A column back in 2004 prompted the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s president to threaten never to offer this correspondent a game credential again. The threat, never carried through, was a response to this writer’s claim that the game was third-tier — not to say third-rate, I stipulated then and stipulate now — and therefore would not find a place in the BCS rotation, which was due to expand by one.
(My definition of tiers: First were the BCS games themselves; second were the New Year’s Day games [Cotton, Capital One, Outback, et cetera]; third was the Chick-fil-A and its ilk. The Independence Bowl would be 10th-tier.)
But now it’s 2011 and Gary Stokan and I have since actually exchanged something approaching pleasantries, and now I’m posing the question I dismissed back when: Might Atlanta’s bowl actually make the leap to Tier 1?
I ask because the BCS is the process of distancing itself from the Fiesta Bowl, which just jettisoned president John Junker — full disclosure: I’ve met John Junker — due to revelations involving reimbursement to bowl staffers for political contributions. (That’s illegal, FYI.) And if the Fiesta falls completely out of BCS favor, some bowl would have to replace it. Could the Chick-fil-A be that bowl?
Ryan McGee of ESPN The Magazine offers a list of five possibilities. One of the names on the list is the Fiesta itself, coming in at No. 3. (McGee’s take: The Fiesta could still hold its spot.) No. 1 is the Cotton Bowl, which has moved to Jerry Jones’ new stadium. No. 2 is the Capital One, which is played in a nice city (Orlando) but in an ancient stadium. No. 5 is the Outback, which is staged in Tampa and has a pirate ship in the end zone.
No. 4 is the Chick-fil-A Bowl, of which McGee writes:
Anyone who has ever been to the game formerly known as the Peach Bowl knows that its atmosphere is one of the most electric of the entire bowl season. Again, it has plenty of cash, a big league infrastructure, a city that makes its living hosting gigantic events, and an ESPN TV deal. But of all the games listed here, this bowl might be the least interested in messing with its current formula, an SEC versus ACC showdown that has enjoyed 14 consecutive sellouts. Then again, all the factors that I listed above might allow the Chick-fil-A Bowl organizers to keep their current game and add one more, two in the years they host the BCS Championship Game. Hey, the Fiesta Bowl staff has been pulling that off for years.
Here I would add only this: Unless I’ve been completely off in my reading of Stokan and Co. over time, they would be very much interested in moving up to the Big(ger) Time.
Do I think it’s apt to happen? Not really. That game in Arlington and the outsize presence of Mr. Jones would be tough to trump. But as president of the Atlanta Sports Council, Stokan spent years lobbying for big events to come here, and he created the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, which began in 2008 and is already a major deal, from nothing at all. Were a BCS slot to come open, I’m guessing he could find it within himself to make another pitch.
By Mark Bradley