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Whitley Writes: Tampa’s National Championship Future Means Orlando Is Closer Than You Think

Since envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, I have nothing but nice things to say about Tampa getting the world’s biggest college football game.

Our friends to the west have secured the 2017 College Football Playoffs National Championship Game. It will hopefully be a smashing success. But when the announcement came Monday, I couldn’t help wondering what it meant for Orlando.

“It’s all good news,” Steve Hogan said.

As the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, it’ll be his job to bring the big game here one day. In case you’re a little confused, college football’s playoffs start next season. The bowls are in the mix, but the title game is available to any city.

All it needs is a good stadium, plenty of hotel rooms and restaurants, lots of stuff for people to do and a grand vision. With the Citrus Bowl is about to be rebuilt, Orlando can finally check all those boxes.

Now it’s just a matter of convincing the CFP committee that our boxes are better than San Antonio’s or Miami’s or New Orleans’s or San Francisco’s or any of the other cities that lust for college football’s game of games.

(Quick aside: somebody really needs to come up with a better name for it than the “College Football Playoff National Championship Game.” My fingers get exhausted just typing it).

The CFP committee long ago awarded the first title game to Dallas. This week’s news was that the game will go to Phoenix in 2016 and Tampa in 2017. That broke a lot of hearts in the losing cities, but Orlando wasn’t one of them.

The plan was never to bid in the first go-round. Committee members like to see a viable stadium, or at least cranes and bulldozers building one.

“They like to touch it and feel it,” Hogan said. “We just were not far enough along.”

The Citrus Bowl’s massive makeover won’t begin until after this year’s bowl games. After years of waiting, politicking and cajoling for a decent stadium, we should just be glad it’s beginning at all.

Orlando can show up fully loaded when bidding for future games starts in early 2015.

Unlike New Orleans and Indianapolis, Orlando doesn’t have the concentration of hotels within walking distance of the stadium. But Tampa doesn’t either. And the University of Phoenix Stadium is actually in Glendale, which is halfway to Los Angeles.

Then there’s this: Orlando has world-class hospitality and entertainment and more hotel rooms than any of them, with a cluster of high-end convention hotels that are well practiced at creating a one of a kind fan zone very year for the Capital One Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl. And it’s fresh. Between Final Fours, Super Bowls and bowl games, some of those cities can get a little well-traveled.

Nobody is going to confuse Tampa’s venue for Cowboys Stadium. That was a relief since the new Citrus Bowl will be closer to Raymond James Stadium than the billion-dollar pleasure palace Jerry Jones built in Dallas.

One thing the new Citrus Bowl will lack is enough skyboxes to meet CFP requirements. But the stadium’s structure will allow more skyboxes to be built quickly. That brings us to the only box Hogan still must check off.

Orlando has to be as determined to get the game as Tampa and Phoenix were. That means convincing political and business leaders to build more skyboxes, fund municipal services, set competitive hotel rates and help defray hospitality costs.

“These require heavy investment,” Hogan said. “But hey, it’s sure worth it. Let’s call it $15 million to generate probably a couple of hundred million dollars in economic impact.”

Phoenix’s bid was about $13 million. It has established a leadership board with heavy hitters like Sen. John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer to oversee the game.

Tampa shrewdly played up its plusses, like the experience of having staged four Super Bowls (now that’s name!), a Final Four and being closer to Walt Disney World than any other city that sent in a bid.

OK, I’m just kidding about that last one. Blame it on that deadly sin.

Tampa deserves a big round of applause. It has the stadium, the hotels, the restaurants, the activities and the weather to put on a great event.

Sounds like another Florida city we all know. The only difference for now is Tampa has shown the determination it takes to lure the event.

“If they can do it,” Hogan said, “why can’t we?”

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