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OCSA Hopes to Bowl Over NCAA : College football: Association will try today to get Big Orange Classic included in postseason lineup.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly after the conclusion of the Holiday Bowl each year, the game’s organizers leave their San Diego offices for a weekend retreat. But the getaway isn’t meant for leisure.

Executive Director John Reid and several members of the board of directors spend their time analyzing every aspect of the event. They debate how to best accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and emerge from the trip with a battle plan for the next game. And the upcoming college football season is still almost nine months away.

“We literally start planning for the next game the day after the last game is over,” Reid said. “There is so much to do, you really have to get that kind of jump on it. And we’re not unusual by any means.”

Which causes Reid to wonder: Does enough time remain for the Orange County Sports Assn. to plan and execute a successful Big Orange Classic?

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“They’re getting started extraordinarily late,” Reid said. “It’s going to be tough for them to get everything together. Remember, you’re basically talking about four months. It’s going to be very tough.”

Orange County Sports Assn. officials will present a formal proposal to the NCAA today in Overland Park, Kan., to have the Big Orange Classic--formerly named the Freedom Bowl--included in the postseason college bowl game lineup.

But then what?

Is there time to iron out the myriad logistic concerns? And can a game plagued by generally horrid attendance be successfully marketed locally, let alone with seemingly stifling time constraints?

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Jerry McGee, the sports association’s executive director, declined to assess the Big Orange Classic’s chances of receiving certification. When reached for comment recently at NCAA headquarters, Assistant Executive Director David Cawood said he had “no idea what’s in the proposal” and that he wouldn’t comment until after the Special Events Committee reviewed the sports association’s plan.

Reid, however, believes the OCSA’s position is strong on many fronts.

“Obviously, it’s going to depend on them convincing the Special Events Committee that they have the financial wherewithal to meet their obligations,” Reid said. “But to me, it looks like the NCAA wants to keep the game. It’s my understanding that they kept extending [the OCSA’s] deadline for the proposal.

“If the [Big Orange Classic] does fold, teams in the West will have a harder time getting into a bowl because that’s one less game out here. Teams with 7-4 records are going to have a tough time.”

McGee believes his group is past wondering if this can be done--and done well.

“We have the resources in place to make this be a successful event in 1995,” said McGee, a vice president of the Irvine-based Lindquist Group that recently took over management of the sports association. “We would not be interested in approaching the NCAA for a game this year if we didn’t think that was the case.

“This can be a good event for Orange County if all of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We’re going to put all of our resources into making that happen.”

In Jack French’s opinion, the Orange County group’s commitment still might not be enough.

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French is executive director of the Tournament of Roses, which also produces the Rose Bowl game. He said that limited time and the checkered past of the Big Orange Classic will likely present problems.

“It’s going to be a hard sell [to the public],” he said. “That game has never had huge crowds and they’re not in the position to get the best teams.”

If approved, the Big Orange Classic would be played Dec. 28 or 30 between the Western Athletic Conference’s third-place team and an at-large selection. Only twice has the game attracted crowds of more than 50,000 at Anaheim Stadium, which can accommodate about 69,000 for football. In 1994, 27,477 attended the game between Utah and Arizona--the smallest crowd since the inaugural game.

“Most likely, you’re talking about unranked teams,” French said. “I just don’t know if there is enough time to put it together and market it.”

However, French revised his assessment when informed that Lindquist is deeply involved with the game’s future.

“Oh, Jack is involved,” French said. “Well, Jack is a heck of a good guy and marketeer. Jack has great vision. Take everything I said and put it up another notch.”

Selling tickets is a concern for McGee and Lindquist, which is why they intend to make everything surrounding the game more of a spectacle. There are even plans to have a black-tie gala to kick off the proceedings.

“We have spent the last two months and have placed all of our efforts toward insuring that this game becomes, at a minimum, a financial break even for the OCSA,” McGee said. “The game has had a history of losing money. I certainly don’t think that was the intent of past directors, but our management feels certain commitments needed to be secured prior to making that step [of scheduling the game].”

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Board of director Bob Hoyt agreed with the strategy. A vice president at Santa Ana-based First American Title Insurance, Hoyt said the sport organization’s policy shift is long overdue.

“I guess we’re going about this in a real strange way,” Hoyt said. “In the past we had no money but played the game. Now we’re making sure we have the money and support we need beforehand.”

The Orange County Tourism Consortium is expected to provide primary funding for the game, a source said. The tourism consortium represents various business interests within the county.

Its involvement is key for the OCSA, because of increased financial obligations for bowl game operators. The minimum payout to schools participating in bowl games increases from $500,000 to $750,000 this season.

“Then when you start talking about stadium rental, operating costs and promotions, you’re looking at at least a $2-million nut,” French said. “That’s the main problem--the money. The logistics of things like renting a stadium and planning a halftime show is the easy part.”

Reid of the Holiday Bowl sees another big problem: People. Bowl games depend as much on sponsorships and TV revenue as they do volunteers, he believes. Although admittedly unfamiliar with the OCSA’s membership, he is curious if the group will have enough volunteers to get the job done in the ensuing months.

“We have 34 committees, and you have to schedule meetings and planning around when people can do things,” Reid said. “It’s hard enough trying to schedule meetings if you have a long time.

“I guess you can try to accelerate the process, but that’s difficult with people working.”

McGee is confident the OCSA membership will respond if called upon.

“Producing a successful game in 1995 will almost certainly depend on an enthusiastic membership,” he said. “A lot of the principal directors who were involved last year on a day-to-day level might not be the same. But a lot of the individuals who were involved with the game have called and expressed their intent to serve in the same role if there is a game this year.”

Hoyt said the OCSA will do what is necessary to put on a good show.

“We are running late in a sense, and I think it’s fair to say it will be a real challenge,” Hoyt said. “But we’re not going through what we went through before. Jerry and Jack are at the forefront, but everyone will have their hands involved.”


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