The Freedom Bowl, hoping to turn an annual event into more than just your average college football game, announced Thursday that it will sponsor a local basketball tournament hosted by UC Irvine.
The four-team tournament, called the Freedom Bowl Invitational, will be played Nov. 27 and 28 at Irvine's Bren Center.
Freedom Bowl officials hope the basketball tournament eventually will open a month full of activities leading up to the bowl game on Dec. 30.
"We want to make this a full-fledged festival," said Bill Snyder, Freedom Bowl president.
Several other bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl, are preceded by basketball tournaments. Freedom Bowl Executive Director Tom Starr and UCI Athletic Director John Caine said they had talked about such a tournament three years ago.
"But it didn't seem to make sense then," Caine said Thursday. "We were both in developmental periods. Now it makes more sense."
For one thing, the particulars are in place. The Anteaters have a new arena in the Bren Center and an existing basketball tournament, formerly called the Anteater Classic.
And Freedom Bowl officials believe they have finally gained some momentum. Plagued with financial and weather problems in its first two seasons, the game last year, featuring UCLA and Brigham Young University, drew 56,910 to Anaheim Stadium.
The teams for the basketball tournament are set for the next two years. In 1987, the Anteaters will play host to Air Force, Army and Manhattan College. The field in 1988 will be UCI, Southern Alabama, Texas Christian University and Georgia State.
UCI Coach Bill Mulligan said he hopes after that to attract some big-name basketball schools.
Caine said that several schools, including Dartmouth, Colgate and Pittsburgh, have expressed interest in the tournament.
Freedom Bowl Notes If you're wondering whether Cal State Fullerton, the other university in the county, was snubbed by the bowl, well, Freedom Bowl officials say that's just not the case. Tom Starr, Freedom Bowl executive director, said bowl officials were sold on UCI because it had a new arena and an existing tournament. "It doesn't rule them out," Starr said of Fullerton. "We want to talk to the Titans about some things." . . . The committee is hoping to expand the Freedom Bowl's name to activities such as gymnastics meets and baseball tournaments. . . . Next year's Freedom Bowl Invitational will include a two-day afternoon women's tournament that will feature UCI, Colorado, Creighton and St. John's. . . . Starr said the Freedom Bowl has received its NCAA sanction to play next year's game. . . . Last year's Freedom Bowl participants, UCLA and Brigham Young, received $515,005.50 per team, or 75% of the gross revenue. . . . The bowl, for the second consecutive year, will play host to a national high school band pageant in Orange County during Freedom Bowl Week.