Thursday, May 3, 2007

A proposal to bring a college football bowl game to RFK Stadium beginning in 2008 quietly has gained support from D.C. tourism officials and a key member of the D.C. council, who have aided the organizers’ plan to submit a formal bid to the NCAA.

The District of Columbia Bowl Committee, which has been operating with little public fanfare since January, said it is closer than ever to putting together an application for the event within the next year and has targeted Navy as a perennial participant.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK Stadium, also is likely to voice its support of a D.C.-based bowl after a meeting of board members in the next week.

“We are trying to bring a new event to the city,” said Sean Metcalf, a co-founder of the committee. “This would be a destination event where people can feel like they can come for Christmas break and catch a bowl game.”

The committee has two members: Metcalf, who is the director of communications for D.C. Council member Jack Evans, and Marie Rudolph, director of federal government relations for George Washington University and a former D.C. government staffer. Both stressed they are working on the bowl proposal independently from their employers, though Evans has endorsed Metcalf’s efforts.

“Anytime you have a big sporting event like a bowl game, it brings people to the city,” said Evans, who was a key supporter of bringing the Nationals to the District. “It’s all about making Washington a major sports venue, which it already is, but taking it to a higher level.”

The committee’s plan calls for the bowl game to be played Saturday, Dec. 21, 2008, at RFK Stadium. Metcalf said he would like to establish a tie-in with Navy, a local favorite that routinely has drawn large crowds to bowl games. He also said there have been early discussions with a potential broadcast partner with another meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Metcalf described Navy officials as “very interested,” though Navy officials were tight-lipped about any discussions involving a new bowl in the District.

“It’s way too early to comment,” said Scott Strasemeier, Navy’s sports information director. “It’s really premature. We hear from bowl games all the time about their interest in Navy.”

Metcalf and Rudolph said their main motivation for trying to attract the bowl was to boost the economy of the District and increase tourism during one of the slower times of the year.

“I think it’s realistic,” Rudolph said of the committee’s plan. “Ultimately, the NCAA will decide … until then, we just have to start build our support base.”

At Metcalf and Rudolph’s request, the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation provided economic formulas indicating the event would bring in $34.2 million to the city over a four-day period if it were to draw 30,000 fans. A crowd of 40,000 would bring in $45 million, and 50,000 fans would bring in $57 million.

Metcalf said he was confident Navy could be an annual participant. The Midshipmen have earned the six wins necessary for a bowl in each of the last four years. He said the committee still is discussing backup options if Navy either doesn’t qualify or refuses to play in the game.

Metcalf also said RFK is the preferred venue for the bowl because it is the only facility in the District capable of playing host to football.

“The sports commission is obviously very interested in bringing a bowl game to the District of Columbia,” said Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the sports commission, which operates RFK. “We’d be very interested in entertaining whatever proposals they make.”

Metcalf and Rudolph have until April 1 to submit a formal application to the NCAA. The NCAA’s Postseason Football Licensing Subcommittee would then review all applications and make a decision within a month.

If approved, the bowl would be one of the few not located in an area that can boast warm December temperatures. But Metcalf said cold weather bowls aren’t unprecedented, citing the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, where the average high temperature in December is below 50 degrees.

NCAA spokeswoman Dana Thomas said she was not aware of the committee plan for the District. She said there is no rule forbidding a bowl from being played in cold weather, but that it might be one factor taken into consideration when the subcommittee makes its decisions. The NCAA receives applications for new bowls occasionally and has been known to make additions. It did not receive any new applications for the 2007-08 bowl season, when 32 bowls are scheduled.

Metcalf acknowledged RFK Stadium is unlikely to be the bowl’s permanent host facility, considering it could be demolished as soon as 2009 after the Nationals and D.C. United move into their own new stadiums.

Evans and other city officials have suggested replacing RFK with a new retractable-roof football stadium to accommodate the Washington Redskins. Such a new facility also could accommodate the bowl game, Evans said.

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