TAMPA — The winners won't be announced until November, but local organizers have optimism as they submit their bids this week for Tampa to host college football's national championship games in 2016 and 2017.
"From the minute the discussion of playoffs began several years ago and there was the possibility of a national championship game in conjunction with that, we've basically been formulating what the event would look like in our community," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. "We've really been honing in on it for '16 and '17."
Tampa proved to be a surprising challenger to Arlington, Texas, for the inaugural playoff championship in 2015, and with the Dallas suburb and Miami ineligible for '16 because they're hosting semifinals, Tampa has a good chance at landing what almost assuredly will be the elite event in college football.
ESPN reported that Jacksonville, New Orleans and Glendale, Ariz., are also expected to bid.
"It's a new bid in its own right, but we know that Tampa put forth a great bid last time, and that certainly got people's attention," said Michael Kelly, chief operating officer for the new playoff system. "I can't say that will have any bearing definitely, but I know they're excited to bid again."
Organizers aren't expected to make in-person presentations. The selection committee will make its decisions from the bids as they're submitted.
Without revealing details, Higgins has talked about conveying how huge the event would be in Tampa — a Super Bowl-caliber destination, in a state known for its college football fandom — capitalizing on the national interest in the championship.
"We truly expect it to be a celebration of college football, the crown jewel," Higgins said. "This wasn't formulated over just the last year. It's something we've been laying the groundwork for for quite some time. … It's truly a unique opportunity to make something special from the ground up."
The state's traditional powers of Florida, Florida State and Miami are again all ranked in the top 20 nationally, and Tampa is now poised to potentially host a national championship game in the middle of all that.
"This is a community that not only has a genuine affinity for college football, but it has a love of major events," Higgins said. "When those two meet in the middle, you really have a sweet spot and an opportunity to do something special. That's what has had us so excited."
Higgins said the local bid has had not only his organization behind it but a wide panel of support, similar to Super Bowl committees that have brought that game to Tampa in past years, most recently 2009.
Other competition for the 2017 game include Jacksonville, Miami, San Francisco and San Antonio, Texas, ESPN reported. Atlanta, Arlington and Minneapolis are also considering bids.