Rabalais: Big-game town New Orleans keeps aiming high

Jeff Hundley can see the next round of big sporting events out there, lining up like planes landing at Louis Armstrong Airport.

The new College Football Playoff semifinal in January 2015. The CFP National Championship Game in 2016. The Final Four in 2017 and the Super Bowl, set to coincide with the city’s tricentennial, in 2018. Bids for that Super Bowl will be accepted in October.

So far, New Orleans only has the first leg of that grand slam in hand. One of the first two CFP national semifinals will be the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2015. (The Rose Bowl has the other.) As for the other events, it would be the first available one for each that the city could land.

“In a perfect world, it would be nice to line them up,” said Hundley, chief operating officer for the Sugar Bowl.

In a string of collaborative efforts between the Greater New Orleans Sports Council, the Sugar Bowl, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city and state and other entities (such as the Saints), New Orleans is trying to pull them all back to the city is widely and rightly considered one of the best big event host sites of them all.

One of the first targets is the College Football Playoff national championship game.

The first CFP title game is set for January 2015 at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) in Arlington, Texas. Winners from the Sugar and Rose bowls Jan. 1 will collide there for the Jan. 12 showdown that will culminate decades of clamor for a college football champion determined not by polls but a playoff.

Now that the first championship game is in place, CFP officials are looking to pick sites for the 2016 and 2017 championship games. RFP — request for proposal — queries will go out in the next week or so, according to College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly. Cities have until late September to respond, Kelly said, with the selections likely to be announced in mid-November.

Unlike the old BCS system, where the championship game rotated between the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta bowls exclusively, the CFP title game will be awarded on a bid basis like the Super Bowl or Final Four. The minimum requirement is a 65,000-seat stadium, Kelly said (the Superdome seats about 72,000), but otherwise the CFP will take on all comers.

An unsourced ESPN.com story last week said New Orleans will bid for the CFP championship games in 2016 along with Glendale, Ariz.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Tampa, Fla.; and San Antonio. The story adds Miami and Arlington to that list for the 2017 game, along with New Orleans.

The goal for New Orleans is to host as many CFP championship games as possible, but that’s complicated.

In the 12-year life of the initial CFP deal, no city can host semifinals and finals in the same year. New Orleans will have semifinals every three years, meaning it also can’t bid in 2018, 2021 or 2024.

Hosting the CFP championship game and the Super Bowl less than a month later is also a logistical no-go.

Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan has said shooting for two CFP championship games in 12 years is a good target, considering there will be so much more competition than there was under the BCS system.

“Certainly if we hosted it twice (in 12 years), it would be a good day’s work,” Hundley said.

“We share Paul’s desire and hope to host as many CFP championships as possible,” said Jay Cicero, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. “(But it’s) hard to know if it’s possible without seeing the RFP or having hosted the event yet.”

New Orleans just completed an unprecedented cycle in which it hosted the BCS championship game, Men’s Final Four, Super Bowl and Women’s Final Four in a 16-month span from January 2012 to April 2013. If the city could pull off the CFP championship, Final Four and Super Bowl from 2016-18, along with a pair of CFP semifinals in 2015 and 2018, it would top even that run.

It may be dreaming, but there’s no reason for New Orleans not to dream big.

FAREWELL, AL: There will be one less smiling face at Tiger Stadium this fall, at the Sugar Bowl or at high school sporting events you attend.

Al Tircuit has left us.

Tircuit, a long-time contributor to The Advocate’s sports coverage and a marshal at LSU games, died suddenly Tuesday. He was 69.

If you were involved in sports in South Louisiana the past 50 years, you probably knew or met Al. And if you met him, you were his friend. That’s the kind of guy Al was. He loved people and loved sports, and it seemed like whenever the two came together, he was there with a handshake and a grin.

When I head to the press box elevator at Tiger Stadium for the first time in September, I’ll think of Al and be sad that he isn’t there to greet me.

But then I’ll smile when I think of him at a game or news conference we attended together.

I’m sure a lot of people will remember Al Tircuit that way —with a smile. Is there any better epitaph than that?