New Orleans Bowl moves closer to holidays
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Bowl, which has kicked off the bowl season since its inception in 2001, will move to a weekend night this year -- and give up its leadoff spot.
The game matching the Sun Belt Conference Champion against a Conference USA opponent will be played Friday, Dec. 22.
"It was nice being the first bowl, but it's more important to grow the event in New Orleans," said bowl executive director Billy Ferrante, who worked out the new date with ESPN, which will televise the game. "This benefits the hospitality community because people are more inclined to travel toward the end of the week."
Because of its early date, particularly in 2002, 2003 and 2004 when it was played on the second Tuesday in December, it ran into conflicts with final exams and fans had difficulty making a midweek trip before the Christmas holidays began.
Last year's game was played Dec. 20 in Lafayette because of damage to the Superdome from Hurricane Katrina.
Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, who put together the bowl and served as its first executive director, said the move should help solidify the game.
"The TV numbers have been good because we were the first bowl game, but the closer you can get to the holidays, the better," he said.
While the bowl has the date it sought, it does face other challenges.
Wyndham Hotels, which signed a title sponsorship agreement in 2004, dropped it last year when the game was moved because it has no properties in Lafayette. The company is now out of the picture completely.
However, Ferrante was optimistic about finding a new title sponsor.
"We have a financial model in place that allows us to operate without one," he said. "But having a sponsor allows us to put some finer touches on the game and eventually take it to a different level."
The bowl faces re-certification later this month. The game was granted conditional approval last year, even though it has had problems meeting the NCAA minimum average attendance requirement of 25,000.
Last year's game between Southern Mississippi and Arkansas State drew 18,338, but Ferrante said that because of the circumstances the NCAA had indicated it would be granted an exception.
With the New Orleans Bowl set for Dec. 22, the GMAC Bowl on Dec. 20 in Mobile, Ala., becomes the first bowl game of the season.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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