|« Dallas area may not appreciate what Chattanooga has||2010 Campbell Schedule Released »|
Championship game loss would be felt in Chattanooga
There may be no Chattanoogan more deeply interested in our town’s bid to retain the NCAA’s FCS title game than Mary Childress.
The downtown Mariott’s director of sales and marketing, Childress said Tuesday, “We’re watching very closely. This is probably more near and dear to us than most because we’re the only hotel to have hosted a team every year since 1997. Not to have this anymore would be a part of tradition being taken from us.”
Too many events have been taken from us in the past, most notably Spring Fling and the SEC women’s basketball tournament.
But the fear of losing the FCS title game to Frisco, Texas, following Thursday’s bid presentations in Indianapolis feels a little different than those kidnappings. A little more intense. A little more bitter.
Thirteen years is too long to baby-sit something. After 13 years you’ve pretty much adopted it for life. You’ve nursed it when it was sick, celebrated its successes, fixed its failures. You and only you. And the event has grown bigger and stronger and better every year it’s remained in your care.
So it’s near and dear to many of us. It is indeed a tradition, as almost anything experienced every year for 13 straight years would become.
But it’s not just us. Most importantly, it’s not just us. When Montana rolled into town in December for the 2009 title game, then-Grizzlies coach Bobby Hauck said, “Our goal every year is the same. Our goal is to get to Chattanooga.”
It is a sentiment echoed yearly by almost every school that reaches the perfect plastic grass of Finley Stadiun on the final weekend of the FCS calendar.
Only one other NCAA championship is so consistently tied to one community at the moment. The NCAA College World Series and Omaha, Neb., are virtually synonymous, the CWS having called Rosenblatt Stadium home every single June since 1950.
More than once NCAA officials have said of our town, “We hope to make Chattanooga to the (FCS) title game what Omaha is to the College World Series.”
But unlike us, Omaha never has been forced to bid against another city to retain the CWS. The bids basically have been rolled over every two, three or five years for the past six decades, though the NCAA and Omaha just signed a 25-year deal through 2036, thanks in part to the TD AMERITRADE Park Omaha that will open in 2011.
We don’t need a new stadium, however. Finley is fit as a fiddle for hosting this championship.
Beyond that, it’s difficult to see how the game becomes more important in the distant Dallas of suburb of Frisco, especially when next season’s Jan. 7, 2011, date places it directly opposite the Cotton Bowl and on the same weekend the Dallas Cowboys could host a playoff game. You think a single Texan would care about seeing, let’s say, Northern Iowa face UMass on a weekend like that?
Which leads one to wonder just what’s going on here. Could it be that we’ve never quite satisfied the NCAA or competing teams as completely as Omaha has?
Could it be that communities such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa (which we beat back a few years ago) or Frisco, Texas, see what the game has meant to us and merely think they can do it better?
Could it be that the NCAA wants nothing more than to keep us on our toes, knowing complacency can lead to mediocrity?
To be clear, Chattanooga isn’t Omaha and the one-night FCS title game isn’t the 11-day-long CWS. No more than 10-12,000 visitors will drop in on the Scenic City for the FCS game. The CWS will sell more than 300,000 tickets over the course of this year’s tourney and deliver an estimated $45 million impact to Omaha.
By contrast, Childress estimates the Marriott earns roughly $100,000 each year from the FCS game, with the city bringing in somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.
But talk to Kathryn Morrissey of Omaha and the emotional tie of each event is remarkably similar.
“You just feel a sense of ownership,” said Morrissey, who has lived all of her four-plus decades in the Omaha area and works for College World Series, Inc. “Our community just loves this event.”
Morrissey has more reasons than her job to be passionate about the event. Her grandfather was handed the one-millionth fan pennant at a long-ago CWS. The event welcomed its seven-millionth fan last year.
“I cannot image losing it. It’s just been a marriage made in heaven,” Morrissey said.
A lot of us know how she feels. Now we have to hope we’ll still feel that way 47 years from now. Or at least three.
By Mark Wiedmer, Chattanooga Times Free Press