Navy helps plant Poinsettia on map

Bowl game's debut expected to draw 50,000

College football


San Diego -- The baby of the bowls is off to an encouraging start.

Prodded by the Mountain West Conference to launch a second postseason game in San Diego, certified for play last spring by the NCAA and buoyed by the appearance of the Naval Academy and its legion of fans for the kickoff event, the Poinsettia Bowl is headed to an initial success.

In the past year, everything has fallen conveniently into place for officials of the well-received Holiday Bowl, who have an added starter for their work log.

"All of a sudden, things started building up, and here we are," said Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski. "My staff is really hopping. It's stressful having two bowl games within a short period, but we've got a great group of volunteers and we're going to get it done."

Already, ticket sales for the Poinsettia are approaching 45,000, thanks in large measure to the nearly 20,000 purchased through the Naval Academy Athletic Association.

The bowl lineup is glutted with 28 games, meaning nearly half (56) of 117 Division I-A teams continue to play after the regular season. In 2004, there was some doubt that enough schools would qualify for all the berths, but sufficient six-game winners surfaced at the last minute.

Therefore, the chances of adding a new bowl were almost negligible.

Recertification was the answer. Postseason games must be approved on an annual basis by the NCAA, and when the time arrived last spring, the Poinsettia credentials were impeccable. On board were a conference partner (Mountain West), a title sponsor (the San Diego County Credit Union), the availability of an NFL stadium, a probable television commitment from ESPN and a built-in staff and volunteer force.

"The Silicon [Valley] Bowl [in San Jose] was not doing well," Binkowski said. "They were back, and Toronto was in the bidding. But we came in and got it. I was very pleased with our presentation."

And so was the NCAA committee making the choice.

It all started with the push by the Mountain West, of which San Diego State is a member, for a pre-Christmas date. The bowl's ideal game would have matched the hometown Aztecs against the Midshipmen, who also have a huge local following because of the massive Naval presence in the San Diego area and have proved in the past two years that their fans will travel to see them play in the postseason.

San Diego State did not qualify, and even though tickets sales have lagged at Colorado State, Poinsettia officials are not displeased with the matchup. Until 1998, the current Mountain West members were regular players in the Holiday Bowl, which now matches teams from the Pacific-10 and Big 12 conferences. Brigham Young played in 11 Holiday Bowls, including the first in 1978 against, coincidentally, Navy, and Colorado State appeared in three.

"To be able to get back into that mix is intriguing," Binkowski said.

The second berth in the Poinsettia Bowl goes to an at-large team, and an independent like Navy is extremely attractive.

"My dealings with the bowl go back to about a year ago," Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. "They have always been in the forefront."

"We're under no misconception," Binkowski said. "We're never going to have teams with one loss or anything. But we're always going to get a good No. 2 or 3 team out of the Mountain West, and this will generate economic impact during the week before Christmas, which is the slowest time of the year for everyone here."

There is an unusual rider in the Navy contract with the bowl. Providing the Midshipmen are bowl-eligible, they can return to the Poinsettia in 2008, 2009 or 2010, the year being their choice.

"We haven't worked out all the details on that," Binkowski said. "But we want to get them in a regular rotation. We'd like to get Army out here, too."

The baby is already walking tall.

Poinsettia Bowl

Navy vs. Colorado State, Thursday, 10:30 p.m., San Diego, ESPN2, 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 2 1/2

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