ST. PETERSBURG — A year ago, it was barely an idea among Big East officials, but by next week, the St. Petersburg Bowl is likely to be the newest annual event on the bay area's calendar.
Organizers will go before an NCAA subcommittee confident a pre-Christmas game at Tropicana Field will be approved to join the current lineup of 32 in time for the upcoming season.
"We feel this game is in tremendous position to be approved," Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli said at a gathering of organizers and local officials Wednesday night at the Hilton Carillon Park.
The bowl would pit the Big East against Conference USA, and Wednesday brought new details, such as $30 tickets. (The Outback Bowl, with higher-level teams, charges $65). Tropicana would be configured with the field running from home plate to rightfield with seating for as many as 44,000.
Organizers said they are confident in the bowl's viability because it will be owned and operated by ESPN, which runs five other bowls and would broadcast the game.
"I think we've proven to the committee and the conferences involved in our bowls that we do provide a quality experience for the student-athlete," said Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager for ESPN Regional. "We've been able to build a bowl model that's worked, and we've met the (attendance) criteria the NCAA has placed. St. Petersburg has all the elements we need."
The bowl had been earmarked for Dec. 21, but that changed last week when it was announced the Bucs have a home game that night. Dates are still being explored, but the bowl is likely to fall from Dec. 20-23.
"It provides something of a tradition for the community," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said. "I'd love it if 10 years from now we all knew that the bowl game was going to be on such-and-such a date and the community would look forward to it and the ancillary events that come with the bowl game every year."
The St. Petersburg Bowl isn't the only potential addition as proposals will be heard Wednesday in South Florida from the Congressional Bowl, which would pit Navy against an ACC team in Nationals Park in Washington, and the Rocky Mountain Bowl, featuring teams from the Mountain West and Western Athletic in Salt Lake City. Only St. Petersburg's would be produced by ESPN.
There were seven eligible teams (all but one 6-6) that didn't play in a bowl game last season. Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini, who chairs the NCAA committee that decides bowls, said the NCAA doesn't want so many bowls that it risks not having enough teams to fill them.
"I think that's the biggest concern right now," Giannini said.
While Giannini said he can't speak for his committee, he said he has heard nothing but positive things about the prospects of a game in St. Petersburg.
"I think it's an outstanding bowl destination," he said