Thwarted by the NCAA's stance on the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina, organizers of a proposed college football bowl game in Charleston ran what amounts to an end-around play.
Instead of a standard bowl game pitting two college teams, which would be subject to the NCAA's moratorium on events at “pre-determined sites” in the state, organizers settled on an all-star game.
The Medal of Honor Bowl, set for 3 p.m. Jan. 11 at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium, is not subject to the NCAA's Confederate flag moratorium because participants will be professional prospects who have exhausted their college eligibility.
Rep. Samuel Rivers (R-Berkeley), who was a driving force behind the effort to bring the proposed Legends Bowl to Charleston, said the all-star game is a better idea.
“The focus was starting to go more toward the moratorium and the (NAACP) boycott, and that was never our intent,” Rivers said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the Medal of Honor Bowl. “We don't want to exhaust any more time or energy on that … We want to focus on these players' talent and what we can do for South Carolina.”
The Medal of Honor Bowl will “aggressively target the top draft-eligible players in the country,” said Brian Woods, executive director of the game.
“This format and venue we are talking about, the all-star game, is better for the community,” said Woods, who led the effort to bring the Legends Bowl to Charleston. “Let's not kid ourselves, I was talking about Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference teams (for the Legends Bowl). If we bring (Clemson quarterback) Tajh Boyd here, I would venture to say he'd bring 3,000 fans by himself. To go forward, this was the way to do it.”
An opening in the all-star game schedule occurred when the Raycom All-Star Classic, held last year in Montgomery, Ala., announced that it would no longer be played.
That game drew about 18,000 fans last year, and featured players such as linebacker Shaq Wilson of South Carolina, tight end Brandon Ford of Clemson and defensive back Charles James of Charleston Southern, currently on the practice squad of the New York Giants.
The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is the acknowledged leader of postseason college all-star games. But Woods said the Medal of Honor Bowl can compete with other games — such as the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — for top-tier players.
Woods said the Medal of Honor Bowl will be a week-long event along the lines of the Senior Bowl. NFL scouts, coaches, personnel directors and media flock to Mobile for daily practices during the week before the game on Saturday.
The Medal of Honor Bowl will invite about 90 players, concentrating on the Southeast. The two teams, dubbed American and National, will be determined by the player's proximity to an NFL market. If his school is closest to an AFC team, he will play for the American squad. If he's closes to an NFC team, he'll be on the National roster.
One roster spot will be reserved each year for a Citadel player, and recruiting players from Clemson and South Carolina will be important, Woods said. Coaching staffs will be made up of current or former NFL coaches, he said.
“I want to attract the best talent we can get, so we can attract as many NFL personnel as we can,” Woods said.
Woods said he does not have a television deal in place for the first year, but his confident he can secure one for the second year and beyond.
“TV is not as important as the attendance the first year,” he said. “The more we can get out in attendance, the happier we will be. I can tell you that year two and beyond we will definitely have television.”
Woods is hoping for attendance of at least 10,000 for the first game at 20,000-seat Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Charleston Area Sports Commission projects an economic impact of about $3.8 million for the first year.
“A sellout would be great,” Woods said. “If we can get a crowd of 10,000-plus, that's a win for the community.”
Proceeds from the game and surrounding events will benefit the planned Medal of Honor Museum at the Yorktown in Mount Pleasant and the Wounded Warriors Project.
“I'm excited about it,” said Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, who has worked to bring the museum to Charleston and is one of 80 living Medal of Honor recipients. “It brings medal winners together with top athletes and hopefully it will influence young people in Charleston and around the country. I think putting those groups together is a master stroke.”
The schedule leaves organizers little more than three months to pull off the game.
“We have a 100-day run-up to the event,” said Tom McQueeney, chairman of the game's organizing committee. “We've got to do a lot of things quickly to make that happen. And we are a little bit behind the eight-ball in securing funding from end-of-the-year budgets from corporations that we might go to for sponsorships.
“But on the other side of the coin, our timing is excellent. We will be the earliest of the all-star games and will be able to reach out to the talent first. And the Medal of the Honor and Wounded Warriors, that's something people take to heart and will support.”