The Outback Bowl has been a New Year's Day staple in Tampa since 1986. Though the game takes place on one day each year, it doesn't mean the other 364 are a "day at the beach" for event organizers. Just ask Jim McVay, the Outback Bowl's president and chief executive. His mission is to ensure that everyone enjoys him- and herself while here and to take notice of what the Tampa Bay area has to offer. Times staff writer Paul Driscoll recently interviewed McVay about his time with the Outback Bowl, his expectations for Tuesday's game and the experience he hopes visitors leave with.
You've grown the event into one of the marquee bowls in college football. What does that mean to you?
Everyone associated with the Outback Bowl is very proud of the growth and success the game has enjoyed over the years. It means we have a large group of dedicated people who work very hard to ensure that our bowl creates a significant economic impact in our community, positively showcases our market nationally and internationally, and also allows us to manage an event that adds to the quality of life in the Tampa Bay area. The fact that our game has contributed over $100 million to NCAA member institutions is quite an accomplishment that makes all of us feel very good.
What are some of your favorite memories of past Outback Bowls?
Every game was special in its own way. We've been very fortunate and have had many close down-to-the-wire finishes and even three overtime games — (2012's) Spartan (Michigan State)-Bulldog (Georgia) game went to triple overtime. We've also hosted some of the all-time-great coaches in college football who brought their unique styles to the bowl. Guys like Steve Spurrier, Gene Stallings, Jim Tressel, Lou Holtz, Joe Paterno, Phil Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Vince Dooley and Lloyd Carr all left us with fun memories.
What are your thoughts on the 2013 Outback Bowl between South Carolina and Michigan?
We have an extremely attractive matchup again this year with coach Steve Spurrier and 10th-ranked South Carolina playing 18th-ranked tradition-rich University of Michigan. Great coaches, and both teams boast several dynamic playmakers. Michigan QB Denard Robinson and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney are two of the most outstanding players in the country and will be a big treat for everyone at Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Day. I'm already looking forward to game day.
Tell me about the week of events leading up to the game.
Our bowl week events are the best in the business — everything from the Outback Steakhouse team welcome dinner to beach day, Busch Gardens trip, team luncheon, Splitsville night, hospital visits, Gridiron Gala, Ybor Parade, Channelside fireworks and more. We encourage everyone to check out our website, outbackbowl.com, for all the details for a fun week.
On a day-to-day basis, what are your duties?
First of all, we have an excellent, experienced staff who have all been with the bowl for 20 years or longer. Our job as a group is to make sure we have done everything possible to properly manage the many details that accompany hosting an event of this magnitude. We have an outstanding group of 400 volunteers and 45 board members who we work with very closely to make sure this event is spectacular in every way, shape and form for our out-of-town visitors and our local guests.
What does the Outback Bowl mean to the Tampa Bay area?
Everyone associated with the Outback Bowl is very proud of what we have meant to our home community. There's nothing like the color and pageantry of a New Year's Day college bowl game when you want to do something special for family and friends or business entertaining. Also, it is estimated that the economic impact of the bowl since its inception for the Tampa Bay area exceeds $1 billion. That's a lot of hard dollars and direct spending and does not factor in the billions of media value that the bowl produces nationally and internationally for our area through our broadcast.
Would you seek to transform the Outback Bowl into a Bowl Championship Series game if they decide to expand beyond the four BCS games they currently have?
We are currently looking very carefully at what we feel our options will be as we begin discussions concerning extending our agreements with our conference partners, our title sponsor and our broadcasters. Our job is to find the best possible way to continue to properly manage this very valuable bay area treasure so that we assure long-term viability and benefit our beautiful community.
What do you do to ensure South Carolina and Michigan fans will consider returning to Tampa in the future?
By making sure this is absolutely the best bowl trip either team has ever taken. We need to do everything possible to make our guests feel welcome and go above and beyond to entertain them every chance we get. The Tampa Bay area is known for exceptional hospitality. And let's go ahead and throw in a spectacular week of gorgeous west coast Florida weather and they'll come back over and over again.
Both teams have good records in this bowl game — Michigan is 3-1 and South Carolina is 2-1. Care to offer a prediction?
My prediction is that the unconditional, unqualified and undefeated winner of the Outback Bowl will once again be the Tampa Bay area.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.