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Tucson seeks to add third NCAA bowl game in Arizona

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If all goes well for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission in the coming weeks, the state will add a third NCAA bowl game, played at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

The commission has sent the NCAA an application to add a postseason game in Tucson, which hosted the Copper/ Bowl from its inception in 1989 until it moved to Phoenix in 2000 and eventually settled in Tempe in 2005. The game has also been known as the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and, most recently, the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

The deadline for application was April 1. The NCAA will deliberate over several weeks on the potential Arizona Bowl as well as the Little Rock Bowl proposed for Little Rock, Arkansas. The Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida, is already set to be the 40th bowl game played after the 2015 season.

Alan Young, chief operating officer of the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, identified the Mountain West and Conference USA as the conferences that would send participants to Tucson. Both conferences confirmed that they were on board with the bowl via email.

The commission discussed the bowl with five different conferences, according to Young. A key point of those conversations is the number of bowl-eligible teams in the conference.

“In talking to different conferences, you determine if they’re maxed out or if they can consistently deliver a team to your bowl game,” he said.

Last season, Conference USA saw two bowl-eligible teams go without bowl bids, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which shut down its football program after the season. All of the Mountain West’s 2014 bowl-eligible teams were invited to bowls.

Young said the commission’s local organizing committee in Tucson, headed by attorney Ali Farhang, came to his group around the beginning of this year to present the idea.

“They’ve lost spring training games and lost a golf tournament,” Young said. “They would like some sort of sporting event there.”

The last year Tucson hosted spring training games was 2010. The Tucson area was also home to the Accenture Match Play Championship from 2007 until last year, when Accenture pulled its sponsorship and the tournament moved to San Francisco. The Omni Tucson National Resort hosted a Champions Tour event, the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, for the first time in March.

Farhang said he wants the bowl game to be like a “Phoenix Open of Tucson.”

“It’s definitely centered as a community-based charitable event focused on multiple charitable businesses and organizations in southern Arizona and Tucson,” Farhang said.

The Phoenix Open has raised more than $100 million for charities over its 80-year existence, including $7 million this year for Thunderbird Charities, a group specifically designated for distributing money raised by the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Though Young said he appreciates the University of Arizona’s willingness to work with the commission, Arizona Vice President for Athletics Greg Byrne remains more reserved about the possibility of the bowl.

“We are aware of the conversations,” Byrne said. “Nothing has been decided, but we obviously want to try to promote Tucson and the state of Arizona as much as we possibly can.”

Andrew Bagnato, a partner at Bagnato Pflipsen Communications, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in sports, said television networks are willing to sign on to show bowl games because even the lesser-known ones draw viewers.

Young confirmed that the commission is down to two networks likely to televise the game: CBS Sports Network and Fox Sports.

Bagnato, who was chief of communications for the Fiesta Bowl from 2010 to 2014, identified two critical points for filling the stadium on game day: a nice stadium and fans willing to travel.

Arizona Stadium underwent almost $75 million in renovations between 2011 and 2013.

As for putting people in the spruced-up stadium, Bagnato said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“Teams with OK seasons still have fans who want to get out of the cold,” he said.