October 01, 2015 8:52 pm •
College football’s newest bowl game was conceived, fittingly, on a football field.
Ali Farhang coaches defensive ends and special teams at Salpointe Catholic High School when he’s not running his law practice. Jon Volpe is the Lancers’ running backs coach when he’s not serving as chief executive officer of a home loan company.
Farhang had an idea — to bring a postseason football game back to Tucson — but no title sponsor. Volpe had a company, and a passion for sports. During a Salpointe practice earlier this season, Farhang mentioned the predicament to Volpe.
“He wanted to know more,” Farhang said, “and it went from there.”
Photography by A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star
The Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl was born at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in a ballroom at the Westin La Paloma Resort. The game’s parents are resting comfortably — for now. Both Farhang and Volpe know the Dec. 29 game follows a long line of failed local sports ventures.
“In Tucson, we talks about what’s wrong with us and things in the past that have happened, the things we’ve lost,” Farhang said. “My hope — and I’m confident this is going to happen — is that we’re going to use this game to accentuate what’s best about us.”
The inaugural Arizona Bowl will pit a member of the Mountain West Conference against a team from Conference USA or, if none are available, a qualifying Sun Belt Conference team. It follows in the tradition of the Copper/Insight.com Bowl, which was held at Arizona Stadium every year from 1990-99.
Since then, Tucson has gained — and lost — the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and watched as three spring training teams and a pair of Triple-A clubs left for greener pastures. Pro fastpitch softball, independent league baseball and minor league hockey teams failed before they had a chance to register locally.
Football, organizers believe, can have staying power. For one, the Arizona Bowl will be held at the newly renovated Arizona Stadium. For another, the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission and all three participating conferences have a financial stake in it. The game is expected to bring $25 million to the Tucson economy, according to an Eller College of Management study.
The Mountain West, along with the ASEC, will be responsible for game operations. The league stands to benefit the most from the new game: The MWC now has bowl affiliates local in Las Vegas, San Diego, Albuquerque, Honolulu, Boise, Fort Worth and Tucson. By manipulating which bowl-eligible teams play where — a practice that’s become more common in recent years — the league can ensure most are within driving distance of their destinations.
Conference USA has four Texas teams: UTEP, UTSA, North Texas and Rice. Three Sun Belt teams — Texas State, Idaho and New Mexico State — are within reasonable driving distance of Tucson.
“It’s critical and important to put the right team in the right place,” said Karl Benson, the Sun Belt’s commissioner and former Western Athletic Conference boss. “The out-of-town bowls are driven by filling hotel rooms … and when fans get in cars to drive to bowl games, those are successful bowl games. We want to provide you with the two best possible teams.”
The Arizona Bowl has partnered with CampusInsiders.com for what it says is the first digitally focused postseason game in history. The streaming website will preview and cover the game extensively; a television partner will be announced shortly.
The game is “goal-to-go” with a network, said Crowley Sullivan, general manager of CampusInsiders.com. ESPN would be an unlikely partner, as it’s showing all three of the day’s other games — the Armed Forces Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and Texas bowl — throughout the day.
The lone standing ovation was saved for Farhang, who has been named chair of the game’s Local Operating Committee.
The part-time coach then delivered what he called “a halftime speech,” complete with a call-and-response.
“Tucson, Arizona: What time is it?” he yelled.
“Game time!” the crowd responded.
“Let’s put a little swagger in our community,” Farhang said. “We have a lot to be proud of. Let’s show the world.”