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Atlanta out to make its case to be college football's capital city

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ATLANTA -- All Gary Stokan wants is a chance to make his case. And make it he will.

The President of the Chick-fil-A Bowl doesn't want much. He just believes -- and is trying to get others to believe -- that his city is now positioned to become the college football capital of the world.

"We are at the intersection of the ACC and the SEC with alumni from every school in the country. The passion for college football here can't be matched," said Stokan. "We already host some of the biggest events in the sport."

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Here is the list:

 Atlanta has been the home of the SEC Championship Game since 1994. It has become one of the toughest tickets in sports because the winner, for six straight years, has advanced to the BCS national championship game and won it.

 The annual ACC-SEC matchup in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which has become one of college football's most successful bowls outside of the BCS with 15 straight sellouts.

 For the fifth straight year Atlanta will host the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, which has become known as the Daytona 500 of college football. This year there will actually be two games: Tennessee vs. North Carolina State on Friday, Aug. 31, and then Auburn vs. Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 1. In 2013 Alabama has committed to play West Virginia and in 2014 there is another doubleheader scheduled: Alabama-Virginia Tech and Boise State-Mississippi.

 By the end of 2014 the College Football Hall of Fame will move from South Bend, Ind., to Atlanta. It will be located near the famed Olympics Centennial Park and within walking distance of the Georgia Dome.

"All of the pieces are in place, but we would like to add a couple more," said Stokan.

Stokan and Atlanta are not alone. Decisions made in the next few months are going to change college football's postseason landscape forever. Those who make the cut and get in on the ground floor will prosper. Those that don't get into one of the elite games face an uncertain future.

Here is what we mean.

Atlanta is one of several cities that received a "Request for Proposal" this week for the new Champions Bowl, which will match teams from the SEC and Big 12. The Champions Bowl will be part of the yet-to-be named six-bowl structure that will decide college football's national championship starting after the 2014 regular season.

The cities, which also include New Orleans, Dallas, and Orlando among others, will make their best bids for the Champions Bowl and submit them by Aug. 22. Then a decision will be made.

The Champions Bowl was created earlier this year by the SEC and the Big 12 in order to provide those conferences with a signature bowl that they control, like the Big Ten and Pac-12 control the Rose Bowl. This marks a sea change in the way the big conferences deal with bowls. The SEC and the Big 12 will control the vast majority of the money the game generates and take more off the top. And there is going to be lot of money generated by this game.

How much? The SportsBusiness Journal recently reported that ESPN has agreed to pay $80 million per year during the next 12 years to televise the Rose Bowl. That is a 167 percent increase over the old annual rights fee of $30 million.

"We would like to believe that this game [Champions Bowl] is very much in that ballpark," said someone close to the process.

Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Bowl have been building a war chest (about $13 million, according to a report in the Birmingham News) over the past decade waiting for an opportunity like this.

Can Atlanta get the Champions Bowl? Probably not. First of all, the SEC title game is already there. Secondly, the Sugar Bowl is reported to have a war chest of at least $40 million. Jerry Jones and Cowboys Stadium near Dallas have unlimited resources, and certainly want to play. Look for those two to fight it out for the game.

But there are other opportunities out there in what is going to be a very busy 60-90 days for people in the bowl business. Here is a quick rundown of how things should proceed:

 The matchups and locations of the three "contract bowls" need to be nailed down. These bowls have contracts to host specific conference champs and so they are locked in:

The Rose Bowl is set with the Big Ten and Pac-12 on New Year's Day. As we mentioned, they already have a 12-year deal.

The Champions Bowl (SEC, Big 12) will receive bids by Aug. 22 and then pick a host city.

The Orange Bowl is set with the ACC champion for the next 12 years, but an opponent must be selected. It will likely come from a pool of available teams from the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Notre Dame. That should get done by the end of the month.

 Then three "access bowls" must be chosen: The Fiesta Bowl, despite its recent troubles, is expected to get one of the spots and provides another game (along with the Rose) in the Mountain/Pacific time zones.

Either the Cotton or Sugar will finish second in the bidding for the Champions Bowl. That city gets an access bowl, giving the structure two games in the Central time zone.

The last access bowl will need to be in the Eastern time zone. I believe it will be Atlanta, for the reasons mentioned, or Orlando, which will soon break ground on a $190 million facelift for its Citrus Bowl Stadium. Right now I believe Atlanta has the edge. The city is contemplating building a new $1 billion, retractable roof stadium by 2017, but that is far from a done deal.

Once the six bowls are determined (two will host national semifinals each season), then sites have to be chosen for the national championship game. Some of these same cities will bid. Other cities that do not have bowl games such as Indianapolis, St. Louis, Houston, Detroit and more will likely jump into this process.

Once all of that is done, the package of a national championship game, two semifinals, and four other bowls will be turned over to ESPN, which has an exclusive negotiating window for the new postseason format. That window begins Oct. 1. The old BCS, which ends after the bowls of the 2013 season, generated over $174 million in revenue last season. The number in this new deal could reach as high as $600 million per year.

"It's going to be a busy few months for all of us in the bowl business," said Stokan. "A lot is going to change."

A lot indeed.

The Tony Barnhart Show begins Aug. 28 on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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