Closing Shot: Diving Into Bowl Season

After having to shutter the event in 2020, the Bahamas Bowl is set to deliver a bit of paradise of its own, serving as the first of more than 40 bowl games set to kick off.

By David Bourne
Running back Jaret Patterson led the Buffalo Bulls to a win against the Charlotte 49ers in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl.John Marc Nutt / 10th Year Seniors

The forecast for the start of college bowl season is a high of about 80 degrees with a low around 70.

“That’s why we always say bowl games are better in the Bahamas,” said Richard Giannini, executive director of of the Bahamas Bowl, which on Dec. 17 will officially kick off bowl season as Toledo takes on Middle Tennessee at noon on ESPN.

It will be the first of 43 bowl games this season, followed by the CFP national championship. For the Bahamas Bowl, one of 18 bowls owned and operated by ESPN, it’s been a long time coming. COVID wiped out last year’s event.

The Bahamas Bowl is still dealing with the lingering effects of the pandemic. A kickoff event normally held in late October or early November was scrapped, as was a youth clinic tied to the event.

Tourism in the Bahamas hasn’t returned to pre-COVID levels either, which will pressure attendance at the 15,000-seat Thomas Robinson Stadium. The local government and ESPN have made it possible for any Bahamas resident to attend the game for free. Fans arriving from outside of the Bahamas must present a negative COVID test within five days of their travel, then will need another test within 24 hours of returning to the United States.

The uncertainty brought by COVID also complicated the selling season. The Bahamas Bowl will go without a title sponsor this year but “from a financial standpoint, the game still works,” Giannini said, thanks to strong support from the Bahamas government and the host Atlantis resort.

The pandemic has limited travel for bowl staff, including Giannini. He usually travels to Nassau three to four times during the year in preparation for the bowl. This year, he made only one early visit. The rest of the time he’s mainly worked remotely from his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he retired in 2012 as athletic director at Southern Miss.

Being the only international destination on the bowl calendar brings additional logistical challenges. Since American football is not a sport typically played in the Bahamas, the bowl will send about 35 to 40 staffers there to handle traditional duties such as painting the field, operating the scoreboard and serving as PA announcers.

Those logistics, however, did provide the Bahamas Bowl with some solo time in the spotlight. Since schools require longer to plan for the trip, obtain passports and ship equipment, the competing teams were announced a week ahead of when the rest of bowl invitations went out.

Once the teams arrive, players can enjoy the Caribbean paradise. Giannini said that when the bowl launched in 2014, it mimicked similar events by adding a game room for players to relax between practices. However, with the warm temperatures, beaches and Atlantis resort amenities, no one used it. “That just shows you there’s so much to do,” Giannini said. “So much activity outside.”

In the days ahead, Giannini and the rest of the staff will make the most of the event’s place as the official start to bowl season. Said Giannini: “That just gives the Bahamas another bit of exposure in the U.S., and we all like exposure.”


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