The selection of Raymond James Stadium as a site for the title game is interesting, considering the venue has never been included in the previous Bowl Championship Series events. Ever since the stadium's 1999 opening, the Outback Bowl has hosted a yearly contest between teams from the SEC and the Big Ten conferences.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said Tampa was almost a no-brainer for the bid, considering the committee wanted the contest to be held in three separate time zones in the first three years. More importantly, though, Tampa presents an ideal location for the game.
“The Tampa Bay area is committed to hosting big events in a gracious and thorough manner,” said Hancock, who was director of the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four when it was held at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field in 1999. “There's economic impact and other (financial) factors, but part of it, too, is how a community can just feel good about itself."
The upcoming Outback Bowl between LSU and Iowa will take place on New Years Day and undoubtedly mirror the experience had by East Carolina and Ohio this past week at Tropicana Field, which was the site for the Beef O-Brady's Bowl.
East Carolina's victory over Ohio on Monday in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl was one of the last games on the early slate of bowl events and came off as "the best bowl experience" for players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders, family and friends. After listening to several people describe their experience with the festivities leading up to the game, it is fairly obvious why the Tampa Bay area is such an ideal area for hosting big-time sporting events.
Here is a pictorial snapshot of the bowl game and some notes and observations from the game:
1. The organizers of this bowl do a wonderful job catering to the participants and giving them the ultimate experience when it comes to bowl games. The players, coaches, staff and other administrative personnel stay at two downtown hotels — the Vinoy Renaissance and the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront while the visiting media, bands, fans and families stay primarily at the St. Pete Beach hotels.
In addition, a majority of the events leading up to the game occurred on St. Pete Beach, specifically at the Tradewinds Resort where everyone involved with the two teams had a chance to enjoy a giant water slide, beach volleyball, water trikes, paddle boarding, a dunk tank and more. The two teams and bands also participated in a Beach Bash at the Tradewinds pool and beach area where bragging rights were up for grabs with multiple head-to-head competitions including the popular and hotly contested belly flop contest, won by Ohio offensive lineman John Prior.
Ohio junior running back Tim Edmond: On bowl week and the difference between St. Petersburg and Shreveport, Louisiana, where Ohio beat Louisiana-Monroe in the 2012 AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.
"This was a really big experience for our team. Last year's bowl we had 23-degree weather in Louisiana. This is my third time ever being on the beach, so I'm enjoying every minute," said Matthew Scarborough, junior tuba player for the East Carolina Marching Pirates band when asked to compare this year's experience with the one at at last year's New Orleans Bowl, where East Carolina lost to Louisiana-Lafayette.
"It just feels like a bowl-like atmosphere. There's a lot more activities to do (than New Orleans). We stayed on the beach at the Tradewinds and so did the other band so and the weather was outstanding so we were able to meet other band members and form a lot of new friendships. The organizers really planned it out well and we always had an idea of what was going on and what there was to do."
Players also appreciated the chance to visit wounded soldiers at the Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg, which is a departure from the typical visit to children's hospitals during bowl weeks.
Ohio senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton: "It means a lot to see the veterans who served our country and for us to give back. It's a very humbling experience and I'm grateful to be here. I didn't know what to expect, but everyone is high in energy and full of spirit."
After talking to a number of players, band members, coaches and fans, I concluded this location for a game is excellent. You have great weather, the beaches, the improved entertainment value of downtown St. Petersburg and the hospitality approach that is built in with workers at area hotels, restaurants, shops and bars. Whereas in New Orleans, coaches have to "consistently be on the up-and-up with players and making sure players don't get into trouble," according to one coach who asked to be unnamed.
2. The game itself was played inside the stadium normally reserved for the Tampa Bay Rays. On a day when the game-time temperature was 82-degrees outside with few clouds and low humidity. And at a quirky kickoff time of 2 p.m., due to Monday Night Football being played on ESPN. With a whole slew of bowl games slated for the network known as the worldwide leader in sports, I guess the Beef O'Brady's Bowl gets the shaft when it comes to a day and time for its game. Thus, the announced crowd of 20,053 at Tropicana Field came close to the 2012 game played between UCF and Ball State when an announced attendance of 21,759 watched the Knights beat the Cardinals.
That being said, from looking at the crowd, a majority of the fans clearly were associated in some way with East Carolina or Ohio and a small number were local residents there just to watch the game. Whoever it was, though, enjoyed having the game at Tropicana Field.
"It's a great thing to put a game here in the Trop," said Drew Heuertz, associate head coach for the Northeast High School football team. "They should have more games here, including possibly the state playoffs and the Mayor's Cup (a game featuring two of the best teams in St. Petersburg)."
Allie Cochran, a sophomore at Ohio University, has been to three straight bowl games to watch brother play. Bobcats junior wide receiver Chase Cochran coincidentally kept a daily blog for the Ohio athletics website.
"This is the best bowl game experience, by far," Allie said. "There wasn't much to do in Shreveport. This has all been kind of surreal realizing how warm it is and it's around Christmas-time. It's definitely a great place to go for a bowl game."
East Carolina Head Coach Ruffin McNeill: "First, I want to thank the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl for what a great experience and the city of St. Petersburg. They treated our team first class. I have been blessed to have been to a lot of bowl games and this is one of the top venues."
Ohio Head Coach Frank Solich: "It was a first class bowl. We had a great time and we're proud to represent our team in the bowl. It was a hard fought football game. 0-3 in turnover ratio was a factor in our loss. ECU is a very physical football team especially on the defensive side."