Finley Stadium has been the home of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championship game since 1997. To keep it in Chattanooga, the city will have to fight for it.
The Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee usually has had an exclusive bidding window for hosting future games -- only once since the game was awarded to Chattanooga has the Sports Committee had to bid against other cities -- but the NCAA has decided to open the bidding for future games, starting in 2010.
Chattanooga's current two-year contract ends after this year's Dec. 18 title game, and cities that wish to bid on the 2010 game have to submit their offer to the NCAA by Oct. 13, Sports Committee president Scott Smith said Wednesday. The finalists will make their case to the NCAA in February and the host will be announced in March.
"The only time we've had to bid was that one time, and at that time I guess we thought we could lose it, but I think this is definitely a lot more of a possibility," Smith said.
One city bidding will be Missoula, Mont., home of the University of Montana. The Missoulian newspaper reported Tuesday that Montana officials met with business leaders Monday to announce their push for the title game to be held at the 25,200-seat Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana assistant athletic director Chuck Maes told the Missoulian that several schools and cities have already expressed an interest in hosting the game. The NCAA will not disclose the bidding cities, but Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein, the former Sports Committee president, said he expects the number to be higher than ever -- due in part to the success Chattanooga has had.
"When we first got the game, I don't know that anyone else wanted it," Eckstein said. "Now, with the success of the game ... other cities out there are looking at it and saying, 'Gee, this would be a nice economic benefit for us in the month of December.'"
Eckstein said Chattanooga beat out San Antonio and Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the game in 2003.
The Sports Committee estimated the local economic impact of the 2008 title game, in which Richmond defeated Montana, to be $1.3 million. The announced crowd at the game was 17,823. A stadium-record crowd of 23,010 attended the 2007 championship game in which Appalachian State defeated Delaware to win its third consecutive title.
The title game has drawn at least 12,360 since moving to Chattanooga.
This year's game will be the last held on the Friday before the third Saturday in December. Starting in 2010, the FCS playoffs will expand from 16 to 20 teams and the date of the title game will be moved back more than a week to between Dec. 29 and the Bowl Championship Series title game, depending on ESPN's telecast schedule.
"We definitely have a challenge in front of us," Eckstein said, "but I also think we have a lot going for us."