Lewis: Competition fierce to land college football title game

The national championship train is about to make one of its rare stops.

And for local entities, the goal is to stay on board and not get bumped.

Requests for proposals to bid on the 2016 and 2017 College Football Playoff titles games are due Friday, and New Orleans will have beat out Glendale, Ariz.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Tampa, Fla.; and possibly Minneapolis for the 2016 game, the desired year between the two to be awarded. A decision is expected in November.

There hasn’t been a similar scenario since 2004.

How much has changed since then?

Well, the College Football Playoff was then called the accursed and soon-to-be-discarded BCS. And while the potential sites are much the same as now, it was bowls doing the bidding and not their communities.

Nine years ago, the opening was created by the BCS expanding from four to five games as part of the settlement to give greater access to what was then called the non-BCS conferences.

At least eight bowls were seeking to break the monopoly on being the championship game site held since 1992 by the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls, with the Rose Bowl joining the group in 1998, the debut season of the BCS.

“They want to be like us,” Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said then. “They want to be where we are.

“They’re going to bring all of their resources to bear to move up. And I don’t blame them one bit.”

In the end, though, the conference commissioners adopted the double-hosting plan Hoolahan helped formulate, keeping the title game within the same four bowls.

It meant two more national championships being decided in the Sugar Bowl, upping the total to six in the Bowl Coalition/Bowl Alliance/BCS era and 23 in the 79-year history of the bowl, which is more than any other one.

But that storied history, plus the Sugar Bowl’s alignment with the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 that begins next season with a playoff semifinal, doesn’t necessarily guarantee future results.

The 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences plus Notre Dame, recognizing that they have a product potentially on a par with the Super Bowl and the Final Four to sell, have opened up the books, so to speak.

That’s how Dallas and the Cotton Bowl got the first CFP championship.

And with the bowls often being portrayed as sources of greed in the college football world (as if they’re alone in that category), BCS/CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock has spearheaded changing the event to one more like the Final Four, of which he was the director for 13 years.

First off, that means the bids come from local organizing committees instead of just the bowls. In New Orleans’ case, the Sugar Bowl will join forces with the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, as was done to obtain the 2012 Final Four.

Also, unlike the BCS title games, which were produced by the bowls with limited supervision from the commissioners, the CFP will be in run by Hancock and his staff.

“We want this to a true celebration of college football like nothing we’ve ever had in our game,” Hancock said. “We’re just getting started, so we don’t know where it might go.”

Most importantly, the CFP will have control of the ticket sales.

Still, the bids to be the host city will be far more expensive than they were for the BCS title games.

Officials in Glendale, where the Fiesta Bowl and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority are spearheading their effort, said it put their bid in the $12 million to $13 million range. Sports Foundation President Jay Cicero said New Orleans’ bid is less because of better logistics, but still significant.

But despite New Orleans’ advantages as a big-event city, the competition is enthusiastic about their chances — if not this time, at least setting the groundwork for landing a title game somewhere down the line.

For his part, Hancock is being noncommittal.

“We’re obviously not limited to cities with bowl histories, so I would expect the number of interested cities to grow,” he said. “It would be in inappropriate for anyone to speculate about anyone’s chances either now or down the line.”

Getting the championship game after the 2015 season is important for New Orleans because officials are hopeful of landing the Final Four in 2017 and the Super Bowl in 2018, and it would be impossible to fund two such events in one year. Also, a city can’t host the title game and a semifinal in the same year.

Plus there’s always the hope that getting an early CFP title game will mean another one sooner than later.

“For a long time, it was automatic that we would be a championship site,” Hoolahan said. “And obviously this is important, or we wouldn’t be putting the time and effort we are into this.

“But it’s a new world out there.”