Lewis: New Orleans best place for new bowl

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERTFans make their way around the exterior of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a New Orleans Saints game last year. The Superdome could be named the host of the new Champions Bowl, which begins after the 2014 season.
Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERTFans make their way around the exterior of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a New Orleans Saints game last year. The Superdome could be named the host of the new Champions Bowl, which begins after the 2014 season.

By TED LEWIS

Advocate sportswriter

NEW ORLEANS — Even if the Sugar Bowl hadn’t landed the Champions Bowl, it wouldn’t have faded into oblivion.

There’s too much history ­­— eight decades worth — and pride within the organization.

And it’s yet to be seen just how much the four-team playoffs, which begin with the 2014 season, will overshadow what we now call the BCS bowls that will be played on the same two days as the semifinals.

Chances are, it will be considerable.

Still, being relegated to “access bowl” status and playing on New Year’s Eve instead of Jan. 1 was simply something the bowl leadership decided could not and would not happen, especially since it’ll be 2025 before the BCS train stops at the station again.

So they made the financial commitment to take on the Cotton Bowl, backed by all of Jerry Jones’ money plus his palatial stadium.

And they prevailed.

As it should have been.

Forget the money angle, although the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 hope to turn the game into their version of the cash cow that is the Rose Bowl for the Big Ten and Pac-12.

New Orleans is, without question, the best city in America to host big sports events.

That made this a “must” get, not just for the Super Bowl, but for the city, just as the upcoming Super Bowl was.

But that particular big event now comes along only about once a decade.

The Sugar Bowl is played every year. Four times in the new cycle it will be a BCS semifinal.

And at least twice, New Orleans will be the site of the national championship game. Look for the Cotton Bowl to get the first title game of the playoff era as a consolation.

Plans are to turn those title games into Super Bowl-type events on the entertainment scale, with an upgrade to the non-title games as well.

So, yep, this is a big deal.

And even though the event has been secured, pulling it off can’t be done unless the local hospitality industry is on board lending its financial support. Otherwise, there could be a big curtailment of the Sugar Bowl-sponsored events that touch the community far more than the game itself.

“This is a call to arms,” Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said. “We’ve got a lot work to do.”

For reasons both deserved and undeserved, the past couple of years haven’t been the best for the Sugar Bowl.

There was the absurd contention that Hoolahan persuaded the NCAA to allow five suspended Ohio State players to play in the 2011 game, the overblown charges about $3,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the second-guessing about Virginia Tech being invited last year and even the taint that the Fiesta Bowl scandal put on all of the bowls.

Some might argue that the bowls aren’t very popular these days, and that the conferences are using that to their advantage.

So for the Sugar Bowl to remain as we know it, there was a price to be paid.

Here’s thinking history will prove it was worth it.