The relationship between the sports fan and New Year’s Day has long been a lovefest of television, cushy couches, junk food and college football.
Those traditions don’t figure to change early in the next century, but could they be affected Saturday--Jan. 1, 2000--by Y2K?
For the last year, we’ve heard doomsday scenarios--banks losing our money, utility companies failing and airliners falling out of the sky because of computer breakdowns.
All concerned have gone out of their way recently to assure us that everything will be just dandy when Friday turns to Saturday and 1999 becomes 2000.
But what about the bowl games? Will couch potatoes actually have to vacate their posts and find something else to occupy their time?
The answer is a resounding “No!” by bowl executives.
Although necessary precautions have been taken to weed out potential problems, no one involved with the games is expecting anything to alter the normal course of New Year’s Day.
“It is a bunch of hype,” said Glen Krupicka, executive director for the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., which will be played tonight and figures to be the final sporting event of 1999. “People are fishing for a lot of stuff that I just don’t think are going to be factors.”
Six bowl games are scheduled New Year’s Day, two with early starts, the Cotton in Dallas and the Outback in Tampa, Fla., each beginning at 8 a.m. PST.
Four others--the Gator in Jacksonville, Fla.; the Citrus in Orlando, the Rose in Pasadena and the Orange in Miami--have later scheduled starts.
All have addressed the Y2K issue--some more than others--and all agree that everything possible has been done to create a typical atmosphere for each game.
“We’re probably like most people and we’ve been working on it for the past 12 months,” said Doug Hall, stadium director at Alltel Stadium, where the Gator Bowl will be played. “We’ve gone though all the checklists.”
All six bowl sites plan to conduct early-morning walk-throughs. Organizers of the Cotton, Outback and Citrus bowls, in fact, plan to spring into action shortly after the clock strikes midnight tonight.
Marty MacInnis, vice president and director of operations for the Cotton Bowl, said playing in a nearly 70-year-old facility has been a blessing, as far as Y2K fears are concerned.
“For the Cotton Bowl, having less high-tech equipment leaves us with a lot less to worry about,” MacInnis said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not concerned. We started planning for this when last year’s game ended.”
But MacInnis said that other than adding about a dozen meetings to his schedule, much of his workload has remained the same. Still, he will be at the stadium when the new year arrives.
“We’ll have a crew waiting right after midnight to check everything again,” MacInnis said. “That way, if they do find something, we still have nine or 10 hours to get it fixed.”
Dylan Thomas, senior director of communications and ticketing for the Citrus Bowl, said crews there will have their Y2K drill just after midnight along with another check between 6 and 8 a.m. local time.
“Since we’re playing a day game, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong in the stadium to stop the game from being played or prevent people from watching it,” Thomas said. “If something wacky happens, you deal with it.”
Just what kind of wacky things might happen is anyone’s guess.
The Rose Bowl has sometimes been a target for pranks by computer-literate Caltech students.
“We feel we’re in good shape,” said Kevin Ash, game director for the Rose Bowl. “We’re trying to be very cautious, but we don’t want to send out a panic message either.”
So what about the Caltech factor?
“Hmmm. How should I word this? . . . I say let a sleeping dog lie,” Ash said, laughing while also acknowledging that no contact has been made with the school regarding the issue. “But realistically, if Caltech hit us, they could’ve done it to us in November or before that and we wouldn’t even know it. Basically, you just have to anticipate problems.”
Although college football dominates New Year’s Day, professional sports leagues have their own plans for dealing with Y2K concerns.
The NBA’s solution was the most conservative: There are no games today or New Year’s Day. That way all the glitches--if any--should be taken care of when the league steps tentatively into 2000 with one game, Orlando at Miami, on Sunday.
“We’re just playing it safe,” said Brian McIntyre, part of an NBA task force working on the issue.
The NHL has taken no special measures. There are two games scheduled tonight--Chicago at Detroit and the Mighty Ducks at Dallas, and neither home team expressed concerns.
In downtown Detroit, however, fans leaving Joe Louis Arena after the hockey game will notice increased security.
The same can be said for the bowl games, which all figure to beef up security forces, just in case.
The NFL began planning for Y2K in fall 1997. Jodi Balsam of the league office headed the task force charged with making sure that the move into 2000 didn’t interfere with a fairly inflexible NFL schedule.
“We stockpiled information and monitored the remedial efforts of the rest of the world,” she said. “We’re comfortable with our systems and clubs.”
Teams usually travel on Saturday for Sunday games. For Y2K, travel day was moved to today.
Bowl games didn’t escape schedule changes either.
At least one bowl backed away from Y2K. The Peach Bowl in Atlanta moved back a day to Thursday so the teams and fans would be on their way home before any potential problems.
“It was definitely a concern,” said David Epps, director of marketing for the game. “By moving back one day, it allows fans who might be skittish to get into Atlanta and out again.”
In Jacksonville, site of the Gator Bowl on Saturday, Hall said another big issue looms.
“There’s a Jaguars’ game on Sunday,” he said. “Having back-to-back games is tough enough as it is, but with all the unknown things about Friday, it’s going to make for an antsy weekend.”
Therein lies the biggest problem with Y2K: the unknown.
In most cases, questions can only be answered with speculation, since the world has yet to live through the scenario.
“If there’s going to be a big problem, it’s probably going to be something that nobody’s thought of,” said Mike Schulze, director of communications for the Outback Bowl. “But it’s incredible to think that people haven’t already thought of everything.”
Then again, if someone had, there wouldn’t a Y2K issue in the first place, would there?
The Associated Press contributed to this story.