Originally created 08/28/99

Preseason bowl games will end in 2002



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There is a certain sense of frustration when people like Michael Cleary and Robert Mulcahy talk about the future of the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium.

There is no future.

Ohio State will play Miami this year. There will be three more games after that and then the traditional opener to the college football season and every other preseason game is going to die.

Since its inception in 1983, the Kickoff Classic has raised between $6 million and $8 million for scholarships, contributed more than $35 million to the colleges playing and been the showcase of football in the New York City metropolitan area television market.

Despite all the positives, the NCAA voted at its convention in January to end all preseason games. The others are the Pigskin Classic, the Eddie Robinson game and the Black Coaches Association game.

Cleary, the executive director of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics, lobbied for two years trying to save the games, particularly the Kickoff Classic, the original one and the only one played at a neutral site.

His organization benefited from the game, but so did a lot of groups connected with it: the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, the national coaches association, the schools, the players, the fans.

"They wanted to get rid of the new games, so they lumped us all together," Cleary said. "They had to protect themselves from anyone else who wanted to come in and start a game. They didn't want any more lawsuits and didn't want to lose any more money than they were losing, so they lumped us all together. They threw the baby out with the bath water."

This is a sensitive time for the NCAA when it comes to litigation. The governing body of college sports earlier this year agreed to pay almost $55 million to settle a case involving so-called restricted earnings coaches.

The last thing the NCAA needed was the organizers of a couple of preseason football games suing it because it let the Kickoff Classic continue and dropped the others.

There are other reasons the Kickoff Classic and the other games are going away. The biggest is it creates an opening for a postseason playoff to decide a national champion.

"The feeling in college football is to go to a playoff system at the end of the year and extend the season," said Bob Casciola, the president of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. "Well, you can't just add games in football.

"With the possibility of that arising, where do you shorten the season? If you are going to add at the back end, you have to take off the front end."

Mulcahy understands the reasoning as well, although seeing the Kickoff Classic end is difficult for him.

The current Rutgers athletic director and the former chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the Kickoff Classic was one of his babies. The sports authority at the Meadowlands runs the game.

Back in the early 1980s, Mulcahy went to Ohio to play in a golf tournament to benefit the financially strapped College Hall of Fame. One of his playing partners was former Princeton great Dick Kazmaier, and the two started talking about ways to help the Hall of Fame.

On the golf course, the Kickoff Classic was conceived. It was eventually approved by the NCAA, but the sports authority still had to compete for the right to oversee it.

"Everybody was bidding on a percent of the gate plus whatever the TV rights fees were," said. "If we bid that way, we knew we weren't going to win. So we guaranteed the price, including payoff to teams, banking on what they could sell the TV rights for."

The rest is history.

Schools competing in the game get a minimum of $625,000 plus a percentage of the ticket sales over a set level.

"It really had become a unique game to kick off the college season and I am sad to see it go," Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy's biggest hope is that a way can be found to continue supplying the National Football Foundation with money for scholarships. It awards between 15 and 18 scholarships annually with recipients getting around $18,000, with most of the money be raised by the Kickoff Classic.

Michael Graime, the director of college athletics for the Continental Airlines Arena and Giants Stadium, still has a slim hope the Kickoff Classic can continue.

"Some say we are dead, but I'm an optimist," he said. "I think it is an uphill battle, but philosophies change, committee structures change, personalities change. I have some hope."

Graime also has a Plan B. If Giants Stadium can't be the site of a Kickoff Classic, he wants to explore the possibility of bringing some major games to the area, such as Army-Navy again and some intersectional rivalries that might continue at a neutral site.

The drawbacks would be raising the money to lure teams here and convincing teams to give up home games, which is very difficult.

"We're not just going to shrivel up and die," Graime said. "We've got other ideas we are formulating, and the first on the list is to see if we can't extend the Kickoff Classic."

Cleary holds out no hope for that.

"Nothing is going to happen. We are dead," he said. "They just want us to die a nice natural death."