Friday, April 27, 2001

Football bowl
games go bye-bye

Low attendance drives the
Oahu and Aloha bowls to
Seattle and San Francisco

By Paul Arnett

THE NCAA gave the certification today that Aloha Sports Inc. executive director Fritz Rohlfing needed to ship out the Oahu and Aloha bowls to the mainland.

"It's great news for us," Rohlfing told the Star-Bulletin this morning.

"We felt all along that we had a good case, but you don't know for sure until the vote is in. It's sad for Hawaii, but given what has happened the past two years in declining attendance, we felt like we had to make the move for the games to survive."

The postseason games were certified as Jeep Seattle and Jeep San Francisco, respectively, likely leaving Hawaii without any postseason games this season. If someone did try to bring back an event to the island chain, the earliest a game could be played would be 2003.

Rohlfing said that this week's meetings in Jacksonville, Fla., went well with the 11 members of the NCAA subcommittee and that he had anticipated both postseason games would be certified.

Even with the NCAA's blessing, he still needs approval from ABC-TV and ESPN before unwrapping the Christmas Day package. Rohlfing conceded that both networks want the college football games to be played on Christmas Day.

"But if ABC stands by that, then we'll just have to find another television partner," Rohlfing said. "We're prepared to move ahead if both ABC and ESPN withdraw. As of now, our longtime title sponsor Jeep has given no indication that they want the games to be played only on Christmas.

"We believe there are plenty of people in the Seattle and San Francisco areas that Jeep can appeal to. In the presentation to the NCAA, we asked to move the Oahu Bowl to Seattle for a Jan. 2 date and for the Aloha Bowl to go to San Francisco and be played on Dec. 27."

Current contracts call for the postseason games to be played on Christmas, a coveted time slot sources say ABC and ESPN won't give up. Jeep reportedly pays a seven-figure fee for the two games because of the television exposure. It's hard to beat a captive audience of 25 million viewers.

Rohlfing wanted to clear the NCAA hurdle before moving forward. At this week's NCAA meetings, he introduced Jim Haugh, president of the Sports and Events Council of Seattle/King County, who will handle the Jeep Seattle Bowl.

"Admittedly, we're a little behind in getting the San Francisco deal in place," Rohlfing said. "But we've got a very good plan that I believe will work. The Seattle package looks very good."

Haugh told the Seattle Times two weeks ago that he was 90 percent sure the NCAA would give its certification.

His goal will be to find local sponsors to help increase the minimum payout of $750,000 to each team.

If ESPN-TV balks at broadcasting the Oahu Bowl on Jan. 2 -- ratings figure to drop from a 3.0 on Christmas to a 1.0 or less any other day -- or if Jeep backs out as well, Seattle could face a stiff challenge of making the event a successful one.

The first game would be played at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners. It would be moved to the Seattle Seahawks' new football stadium in 2003 and would match a team from the Pac-10 against a qualified opponent from the Atlantic Coast or Big East conferences.

A similar arrangement could take place in San Francisco for the Aloha Bowl, but it's likely ABC would be a willing participant only if the game remained on Christmas. Rohlfing maintains attendance suffers having a game on Christmas Day.

"Receiving the certification is a big step for us," Rohlfing said. "But there are still things we need to get in place. Finding a new television partner may be one of them. But we feel like, given what has happened in Hawaii the past couple of years, that this is something we had to do."

If the San Francisco deal falls through, Rohlfing listed Honolulu as a possible site for the Aloha Bowl.

That game has been played in Hawaii for 18 years. There have been three Oahu Bowls, including the 1999 event that saw the University of Hawaii cap the greatest turnaround in NCAA history by beating Oregon State.

The loss of the local bowls cripples the Warriors' chances of playing in a bowl game. The only way Hawaii would be considered for a postseason event is by winning the Western Athletic Conference title.

The league currently has postseason ties to the Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose, Calif., and the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

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