The first college football bowl game to be played outside the United States in more than 50 years is in the formative stages, and the new bowl may give the Mid-American Conference the chance for a third bowl bid as early as next season.
Don Loding, director of operations for the Motor City Bowl, is leading a group that hopes to bring the as-yet-unnamed game to life in 2005. The contest would be played on an undetermined date between Christmas and New Year's Day at SkyDome in Toronto.
If the NCAA sanctions the contest, it will be the first Division I-A college bowl game played outside the United States since the Bacardi Bowl, which was played in Havana six times from 1907 to 1937.
"We've explored several locations for a bowl game, but Toronto is the one that has emerged," Loding said yesterday. "It has the best collection of ingredients for a bowl. Geographically, it is a terrific site; for bowl teams it presents a wonderful trip to an exciting city; and we have received wonderful feedback about having a game here.
"It just rose to the top of the list of candidate cities."
The bowl must be certified by the NCAA's Bowl Certification Committee, which meets next April. By that time, Toronto bowl organizers must meet five requirements to gain certification:
●A $2 million letter of credit from a financial institution.
●A national television contract.
●A contract with a stadium.
●A contract with at least one conference.
●A show of support from the host city.
"We're in the very early stages, but we've identified a number of elements we need [for a bowl game]," Loding said. "We've identified the MAC as one of the conferences in the game, and we've identified the Big East [Conference] as an opponent. We've worked with the city government in Toronto, and by the end of this week we hope to have an endorsement by the city. And we've had good discussions with the management of SkyDome."
The potential of a third bowl game for the MAC is good news for the league, which last season had only two teams play in bowls despite having three squads win at least 10 games. Miami played in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and Bowling Green played in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Both of those bowls have annual MAC tie-ins.
Northern Illinois did not receive a berth to one of the 28 bowl games played last year despite a 10-2 record and victories over national powers Maryland and Alabama.
"Getting a third bowl game remains, if not the highest priority, certainly a top priority," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said yesterday. "We are aware of, and supportive of, the initial organizing efforts in Toronto."
Toronto's economic development committee will meet Thursday, and on the agenda is a recommendation that would give public support to creating the contest. Committee chairman Brian Ashton, a city councillor, has no doubts the proposal will be approved.
"We've very enthusiastic about it," Ashton said yesterday of the bowl game. "Toronto is a big sports city, and we think there will be a huge curiosity factor of people being exposed to college football."
Duncan Ross, the head of Toronto Tourism, hopes the event will add to the city's tourist trade during the holiday season.
"Toronto has a very attractive holiday-season product and has a relative proximity to a number of major U.S. markets," he said. "Plus, with our proximity to western New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, we think [the game] will be attractive to enthusiastic college football fans in the area.
"A fan in, say, Rochester may never have had a chance to see a college football bowl game. A bowl game in Toronto would give him that chance."
The MAC's 12 members in 2005 include one school, Buffalo, that is roughly 100 miles from Toronto. Five other schools - Akron, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Toledo - are about 300 miles away from Toronto.
In 2005 the Big East will include Syracuse, located roughly 250 miles from Toronto, and Pittsburgh, about 325 miles away. Other schools that will play football in the Big East next season are Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia.
Ross said the game's organizing committee expects the contest would have an economic impact of $15 million in U.S. dollars in Toronto, an amount similar to the Motor City Bowl. No Canadian economic impact models have been assessed for the event, Ross said.
Loding said the Toronto bowl game would be run in a similar fashion to the Motor City Bowl. He said the financial success of the contest played at Detroit's Ford Field is based on drawing at least 10,000 fans from the host city. The two competing conferences would be expected to bring a combined total of between 15,000 to 25,000 spectators, with 5,000 to 10,000 tickets donated as corporate gifts to charities, youth groups and youth athletic programs.
SkyDome seats 53,506 fans for football and serves as the home field of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. The CFL season ends in late November.
The bowl does not have a title sponsor, something that would provide money toward the letter of credit, but Loding said he isn't concerned.
"At some point we will look for a title sponsorship, but it's not a requirement to have one" from the Bowl Certification Committee, he said. "I'm confident we'll have one in place at that time."
Having the bowl game played in Canada would provide an interesting television challenge. ESPN will televise 20 bowl games this season, but Canadian-based TSN is the most-watched cable sports network in English and French-speaking Canada.
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