S.J. bowl facing financial trouble

A political struggle is ensuing between the City of SJ, SJS Athletics, and the WAC conference as to who ultimatley is responsible for the bowl games demise.

San Jose State President Dr. Robert L Caret was all-smiles in 1999 during a press conference announcing the Silicon Valley Football classic.

Is he smiling today, especially without being able to secure a major sponsor for the Football Classic?

Now a mini political struggle is ensuing between the City of San Jose, San Jose State Athletics, and the WAC conference as to who ultimatley is responsible for the bowl games demise.


By Barry Witt---San Jose Mercury News

Fox Sports Net has dropped the financially imperiled Silicon Valley Football Classic, adding to doubts about whether the third edition of San Jose's bowl game will be played.

Sources close to the game said Tuesday that a tentative agreement has been reached to broadcast the Dec. 31 game on ESPN2. But, the sources added, the cable network has refused to close the deal until bowl officials can say for certain the game won't be canceled. No such assurances have been made.

``We are absolutely and totally committed to seeing this bowl move forward, period,'' said Dan Fenton, president of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, which last year took over operational responsibility for the game from its original organizers.

But asked if he could guarantee the game would be played, he said, ``I can't tell you that.''

As Fox Sports Net's only bowl game, the Silicon Valley Classic suffered the worst ratings of any postseason match-up the past two years, prompting the network to drop out because its light college football schedule limited promotional opportunities for the game. The network exercised its option to walk away from a five-year contract.

Since its founding in 2000, the Silicon Valley Classic has struggled to find the roughly $2 million it needs annually to survive. It has never had a title sponsor. The local corporations willing to make cash contributions to the first two games -- including Palm Inc. and Knight Ridder, parent of the Mercury News -- pulled out this year.

To date, no party involved in the game at Spartan Stadium has been willing to provide a guarantee that financial shortfalls would be covered this year in the event the game doesn't bring in enough money to cover expenses, primarily pay-outs to the competing teams. And there is no consensus as to who should foot the bill.

Sources associated with the Western Athletic Conference say it's up to the city of San Jose to do so, while Mayor Ron Gonzales' budget director said it's the WAC's responsibility.

Even so, ``everyone believes the game will be played,'' said WAC Commissioner Karl Benson. ``We are expecting a television agreement with a major sports network any day.''

ESPN spokesman Mike Humes said the network has had talks with the bowl, ``but we don't have any kind of deal that's in place.''

Robert Caret, president of San Jose State University and president of the bowl's board of directors, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The 12:30 p.m. game at Spartan Stadium is supposed to pit a WAC team against the Pacific-10 Conference's sixth-place team. The WAC's top two teams, Boise State and Hawaii, are committed to other games. Fresno State, Nevada, and San Jose State are attempting to win enough of their remaining games to become eligible for a bowl game.

Fresno State's loyal following boosted attendance in each of the bowl's first two years. In 2000, the Bulldogs beat Air Force 37-34 before 26,542; last year, they lost to Michigan State 44-35 in front of 30,456.

But at 5-5, the Bulldogs need to win two of their final three contests to be eligible.

Whether Nevada or even the hometown Spartans would sell many tickets is unknown. The Spartans are drawing an average of 9,101 spectators to home games this season, near the bottom of all NCAA Division I-A teams.

``The bowl cannot be a one-team bowl forever,'' said Chuck Shelton, the game's executive director. ``It might be time to find out'' what happens with another team, he said.

Silicon Valley Football Classic Inc. has not filed tax returns with the California Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts, nor even registered there, as legally required of a non-profit entity, so little public disclosure about its financial condition is available.

Fenton earlier this year hired Oakland-based Integrated Outsource Marketing to find corporate sponsors but has yet to announce any agreements, seven weeks before kickoff.

``In this economy, it's been really rocky,'' said Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, who has the title of president of the bowl game staff. Guardino said his role has been confined to attempting to recruit corporate support.

In contrast, the newly formed San Francisco Bowl, also scheduled Dec. 31, at Pacific Bell Park, is expected to unveil a title sponsor today.

Contact Barry Witt at bwitt@sjmercury.com or (408) 920-5703.

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