From the Olympics to Super Bowls to Final Fours, Atlanta has a rich record of hosting marquee sporting events. Another is on the way.
College football’s new four-team playoff — scheduled to start with the 2014 season and expected to immediately become a mega-event in U.S. sports — carved out a regular role for Atlanta on Wednesday, naming the Chick-fil-A Bowl one of six rotating hosts of semifinal games.
That means the Atlanta bowl will become a national semifinal once every three years, with the first such game here scheduled for Dec. 31, 2016, in the Georgia Dome and three others planned for the new retractable-roof Falcons stadium in the 2019, 2022 and 2025 seasons.
For Atlanta, the playoff role will bring more time in the national sports spotlight and, combined with the opening next year of the College Football Hall of Fame downtown and the continued staging of the annual SEC Championship game here, will enhance the city’s claim as a capital of college football. And it will mean a surge in prestige for the bowl, which began in 1968 as the Peach Bowl and until Wednesday had never been able to crack the top tier of college football’s postseason events.
“It’s a great opportunity for Atlanta to continue to showcase our city to the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau president William Pate said.
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“There is no doubt Atlanta is the capital of college football,” Pate added. “When you think about a destination that is going to have a new stadium and the Hall of Fame, and where college football always has had a rich tradition, I think (the playoff organizers) want to tap into that energy.”
In the semifinal rotation, the Chick-fil-A Bowl joins tradition-rich names in the bowl business. Also in the rotation, each hosting a semifinal once every three years over a 12-year period: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Orange Bowl in Miami, Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, and Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence with the Rose and the Sugar and the Orange and the Cotton — bowls that are much older than ours — it’s a great day for Atlanta,” Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said.
The Atlanta bowl’s name will grow as part of the deal. Stokan said playoff organizers asked Wednesday for “Peach” to be returned to the name “and we agreed to that.” Stokan said he expects the bowl to be called the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, as it was from 1997 through 2005.
The Rose and Sugar bowls will host the semifinals in the playoff’s inaugural season. The Orange and Cotton bowls get the semis in the second season, with the Fiesta joining Atlanta as semifinal hosts in the third season.
Also Wednesday, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington was selected to host the first national championship game of the playoff era on Jan. 12, 2015.
The national championship games will operate outside the bowl system and will be put up for bid by cities, similar to the way the NFL decides Super Bowl sites. Bids have not been taken yet for national title games beyond the first one. Atlanta didn’t bid for the inaugural championship game but plans to pursue one later, Stokan said, possibly waiting for the new Falcons stadium to open in 2017.
Atlanta’s bid for a spot in the semifinal rotation was “enhanced and differentiated,” Stokan said, by the recent deal to build the $1 billion stadium to replace the Georgia Dome and the recent start of construction on the long-in-the-works College Football Hall of Fame.
Considering the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s strong attendance over the past 15 years, it is not clear if the new arrangement can bring significantly more visitors to Atlanta. Stokan said the games will draw people from farther away who will tend to stay longer, a potential benefit for the hospitality industry.
The bid was submitted last month and named one of the winners at a meeting of 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director Wednesday in Pasadena. That group will run the playoff.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city was “honored to be chosen” as a playoff host.
“After successfully hosting the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four championship for the fourth time earlier this month, the city is poised and ready to welcome more world-class sporting events,” Reed said in a statement. “These events create millions in economic impact for our thriving tourism and convention industry.”
Joining the playoff will mark the end, after the 2013 season, of the Atlanta bowl’s popular policy over the past two decades of matching a Southeastern Conference team vs. an Atlantic Coast Conference team each year.
Beginning with the 2014 season, the bowl will be assigned its matchup by a national selection committee that will choose and seed the playoff field. In the two years out of three that a semifinal game is not played in the bowl, the game will feature a non-playoff matchup — also arranged by the national selection committee — between two other highly ranked teams.
Major college football had long eschewed a playoff until finally relenting last year and approving a four-team tournament to replace the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series format for determining the national champion.
Under the BCS system, which will be used one final time for the 2013 season, two teams are selected for the championship game by a complicated mathematical formula that includes human and computer polls. Under the playoff system, four teams will be selected and seeded by a committee, similar to the way teams are chosen for the NCAA basketball tournament.