Central Arkansas could roll with a bowl

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Fans fill War Memorial Stadium prior to a game between Arkansas and Ole Miss on Oct. 27, 2012.
Photo by Jimmy Jones
Fans fill War Memorial Stadium prior to a game between Arkansas and Ole Miss on Oct. 27, 2012.

— It was a lunch at Ashley’s in the Capital Hotel — where an elementary school class was singing Christmas carols — with people who know things, people who ask questions and get things done.

The guest of honor at the lunch was Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson, who recently was booed on his birthday after presenting Arkansas State’s football team with its Sun Belt championship trophy.

The boos were because the Red Wolves nation felt ASU should have been invited to the New Orleans Bowl instead of revisiting the Bowl.

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Could Little Rock support an annual football bowl game?

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The New Orleans Bowl, for a second consecutive year, had the option of inviting Sun Belt champion ASU but chose to go up the road to Louisiana-Lafayette. Maybe they thought an encore of 42,841 who bought a ticket last year was inevitable. Maybe not.

Benson was meeting with the group of concerned citizens Tuesday, including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, to discuss the opportunity of central Arkansas hosting a bowl game.

Yes, a real postseason game between a team from the Sun Belt Conference and any team the bowl selection committee chooses that has at least a 6-6 overall record.

Right here at War Memorial Stadium.

Benson, who has helped start five bowls, toured the grand old lady Tuesday and declared her a great venue for a bowl game.

Chris Peterson, the athletic director at UALR, is probably the driving force behind bringing a major sports event to his adopted home state, but he has the ear of several advisers such as Frank Thomas, Skip Rutherford, Kevin Crass, Charlie Staggs, Gretchen Hall and, of course, David Bazzel, who does more to promote Arkansas and sports than anyone in the state.

The possibility of having a bowl game here has been discussed many times since Peterson arrived at UALR.

Bowls are much more than a chance for college football teams to play one more game. It is the opportunity for an area and state to show off a little, to put their best foot forward and fill up the hotels and restaurants during a time when people usually aren’t traveling.

From the Clinton Presidential Center to the River Market District, the state Capitol and many other places, central Arkansas has a lot to be proud of.

Let’s be honest here: Does Albuquerque, N.M., Boise, Idaho, or Shreveport really have anything on us?

Those are good cities, too, but the way people in Arkansas have embraced NCAA tournaments — both men’s and women’s — proves this is an area hungry for athletic growth.

Granted, there is a lot more to it than some smart guys and a smart woman getting together for lunch and saying, heck yeah, let’s do this. But it is an idea whose time may have come.

The bowl system as we know it will change in 2014 when the Bowl Championship Series becomes a true fourteam playoff. Now would be the perfect time to get in on the ground floor of the pecking order for college football’s postseason play.

That’s not to say it is definitely going to happen. There is title sponsorship, television rights and many other details that have to be worked out, but Benson’s experience includes a lot of insight.

And he never let it show that the New Orleans Bowl acted totally on its own when it snubbed ASU.

Sports, Pages 22 on 12/19/2012