Tar Heel Tattler - September 2006

Change could keep bowl from its goal
By Arthur O. Murray

During its first four years, Charlotte’s college-football bowl has been a success off the field, with average attendance of 64,000, but usually a snoozer on it. Just once has the final margin been fewer than 13 points.

This year, the Meineke Car Care Bowl might get a better matchup on the field but take a beating at the box office, and that could cause distress in Charlotte’s hospitality industry. The game has had an average annual economic impact of about $25 million. Lower attendance would mean fewer patrons for hotels and restaurants.

A downturn is possible because the Atlantic Coast Conference, which provides one team for the game, is changing how its bowls pick teams. ACC-affiliated bowls — which select in order of their payouts, largest to smallest — can no longer choose an ACC team if there is another eligible one more than a game ahead in the standings.

The 2005 bowl season sparked the change. Boston College played in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, despite a 5-3 conference record, while N.C. State, which was 3-5, went to Charlotte. Officials thought Wolfpack fans — 100,832 alumni live in the state — would buy more tickets than B.C. followers. In 2004, when it played UNC Chapel Hill in Charlotte, B.C. sold about 4,000 tickets. State sold more than 40,000 for the 2005 game.

Will Webb, executive director of the Meineke Bowl, admits the rule could make it harder to fill 73,000- seat Bank of America Stadium. To break even, he says, the game must sell more than 40,000 tickets. That’s easier when he can invite Carolina, State, Virginia Tech or Clemson of the ACC or West Virginia or Louisville of the Big East to play. He gets the sixth pick from the ACC, the third from the Big East. He can pick the Naval Academy this year instead of a Big East team.

Mike Finn, associate ACC commissioner for football, defends the change. “There was a strong desire from our athletic directors that our bowl selections should more accurately reflect how teams play during the regular season.”

The conference had such a rule for its best bowls — the Gator and Peach — but wanted to give more flexibility to fledgling bowls in Orlando, Fla., and Charlotte. Now the Meineke Bowl has lost that advantage, and if it has to invite a team from the ACC’s geographic extremities, attendance likely will suffer.