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Disneyland to Sponsor Preseason Game : Freedom Bowl Proposal Still Needs NCAA Approval for 1990 Start

Times Staff Writer

The Freedom Bowl and Disneyland announced plans Monday to start a preseason college football game in 1990, pending National Collegiate Athletic Assn. approval.

The Disneyland Pigskin Classic would be played in the last week of August at Anaheim Stadium and would not interfere with the postseason Freedom Bowl. It would join the 6-year-old Kickoff Classic, now the only preseason game sanctioned by the NCAA.

“College football is looking for the kind of high-impact event that we intend to stage,” said Tom Starr, executive director of the Freedom Bowl. “As far the Kickoff Classic, they really didn’t figure into our thinking. We think there’s plenty of room for us.”

But all plans are tentative until the Division I membership considers special legislation at its annual convention in San Francisco next January. A majority of the presidents of member schools must vote for the game, which would mark the first time a postseason bowl had ventured into the virtually untapped preseason market.

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Five years after its first game, the Freedom Bowl continues to struggle. The bowl’s per-team payout of $515,000 ranks 14th among the 18-game lineup that will grow to 20 games next year, and it is still making payments on a $250,000 interest-free loan it secured from the city of Anaheim 2 years ago.

But staging a preseason game is attractive for several reasons, primarily because the time period has been tested (by the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.) and is uncrowded.

“We think there’s a void there that our game can fill,” said Jack Lindquist, Disneyland vice president.

Lindquist would not disclose Disneyland’s financial commitment, but he said it is as large as any other such title sponsorship, which would place it in the $2-million range. That’s about the amount Sunkist reportedly has committed to the Fiesta Bowl.

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The economic impact of the game could reach $20 million, said William F. Snyder, Freedom Bowl president, who also is president of the Anaheim Area Visitors and Convention Bureau.

“It would come at a slow time for us, that last week in August,” Snyder said. “Contrary to popular belief, that week before Labor Day is slow, and this would be a great way to pick things up.”

Les Unger, director of college sports for the New Jersey Sports Authority, which runs the Kickoff Classic, said: “We’re obviously their target. They are obviously wanting to start another Kickoff Classic. How should we feel about that?”

Unger would not say whether he would lobby against the game at the NCAA convention.

“They definitely face a battle,” he said.

The key to gaining NCAA approval probably lies in lobbying support among the same groups which pushed the Kickoff Classic legislation. The National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, the National Assn. of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the American Football Coaches Assn. all lobbied on behalf of the Kickoff Classic, which pays each group a percentage of its profits.

“I think (the Pigskin Classic) would be a good idea,” said Charley McClendon, AFCA executive director. “The Freedom Bowl people came to our board meeting and told us what they were planning and I think our coaches would go for it.”

Both Freedom Bowl and AFCA officials said it’s likely the new game would contribute to the planned coaches’ retirement plan.

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“When (the Disneyland Pigskin Classic) would offer the coaches money, I don’t see why they’d turn it down,” McClendon said.

But Mike Cleary, NACDA executive director, said: “We’ll have to learn a lot more about it before we can say how we feel.”

Cleary said he was shocked by the timing of the announcement.

“To make a big deal of it, before they even get NCAA approval . . . that’s pretty hard to believe,” he said.

Some administrators expressed skepticism.

“It’s really too early to say whether I’m for it or against it,” said Wayne Duke, Big Ten Conference commissioner. “I was against the Kickoff Classic when they proposed it, but I’ve warmed up to it. The problem I see is the trend toward bringing the players back that much earlier.”

Fred Jacoby, Southwest Conference commissioner, said: “I think the season is too long already, but that doesn’t mean the membership wouldn’t go for it. It would mean more money for the game and we all know how much we all need more money.”


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