Organizers seek to make The Medal of Honor Bowl first bowl game in S.C.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Organizers of the annual college all-star game held in South Carolina are confident that the contest known as The Medal of Honor Bowl will become the state's first traditional bowl game now that a Confederate flag no longer flies on Statehouse grounds.

Game chairman Tom McQueeney said Thursday that he has had positive talks with the NCAA in recent weeks about going forward with its new format for December 2016. The NCAA lifted its ban on South Carolina hosting predetermined championships following last month's decision on the Confederate flag.

The all-star game was played the past two years and was not subject to NCAA sanctions.

Organizers still need to find conference affiliations and a network. McQueeney said organizers are talking to several leagues about tie-ins, including the ACC and SEC.

The flag's removal followed the killing of nine people attending Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in June. Dylann Roof, who had posed for photos holding the flag, has been charged with murder in their deaths. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag's removal a short time after the mass shooting, and legislators voted on it to come down in July.

The same day, the NCAA applauded the move and removed its sanctions prohibiting the state from hosting events held at predetermined sites such as NCAA men's basketball championships.

McQueeney said the NCAA would certify the game in the spring for the 2016 bowl season if everything is in order. He said he received a call from Haley's office Wednesday supporting the change to a regular bowl.

The bowl game would be played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, a 20,000-seat arena at The Citadel.

The building hosted the past two all-star contests, attracting 5,135 in its first outing in 2014 and 12,578 when played in January. That game was broadcast on NBCSN.

The game had an economic impact of $3.5 million on the area, according to executive director Shelly Gardner. Organizers believe that number -- and attendance -- will rise with two college teams coming to Charleston to play.

Fisher DeBerry, former Air Force coach and a member of the bowl's national committee, said holding a bowl in Charleston is long overdue.

"This is one of the best destinations in America and one of the best-kept secrets in America," DeBerry said. "The way people love and support football in this area, it's a slam dunk."

Earlier this summer, South Carolina tourism leaders went to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to let the collegiate governing body know the state was ready to handle future championships. The bowl is just the first step, McQueeney said, in what could open South Carolina up to more collegiate title events.

"This has been a long ordeal," McQueeney said.

McQueeney first proposed a bowl game for the city in 2003 but was blocked by the NCAA's ban. The all-star game that was planned for Jan. 9, 2016, was canceled as the all-star game committee prepares for its new endeavor.

"We can't wait to re-emerge as an NCAA bowl in 2016," McQueeney said.