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Cowboys Stadium edges Tampa to host title game

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Published:   |   Updated: April 25, 2013 at 08:38 AM

Raymond James Stadium appears to be a solid contender to host the second college football championship in 2016 after making what insiders called a surprisingly strong bid for the historic first championship game.

Bowl Championship Series commissioners Wednesday night picked Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the championship, to be played Jan. 12, 2015. The game will be the first under a new College Football Playoff system that will feature playoff bowl games in six stadiums around the country before a final championship game.

Tampa Bay Sports Commission Director Rob Higgins said “we'll sharpen our pencils” for a bid to host the 2016 game but he would not reveal details of the package that so impressed BCS commissioners this week.

“We don't know what the exact process will be yet, but certainly it will be on the horizon real quick,” Higgins said. “Our bid is going to be very similar and for us to disclose it wouldn't play very well from a competitive standpoint.”

Tampa and Arlington were the only communities to submit a proposal.

Tampa made a strong push for the game to be played at Raymond James, home of the NFL's Buccaneers and the Outback Bowl. Unnamed BCS sources, quoted in an ESPN article that the BCS links to from its web page, characterized Tampa's proposal as surprisingly strong, saying they expect the city will land a championship.

Higgins said the bid package goes well beyond Raymond James Stadium to selling the conference leaders on the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa International Airport, hotels and dining, and the stadium experience.

“When you're talking about an event of this magnitude, it's more than just a game; it's an entire week of opportunities,” said Higgins, who leads the non-profit organization that takes the lead in bidding for and hosting major amateur sporting events in Tampa.

“Our bid and focus is to make sure the (BCS) commissioner and the staff have an understanding of exactly how we would handle everything from A to Z,” Higgins said, “from the moment the teams and their fans get off the plane, to when they get back on it later in the week, to make sure every detail is covered and that's what we did with our bid.”

The final sites for the semifinal rotation also were announced Wednesday and Cowboys Stadium came up a winner again. The Cotton Bowl will be part of the six-bowl rotation, along with the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., and the Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls, announced earlier. The Rose and Sugar bowls will host the first semifinals Jan. 1, 2015.

Tampa has grown accustomed to hosting events on a national stage, including last summer's Republican National Convention and four NFL Super Bowls – two at the former Tampa Stadium and two at Raymond James.

The region could benefit as host of the College Football Playoff because of its status as a tourist destination already, said Marshall Vest, economist at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management.

But the payoff for local hotels, restaurants and other venues would likely be different from college bowl games or the NFL's Super Bowl.

Most Super Bowl tickets are sold before the teams are decided, and buyers come to spend, while college bowls traditionally name their teams well in advance so students and other school fans – who account for much of the crowd – can get airline tickets.

The schools that will play in the championship under the new post-season playoff will emerge less than two weeks before the game.

Vest sees a college football championship in Tampa as more akin to the basketball championship of the Pac-12 Conference this year, which moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

“I know people who went to the tournament in Las Vegas who would not have gone had in been in Los Angeles because of the other attractions there,” Vest said. “Tampa could benefit in the same way, with college fans heading to the beaches and other Florida draws in early January.”

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he was impressed with what he knew about the Tampa bid after talking with Higgins over the last few months, as recently as Wednesday morning.

“I'm convinced we are well-positioned and will likely be awarded the second or third game,” Hagan said.

Hagan, who has been to four national championship games rooting for the Florida Gators, said hosting the college football championship game would be as electrifying as any of them.

“From an elected official's perspective, I'm thrilled about the economic impact and the ability to showcase our community,” Hagan said. “But from a fan's perspective who has been to four national championship games, there's nothing like it.”

Willie Taggart, the new football coach at the University of South Florida, agreed.

“To have the college football championship game right here in Tampa, in our stadium, that would be awesome,” said Taggart, whose Bulls play home games at Raymond James. “It's a great place to have that game.”


Reporters Ted Jackovics, Joey Johnston and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

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