The coveted Old Leather Helmet is again up for the taking this Saturday when the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide face the Virginia Tech Hokies in the sixth annual Chick-Fil-A kickoff game held in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
With television contracts more lucrative in college football, the concept of neutral game sites has become increasingly more popular. Even though games situated on campus are what set collegiate athletics apart from its professional counterpart, kickoff games to start the season are typically blockbuster games featuring top teams squaring off.
The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, now promoted as the “Daytona 500 of College Football,” has started a trend. Although neutral site games to start the season have been tried before in places like New York’s Meadowlands, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl was the first of the modern era. Its success has inspired other cities to host similar games.
This year, Cowboy Stadium in Arlington Texas will host LSU versus TCU in the Cowboys Classic, and Reliant Stadium in Houston will host Oklahoma State versus Mississippi State in the Advocare Texas Kickoff. Within the coming years cities such as Charlotte, Kansas City, MO and Orlando may host big name neutral site matchups of their own.
Strength-of-schedule plays a role when it comes time to deciding between playing at home or somewhere else in college football. Alabama is a prime example and will make its third appearance in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff this year and will return next year to face West Virginia. The Crimson Tide also played in the Cowboys Classic last year against Michigan to open the 2012 season.
“When you play a good opponent in the first game, it really helps enhance your offseason program — your spring practice, your summer conditioning, because players are looking forward to playing an outstanding opponent early,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Out of the six years the game has been running, 3 of the teams that made appearances in the game went on to contend in the SEC Championship game.
This year the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game’s projected total team payout is $5 million, which is higher than 24 bowl games. Also, according to USA Today, “the game endows a $50, 000 scholarship for each school, provides prime-time exposure on ESPN and creates ‘a bowl atmosphere in a one-day event’ with concerts and other fan activities outside the stadium.” The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game has also generated $195.4 million in economic impact to the metro Atlanta area since its conception.
The success of the kickoff game has catapulted the strength of the Chick-fil-A Bowl that is now considered to be apart of “New Year’s Six,” that include the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those bowls will be the sites for the semifinals on a rotating basis, for the new College Football Playoffs that begin January of 2015.
The Kickoff game, alongside the Southeastern Conference championship game, the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the soon-to-be opened in 2014 College Football Hall of Fame has not only added to the thriving city of Atlanta, but has made it clear as to why it is now the nations unofficial college football capital.
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