This story was updated Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at 10:13 p.m. with more information.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It took overtime, but ultimately Chattanooga was awarded a huge win Tuesday in its bid to host the BlueCross Bowl football state championships.
After much debate and an early deadlock in voting during the marathon meeting at Siegel High School, the TSSAA Board of Control eventually voted 11-1 in favor of granting Chattanooga the hosting rights for the 2021 and 2022 seasons over Cookeville, which had hosted the event for the past 12 years.
"It is extremely important that the community knows we legitimately did this as one," said Tim Morgan, chief sports officer of Chattanooga Sports. "We had so many people coming together to give advice and feedback to help make our presentation the best it possibly could be.
"It's not a cliché to say this was very much a team effort by many to get us to this finish line. Who cares if it took overtime, we were successful together. We as a community couldn't be more blessed with how everyone worked to make it happen."
The BlueCross Bowl — which the Cookeville-Putnam County Visitors Bureau estimated to have an annual economic impact of $2.5 million to $3 million — consists of nine championship games (six classifications for public schools and three for private schools) with three games played each day over three days in early December.
The event will be held at Finley Stadium and marks the first time a football state championship game has been held in Chattanooga since Red Bank hosted the 1978 Class AAA title game.
"I think the other board members saw that we have a lot to offer and I have to give a lot of credit to all the folks who were involved in putting together such an impressive bid presentation," said Soddy-Daisy principal Steve Henry, who represents the Chattanooga area on the board and made the initial motion to the rest of the board to accept the Scenic City's proposal. "It's a great opportunity for our city and I'm really excited to see what we can do with it now."
Both city's bid presentations were made over Zoom meetings, with Chattanooga's including $250,000 guaranteed to the TSSAA — $3,000 less than Cookeville's bid guaranteed — as well as other incentives, including the First Horizon Pavilion, which can be used to enhance the fans' experience.
Finley Stadium offers a capacity of 22,000 as well as 32 luxury boxes and new artificial turf that was installed in 2020. By comparison, Tennessee Tech's Tucker Stadium has a seating capacity of 16,500, only two VIP suites and its turf is due to be replaced, but won't be until next year.
The biggest sticking point, and what caused a delay of more than an hour, was a question in which the Cookeville proposal did not address — whether Tennessee Tech or the TSSAA would be in control of managing the advertising that would appear on its jumbotron.
During a break, TSSAA officials contacted Cookeville's bid committee but were not given assurance of who would be in control of marketing those potential in-game ads. The TSSAA's legal representation then advised board members that the only safe choice would be to move the event to Chattanooga.
"We have to have control of our sponsorships and its content or we would be in breach of contract with some of the companies we have signed on with," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "Basically, we were asking Cookeville to give us control of our event, but they couldn't do that.
"They've been fantastic to work with through the years, and it's not that we're not happy with what they've done, but when our attorney informs us that we could be in breach of contract, that changed things and led to those board members who weren't sure which side they were on to support the move."
The TSSAA began hosting each classification's title game at one site in 1982 when Vanderbilt's Dudley Field in Nashville was the venue. The title games were moved to Murfreesboro in 2000, where they stayed until Cookeville won the right to host in 2009.
Although Chattanooga has hosted other TSSAA state tournaments — including wrestling and girls' soccer most recently — with between 40,000 to 50,000 people annually attending, this is the most significant prep event to come to the city since the Spring Fling, which was held in Chattanooga from its inception in 1993 until it was moved to Memphis in 2003 and ultimately to Murfreesboro.
"We're so familiar with Chattanooga, especially being there all those years working with them on the Spring Fling and also spending a lot of time with them on this and looking at Finley Stadium that we felt very comfortable with everything they were proposing," Childress said. "We're excited about the opportunity to go to Chattanooga and see how the event can be grown."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis