

Brent has not been shy about his love for Las Vegas. He loves this city. He will have called more games in the history of our play-by-play guys. Nobody really knows this fun fact, but when he decided he wouldn’t do the big prime time game for ABC anymore and he was going to do the SEC game ... he requested to do the Las Vegas Bowl as part of his new deal. I don’t know if it was actually written or if it was just a verbal agreement, but so far they’ve stuck to that new word.

When I called him he was excited. He is always animated and he’s always got something cool to make it feel like a big game. One year he opened the broadcast by saying “Viva Las Vegas” and he did it. It gives me chills every time I hear it. You know it’s big time football when you hear him say it.

Marshawn Lynch is another Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame inductee this year. He’s quite the character, so how has he been throughout this process?

When Lynch’s name came up, I thought there was no chance he would come back. We always want the person to come back and accept the induction in person.

I asked Marshawn and he goes, “Hell, yeah! Thank you very much, what hotel do I stay at?” He’s fired up. He’s been unbelievable.

How have ticket sales been?

I think it’s just like every year. We are right around that 5,000 mark for tickets remaining. That’s fairly normal with the exception of last year. Some people wait and see what the matchup is, so we are going to be close to another sellout.

With the possibility of a new football stadium being built, what impact would that have on the bowl?

From our perspective right now we are certainly paying close attention to it. It’s going to be a good thing for everyone when it’s all said and done and has the potential to be a great thing for our game.

We don’t know what the rental fee would be or when it will be built and how that aligns with our conference contracts. 2019 is the last year of our conference contracts.

We have a world-class destination, typically have a good matchup and I think the timing of our game is great because they can get home for Christmas.

We have the potential, if you look at some of these bowl games and where they came from and where they are now. Why not us? We have no problem with the infrastructure and destination. You add a world-class stadium that’s right on par with any of the biggest games of the bowl season. We are right on the cusp.

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