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Independence Bowl perhaps a luxury not longer in reach

Slowly and, unless something happens soon, steadily it looks like the life is ebbing out of Shreveport’s Independence Bowl.

That would be a shame because some pretty good matchups have occurred. Several schools with national championships have played in it (Alabama, Army, Auburn, LSU, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M), with perhaps the most prominent having been OU’s 1999 appearance. Not only does OU possess the most national championships in the modern era (since 1949), but the next year after dropping the game to Ole Miss 27-25 they won the national championship where the I-Bowl served as one end defining a 20-game win streak.

It also has some history on its side. It’s preparing to celebrate its 30th year, making it the tenth-oldest contest running among the holiday bowl games.

But the I-Bowl has some unenviable intractable realities to face. It is in the third-smallest metropolitan area to host a game. Worse, it is one of the few bowl games whose city of location does not have a NCAA Division I-A football-playing university in its metropolitan area which boosts local attendance and support. Only three others do not, and two of those (San Antonio and Jacksonville) are large metropolises. In fact, only the other such city, Mobile, is farther from a Division I-A program than is Shreveport (Ruston’s Louisiana Tech). But no host city is farther from a school in a major conference (there are considered to be the “BCS” six) than is Shreveport (Baton Rouge’s LSU).

Combine these with the fact that, of the 2005-06 bowl list, it is hard to argue that the only city considered to be less “resort-like” in terms of winter weather and attractions is Boise (where you can guarantee a big home crowd because, well, there’s not a whole lot else to do in Boise in the winter). This factor is crucial to get fans from the schools competing in the game to travel to it.

This has become reflected in the I-Bowl’s difficulties in finding a title sponsor and with getting two conferences to have tie-ins to send teams to the game (crucial especially if they are BCS conferences such as what the I-Bowl has now because fans of these schools are more likely to travel) and, if so, giving the I-Bowl their least worthy teams. A relatively unattractive winter resort area without much of a natural college football atmosphere means not much travel incentive or hometown turnout.

This impacts the most important aspect of the equation, the payout. Bowls are required to pay a certain amount of money to the competing teams (which then gets divvied up within their conferences). Lower attendance means fewer dollars, making the payout harder to meet, much less going above the minimum. Mediocre teams playing also reduce television ratings, discouraging sponsors and networks for paying more for rights to broadcast. It becomes a vicious cycle into which the I-Bowl regrettably has been sliding.

It has caused the I-Bowl to dip into its reserves to the point that they almost will be exhausted after this year unless a sponsor steps up at this late date (despite Shreveport taxpayers contributing $100,000 and Louisiana taxpayers forking over nearly $360,000 in tax dollars to fund the game – almost $1.4 million of state money goes to the two New Orleans-based bowl games). It may not matter now, with the Big 12 Conference becoming very hesitant to extend its contract past this 2005 game.

As a college football fan and sometimes I-Bowl attendee I consider this unfortunate, but understandable. Way too often we try to have non-essential things we can’t afford in this state, things perhaps affordable if attitudes changed to make the state one where greater economic wealth could be generated. I just hope a sponsor, which could pump in millions over the term of a contract, will step in. But don’t hold your breath – we’re still waiting on somebody, anybody, to buy the Superdome naming rights.

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