South Florida prepares to host Orange Bowl, BCS Championship game

If someone wearing an Alabama or Notre Dame T-shirt approaches you for directions in the next two weeks, please be kind.

Repress any ill feelings about Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, temporarily forget that the Irish pounded the Hurricanes in October, and wear your best South Florida face.

Think of it as an investment in your community’s future.

The Orange Bowl Committee will produce two major postseason football games at Sun Life Stadium over the next couple of weeks — the Discover Orange Bowl featuring Florida State and Northern Illinois at 8 p.m. New Year’s Day and the BCS National Championship Game with top-ranked Notre Dame facing second-ranked Alabama on Jan. 7.

“This is spring break without the spring break,” said Nicki Grossman, who heads the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “If you see someone wearing college colors, be nice and wave with all five fingers.”

Over the past 79 years, the Orange Bowl Committee has turned a football game into a full-blown, nationally-heralded festival that has not only reaped financial benefits for the community, but has been a source of great pride.

South Florida recently pulled off a major coup as one of six geographic areas chosen to be part of the new college football playoff system that will replace the current Bowl Championship Series format beginning with the 2014 regular season/2015 postseason. But there’s no guarantee that a two-game extravaganza, like the one this area is about to experience, will happen here again.

Instead, the Orange Bowl Committee will have to bid for the national championship game, just as organizing committees around the country bid for Super Bowls or Final Fours in basketball.

“It’s going to be an extremely competitive landscape and we know a lot of communities will vie for this,” said Orange Bowl Committee CEO Eric Poms. “We’ve had 20 games in our 79 years in which national champions have been determined. The benefits to the community will be very tangible when so many people come to town to culminate a great college football season.

“We don’t take anything for granted. We have an opportunity over the next few weeks to put our best foot forward and showcase everything that South Florida has to offer.”

The new, four-team playoff system has several benefits for South Florida, including a longer 12-year cycle that ensures Sun Life Stadium will be the site of a national semifinal every three years. That’s four total.

The two semifinals (No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3) will rotate among six sites and be played on Dec. 31 and/or Jan. 1. The national championship game will always be played on the first Monday that is at least six days after the semifinals. The first championship Monday — names for the new system and corresponding title game have yet to be decided — is set for Jan. 12, 2015.

The three sites that have already been announced are Miami (Orange Bowl), New Orleans (Sugar Bowl) and Pasadena (Rose Bowl), with Glendale, Ariz. (Fiesta Bowl), Arlington, Texas (Cotton), and Atlanta (Chick-fil-A) considered the frontrunners to get the official nod as the remaining three sites.

When the OBC isn’t producing a national semifinal, it will put on its usual Orange Bowl game featuring the Atlantic Coast Conference champion. But after next season, the OB will promise an even sexier matchup, as it will have as the ACC champ’s opponent a highly ranked team from either the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten — or Notre Dame.

Bill Hancock, who heads the current BCS and has been chosen as the executive director for the new playoff system, lauded the Orange Bowl Committee and Sun Life Stadium for their longstanding excellence in producing high quality postseason games.

“The tradition, the history of terrific management, when you’re dealing with the Orange Bowl Committee, you have no doubt the event will be handled well,” Hancock said. “Everybody knows the attributes of South Florida as a destination. The Orange Bowl Committee, if you look for a word, you’d say professionalism. They don’t miss anything.”

But getting that national title game is crucial to Poms and fellow community members. Poms said a study done four years ago, when South Florida also double-hosted the Orange Bowl and national title game, measured the economic impact and media value as “more than $200 million.

“We expect to surpass that number this time around.”

The bidding process for the 2015 (2014 regular season) national title game is expected to begin soon after the Notre Dame-Alabama game and will be open only to Miami, Pasadena, New Orleans, Glendale, Ariz., Arlington, Texas and Atlanta.

Criteria for selection include the stadium, lodging, airports and the area’s ability and history in hosting similar events.

“We decided to expedite the selection of the first host city because of the timing,” Hancock said. “This game is two years away and two years is not much time to prepare for a major national event. We will not procrastinate with this.”

Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium is the strong favorite to nab the 2015 championship game, but a high ranking college football source said Sun Life Stadium would almost surely be awarded at least one of the title games.

A decision for 2015 will “hopefully be made by late April,” said Michael Kelly, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the new system. Kelly was the president of the host committee for the 2007 Super Bowl at Sun Life.

“It’s a special opportunity for the stadium, hospitality community and obviously the Orange Bowl Committee to perform well,” Kelly said of the next two weeks. “It’s an advantage that no one else has this year.”

Ten conference commissioners and the Notre Dame athletic director (representing the independents) will choose the sites and manage the playoffs. Bids for the 2016 and ’17 title games will take place after the first bid.

“We envision we’d select two or three sites at a time so we’d always be three to five years out,” Hancock said.

Other than for 2015, the door will be open for any organizing body that wants to bid for a title game.

Sun Life Stadium president Mike Dee likened the effect of a future, playoff-based college national title game in South Florida to “at its base level having a similar footprint” to a Super Bowl. Visitors stay several days, spend money on hotels, eat in local restaurants and go to game-related parties.

“It has tremendous value,” Dee said. “Take it from a kid who grew up in the Northeast. Some of my earliest memories are watching Orange Bowl games and Dolphins games and Super Bowls from Miami. You see the warm breeze and the palm trees and beautiful skies on television. It’s aspirational.

“It makes you say, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if one day I could go to that game or live there?’ ’’

Miami-Dade’s tourism director Bill Talbert echoed Grossman’s sentiment about being nice to visitors. “We have to show off our hospitality,” he said.

He knows the gorgeous weather has its benefits.

Said Talbert: “As I always say, it’s warm here. It’s cold there.”

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