Fans show up for the collisions on the field, but the impact outside of Bulldawg Stadium is equally important.
The C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl has become an annual tradition at Copperas Cove during its 12 years of existence. It is the one time of year when college football descends on the pigskin-crazy town, providing locals with big games in their own backyard.
Since its inception, the city has hosted numerous junior college teams and their fans, who spend their free time sightseeing, shopping, dining and boosting the community’s economy with each installment. This year, however, the event is twice as big as ever before with the introduction of the first NCAA Division II game, causing both preparations and expectations to double.
“Two great games, one ticket,” Copperas Cove Bulldawg’s longtime head football coach and bowl founder Jack Welch said. “If you don’t get enough football at Bulldawg Stadium, then I don’t think you have a pulse.”
The doubleheader begins Saturday at 11 a.m., when Navarro College plays Georgia Military College and is followed by McMurry University versus Southern Arkansas University at 7 p.m.
While the entertainment value increases with the added contest, so do the overall benefits to Copperas Cove, even if HOT Bowl director Vance McAnally did not originally view it so positively, he said.
“I thought at first, ‘Oh my gosh, coach Welch, what have you gotten us into?’” McAnally recalled. “But this went off really without a hitch.”
And local businesses can reap the rewards.
A boon to the economy?
With teams representing northern and eastern Texas, Arkansas and Georgia, tourists are expected to flood the streets and fill the hotels, said Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau President Betty Price. Considering other events, primarily the Krist Kindl Markt and the annual Christmas parade, are also scheduled for this weekend, it is difficult to gauge exactly how much revenue will be directly generated by the HOT Bowl, but she expects it to be significant.
“A lot of our restaurants say they do show an increase and businesses do, too,” Price said. “When you do bring in an activity like this, the team itself is probably not the ones that will go out and go shopping, but they do go out, and they have to eat somewhere. The families that come in support of them do the same. They eat their meals here, the do their shopping here, they gas up if they are within driving distance or even if they rent a car here.”
The hope is fans turn the HOT Bowl into a weekend getaway and take plenty of time to enjoy all Copperas Cove has to offer from shopping and dining to recreation and entertainment, said Welch.
A lesser-known advantage for hosting the HOT Bowl, however, revolves around recruiting.
The recruiting factor
College football coaches from across the country will be on hand to evaluate talent, giving local players an opportunity to interact and network with representatives from a variety of programs. Welch has no problem admitting he uses the HOT Bowl to assist a personal agenda.
“Of course, (Bulldawg) players are among that and get to see those coaches, and those coaches get to see our players,” he said. “It is a great thing for Central Texas athletes, and we encourage all Central Texas kids to come and be a part of this bowl game, so they can meet these coaches.”
In the end, the HOT Bowl is about football, and in its short existence, it has developed a rich history of fielding emerging talent. A number of NFL players have taken part in the junior college games over the years, including San Francisco 49ers running back and two-time Super Bowl champion Brandon Jacobs, Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody, who won the 2010 BCS National Championship with Alabama prior to turning pro, and Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Vick Ballard.
Regardless of who wins and who loses, Welch expects the HOT Bowl to be thrilling for fans and financially beneficial to Copperas Cove.
“This is our way of bringing great entertainment to Copperas Cove and this community in Central Texas,” he said. “In Texas, football is big, as we all know, and to be able to showcase great teams in our city is a great opportunity. Of course, it is a great economic boost to our town, and that was our first thought process when we (originally) looked at doing the bowl.”