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January 15, 2004

Tire Bowl Going Flat

FROM CHARLOTTE COMES EVIDENCE of big changes in college bowl games. Historically named for flowers and fruit, in recent years they have succumbed to the economic allure of corporate sponsorship. Thus we have evolved into bowls named after dot.coms, financial institutions, telecoms and the like. What's next? Then there's the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. This event is several rungs down the totem pole from the mammoth Bowl Championship Series in the yearly glut of college football bowl games.

There were 28 bowl games this year, with the tradition-laden Rose Bowl sharing the stage with the corporate-titled events like the GMAC Bowl, the Capital One Bowl and this one named after a tire company.

Continental Tire, headquartered in Charlotte, paid nearly $1 million a year for exclusive billing. The Continental Tire Bowl, in its second season, matches also-rans from the Big East and the ACC. This season, 8-4 Pittsburgh faces 7-5 Virginia. Talk about a yawner.

The executive director of the Continental Bowl is Ken Haines, and he worked for years to bring a bowl game here, in part because of Charlotte’s loyalty to nearby ACC teams. Still, Haines had to overcome Charlotte’s winter weather and lack of razzle-dazzle when he pitched a bowl game to the NCAA.

Entertainment options for players and fans have been a challenge. Nascar spins at the Charlotte track — and a tire change competition that drew an unfathomable amount of attention — were hits with most players.

A video game entertainment center named Jillians provided clean fun. Then there's the Concord Mills outlet mall--promoted as the second-largest tourist attraction in North Carolina behind the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway--that often slows traffic on nearby Interstate 85 for miles.

The highlight of the week's events was a street festival and pep rally in uptown Charlotte. Such Charlotte celebrities as "Nature Boy" Ric Flair of pro wrestling fame and the former NFL lineman Joe DeLamielleure were among the speakers.

A band competition turned out to be quite a laugher. Virginia was obliged to borrow a local high school band from West Charlotte to stand in for the Cavaliers. Virginia’s unsanctioned pep band is no longer invited to perform at school events because at last year’s Continental Tire Bowl, they put on a halftime show that depicted West Virginians (their opponent was West Virginia) as hillbillies.

Only 51,000 are expected for Saturday’s game, a significant drop-off from last year, when the Continental Tire Bowl outsold all other non-BCS bowls by producing a capacity crowd of 73,535.

There was never much doubt that Pittsburgh would accept a bid to the game. The payout is $750,000 and travel costs are limited. The Panthers figure travel costs alone were $300,000 less than last season, when they went to Phoenix for the Insight Bowl.

Any bowl game is preferable to no bowl game.  (NY Times 12-27-03)