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Group Fails to Save '95 Game : College football: Organizers of Big Orange Classic, formerly known as Freedom Bowl, come up short of funds.


IRVINE — Organizers of the Big Orange Classic failed to secure necessary funding for the game Thursday, crushing efforts to continue the college football bowl this season and probably signaling its end.

The Orange County Sports Assn.--which had organized the game played the last 11 years at Anaheim Stadium--was forced to revise a proposal to have the NCAA certify the game after learning the needed funds would not be allocated.

"We had reason to believe that we were very close to securing the necessary dollars to have the game in '95," said Jerry McGee, the sports association's executive director. "Obviously we're disappointed, but we knew many things needed to fall perfectly in place."

During a conference call Thursday with NCAA officials in Overland Park, Kan., the Orange County group was told the game--known until this year as the Freedom Bowl--will be considered again for certification in 1996. The NCAA Special Events Committee will consider the request when it is scheduled to reconvene in late April.

"We're disappointed with the fact there is one less bowl game in the West," NCAA Assistant Executive Director David Cawood said. "It's two less spots that are available and there is no way of getting around that."

Had the Special Events Committee denied the request, the OCSA would have had to begin the certification process as a newcomer. The initial certification process mandates a two-year waiting period for play after committee approval.

The Orange County Tourism Consortium, which represents various business interests within the county, was expected to provide the majority of financial support. Late Wednesday, though, OCSA officials were informed funds they thought were secured would not be allocated, a source familiar with the discussions said. Attempts Thursday morning to find alternate revenue sources failed.

McGee and Jack Lindquist, president of the Irvine-based Lindquist group that took over management of the OCSA in April, repeatedly stated they would not move forward with the game unless they could guarantee it would not lose money. The sports association's debt is between $1.4 million and $1.7 million.

Although Orange County officials hope to restart the game next year, some college football officials said this might be the fatal blow to the battered event, which has been a money and morale drainer for the sports association.

"It's going to very difficult for them [to restart]," said John Reid, executive director of the Holiday Bowl. "Once bowls are gone--they're usually gone for good."

McGee doesn't dispute that this interruption usually sounds a death knell. However, he believes this is not the case for the Big Orange Classic.

"We feel having a full year will provide an opportunity to do all the things we wanted to do this year," McGee said. "This gives us the opportunity to do it right for the first time."

Still, the game's departure is yet another on a long list of setbacks for the OCSA.

This comes on the heels of the demise of the preseason Disneyland Pigskin Classic, whose 1994 game ended a lackluster five-year run. Disney that year dropped its sponsorship of the game, which never drew more than 49,309 despite some marquee matchups.

Reid recently expressed doubt about the OCSA's chances of producing a successful game with such little time. Still, he hoped his group's counterparts would get the chance to try.

"There have been a lot of bowl games go out of business, but not many after such a long history," Reid said. "It's a really unfortunate thing for a bowl to go under in the West because we have so few compared to places like the Southeast. You don't ever want to see this happen."

If the game had been certified, it would have been played Dec. 28 or 30 between the Western Athletic Conference's third-place team and an at-large selection.

"We're very disappointed," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said. "We've had a very positive and beneficial relationship with [the OCSA] over the past several years. We were hoping they would be able to get through this."

Only twice has the game attracted crowds of more than 50,000 at Anaheim Stadium, which can accommodate about 69,000 for football. In 1994, 27,477 attended the game between Utah and Arizona--the smallest crowd since the inaugural game.

Not that the game was without excitement. Iowa defeated Texas, 55-17, in Freedom Bowl I as Iowa quarterback Chuck Long threw six touchdown passes. Tailback Gaston Green rushed for 266 yards in 33 carries in UCLA's 31-10 victory over Brigham Young in 1986.

But the Freedom Bowl is probably best remembered for how USC was humiliated by Fresno State, 24-7, in 1992. The loss sealed the firing of Trojan Coach Larry Smith.

Pacific-10 Conference teams were, for the most part, disinterested in playing in the game and the conference ended its participation after last season. But the WAC was eager to continue its relationship, especially because the conference is expanding from 10 to 16 teams next season.

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