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Thursday, March 29, 2001



Aloha Bowl
may leave

Ticket sales are down, and
state funds won't be
available this year


By Paul Arnett
Star-Bulletin

FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, one thing people could count on locally was the Aloha Bowl being played here during the Christmas holidays.

But that may be about to change.

Fritz Rohlfing, Aloha Inc. executive director, told the Star-Bulletin yesterday that not only could the Oahu Bowl move to a mainland site this year, but the Aloha Bowl as well.

Tomorrow is the deadline to submit certification papers to the NCAA.

The second line of the form asks the location of the proposed games. Rohlfing will list Honolulu, San Francisco and Seattle as possible sites for the two college football games that were originally part of a Christmas Day doubleheader.

Former Bowl Games Hawaii directors Marcia and Lenny Klompus added the Oahu Bowl to the traditional Aloha Bowl in 1998. It was the first time two bowl games were played back-to-back at the same stadium in NCAA history.

It worked well enough the first two years but hit an economic wall this past December that left Rohlfing open to all possibilities.

He would like to keep at least one game here. But it's possible major West Coast cities Seattle and San Francisco will get both.

"I'm planning on living here forever," Rohlfing said. "But this is all about economics. We can't have what happened last year happen again. I can't really discuss what's going on in detail because we're still in negotiations on several fronts. But one of the possibilities being explored is moving both games to the mainland."

This last year, the Oahu Bowl was played on Christmas Eve and the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day.

ABC-TV wanted to split them so the traditional Aloha Bowl could lead into Monday Night Football. The ratings were solid, the game finished in the top 10 overall, but attendance was low for consecutive seasons.

In 1999, the University of Hawaii played Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl. Arizona State and Wake Forest were the opening act for the Aloha Bowl.

A small crowd of approximately 7,000 were at that game. The crowd swelled to nearly 40,000 for the nightcap, so it was considered more unfortunate than a problem.

"But when we had a small crowd again for this year's Aloha Bowl, people were concerned," Rohlfing said. "It's obvious the doubleheader thing is over. The NCAA is also cracking down on attendance. The standards must be adhered to, or you run the risk of not having the game sanctioned."

Here is an example of what the NCAA requires: If Rohlfing asks each school to buy 15,000 tickets at $50 apiece, he must sell at least 15,000 tickets locally at that same price. And given the current economic trends, that has become increasingly difficult.

Last year, the state kicked in $100,000 for the two games -- money that, according to Rohlfing, isn't budgeted this year. The Hawaii Tourism Authority already has shelled out millions of dollars to keep the Pro Bowl and the PGA Tour in Hawaii. But if the college games go elsewhere, it hurts UH's chances of being in the postseason.

"We're keeping in touch with (UH Athletic Director) Hugh Yoshida and (UH Associate Athletic Director) Jim Donovan to let them know what's going on as best we can," Rohlfing said. "We know what these games mean to the school. It's a tough spot for everybody."

Rohlfing said that Pac-10 officials are comfortable with the possible site switches, although ABC is reluctant to leave Hawaii.

He said San Francisco and Seattle were interested in hosting the games, but couldn't comment further.

"Part of the problem for having a game here is the time frame,'' Rohlfing said. "We used to know who the teams were in November. Now, with the BCS (Bowl Championship Series), that gets pushed back a couple of weeks, and it makes the logistics to get everybody here that much tougher. The planes are full that time of year. There isn't a lot of leeway."

Rohlfing won't have to wait long to get his answer from the NCAA. The bowl meetings are next month in Florida.

Even with the site uncertainties, the NCAA is likely to approve both games because of the established sponsor ties with Jeep and the current contracts with the Pac-10, ESPN-TV and ABC.



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