Christmas Eve showdown on the gridiron in The Bahamas
Guardian Sports Editor
Published: May 07, 2014
Are you ready for some football?
The sport of American football is set to make a serious breakthrough here in The Bahamas, as The Bahamas Bowl, a college football game featuring teams from Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference (MAC), was officially launched and endorsed yesterday. The historic game, the first ever college bowl game outside of the United States, Canada or Cuba, will be played at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium here in The Bahamas, and will be aired December 24 at 12 p.m. on the ESPN Network.
Conference USA has
purchased the event, and will be represented at least four times in the six-year agreement. The game was originally unveiled as a bowl game shared between the American Athletic Conference (AAC), the Sun Belt Conference, MAC and Conference USA. Now, Conference USA is the major player. Representing Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, event Senior Advisor Richard Giannini said yesterday, that this game will carry the largest audience of any sporting event ever held in The Bahamas.
“This is such a great place to come to, and we’re really excited to bring this football game here,” said Giannini, who also serves as the director of athletics at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“ESPN televises 37 of 38 bowl games, so this is really a win-win situation for everyone. I think that our student-athletes will have a tremendous time down here. Also, we intend to stage a clinic for the youth, so we are leaving something that you can build on. On television, there will be 100 million people in the United States exposed to watching this event here in Nassau, so it will really be grand.
“”When you look at it, a lot of places in the Mid-American Conference, it will be snowing around that time, so it’s safe to say that a lot of their fans will want to come here, and in Conference USA, schools like Florida International and Florida Atlantic are very close, so their fans will want to come down in large numbers as well.”
That might be so, but Middle Tennessee State University President Dr. Sidney McPhee, who was coincidentally born here in The Bahamas, said that his school would definitely want to represent Conference USA in the historic bowl game. Dr. McPhee serves on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Board of Directors and the NCAA Executive Committee, and was very instrumental in the NCAA signing the historic deal with The Bahamas Government to bring the college football game here to The Bahamas.
“I’ve lived in the U.S. for 30-plus years, but this is still home,” said Dr. McPhee. “When the opportunity came for this incredible and exceptional venture, there was no question that my heart was into it. The Bahamas is merging on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to showcase not only the sun, sand and sea, but the beautiful culture, the people and the history of this beautiful country that the world is yet to see. There is no other place like The Bahamas.
“Countries around the world have been seeking an association with the NCAA, and here you have The Bahamas being the pacesetter in hosting a college bowl game. As a native son, I am beaming with pride. I can tell you that you are about to embark on a journey that will tell the world that The Bahamas is the place to be for culture, sports, education, beauty, you name it. This country is going to make its mark, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that this is a long-term commitment.”
Dr. McPhee said that the response from his university, in particular, has just been tremendous. Schools in the NCAA system have to win at least six games to be eligible for bowl games, and then it’s up to the selection to determine the best match-ups.
“They’re all very excited about this game down here,” said Dr. McPhee. “It should be a very competitive process. Every single school will be vying to play in Nassau. This one is going to be a knockout.”
Middle Tennessee State University is the largest university in the state of Tennessee, and Dr. McPhee has served as president for the past 14 years. The school has a total enrollment of 26,000 students, and carries an estimated budget of $600 million per year. It is a major NCAA Division I program.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr. Daniel Johnson said that this venture signifies the launch of The Bahamas’ ‘Sports in Paradise’ program.
“We’re going into the business of sports tourism full fledged,” said the minister. “This bowl game represents one of the marquee events that we had this year, and that we will have. When you look at this game, it is set for Christmas Eve at high noon in great weather when everyone else will be buried in snow, and we will ask, ‘are you ready for some football?’ We are indeed ready.
“We are certainly not taking this lightly. We have to get it right. This is the greatest little country on Earth, and we are going to show that. We have a partnership made in heaven - we have the NCAA which is the most successful college brand on the planet, we have ESPN which is the biggest sports broadcaster on the planet, and we have The Bahamas which is the greatest little country on the planet. Everyone will see why it is better in The Bahamas, and as the number one sports tourism destination in the world, we will show them why sports is better in The Bahamas.”
Representing the Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, Permanent Secretary Harrison Thompson said this event represents one of the greatest sporting events that will ever happen in The Bahamas.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure that The Bahamas becomes the number one sporting destination in the world,” said Thompson. “On behalf of the honorable Minister of Tourism, I welcome all of you here. I just want to encourage the members of our society to shop early on Christmas Eve, and then go shopping again after 5 p.m., because you cannot miss this game. It is history for The Bahamas. Also, the half-time show is ours, so there will be a cultural experience as well. In The Bahamas, we do things top class, so we look forward to a grand event.”
Director of Sports Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism Greg Rolle said that sports tourism is a 600 million dollar industry per year, and they want to make sure that they tap into that huge economic pie.
“We are putting in place different things to ensure that The Bahamas receives its share of those huge earnings,” said Rolle. “We want everyone from around the world to know that The Bahamas is there not only for sun, sand and sea, but also sports tourism. Execution is key for us. We want the world to see that we could put on top notch events like this, and make them successful. I just want to tell The Bahamas Bowl organizers that we in the sports tourism department of the Ministry of Tourism are going to work diligently with you guys to ensure that this event becomes successful.”
Members of the local football fraternity were also present yesterday.
Mel Ferguson, Commissioner of both the Commonwealth American Football League (CAFL) and the Bahamas Flag Football League (BFFL), said that they are ecstatic about the venture to bring a college football game to The Bahamas, and they will do whatever is required of them to make the entire event a huge success.
“American football has been played for quite a while in this country, and the fact that we will now be having a bowl game here in The Bahamas, we look at that as very important for us,” he said. “We have a well-established league, both american football and flag football, and we all look forward to it. We just thank everyone involved for bringing this historic game to fruition, and whatever is needed from us, we will be here to help.”
The trophy which will be presented to the winner of the game will be made out of something indigenous to The Bahamas, and organizers of the event are expected to make a financial contribution to a local charity, which has been identified as The Ranfurly Homes for Children.
Tickets for the event are priced at $40 each.
Also, later this month, the Miami Dolphins are expected to be coming to The Bahamas in a significant promotional event.