How a former NCSU basketball actor done this college football diversion ‘The Greatest Opener of All Time’

August 28, 2017 - Basketballs

Gary Stokan, master of acronyms, spent a summer pursuit it “The GOAT game.” He wasn’t kidding.

Officially famous as a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, “The Greatest Opener of All Time” occurs Saturday night in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, relating top-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

Stokan, a 1978 N.C. State grad in business management, insists “statistics are wonderful” and that “every array eats, sleeps, breathes for a reason.” His investigate confirms this is a highest-rated span ever to accommodate to establish a football season.

Duly impressed, USA Today announced a competition “one of a many expected deteriorate openers in new memory, if not in a prolonged story of college football.”

Combine a attention-getting annual opener with a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, recently combined to a CFP revolution and society of a inhabitant championship diversion on Jan. 8, 2018; a 2014-vintage College Football Hall of Fame, lured south from Indiana; and a first-of-its-kind SEC pretension game, and Atlanta’s standing as a country’s unaccepted college football collateral is tough to dispute.

The high-profile Chick-fil-A games and a participation of a $68.5 million, interactive museum snippet directly to Stokan’s efforts, including a “fun” pause as a purebred lobbyist during a Georgia legislature. The low-key CEO and boss of a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is now among a some-more successful and best-paid neutral parties in college football, a bit of an bauble for a former Wolfpack indicate ensure whose heart still yearns for a basketball court.

His signature creation, a Chick-fil-A Kickoff, was launched after a Peach Bowl unsuccessful to mangle into a BCS championship revolution a small some-more than a decade ago. “We’re going to flip a season,” Stokan recalls of his response, “because I’m as rival as they come. we don’t like losing.”

Stokan organised what he characterizes as “a BCS diversion during a front of a season,” in hint resurrecting a annual opener staged for dual decades during New Jersey’s Meadowlands though dropped after 2002. The thought has given been emulated by a handful of other cities, among them Charlotte, where N.C. State takes on South Carolina Saturday during 3 p.m. in a third Belk College Kickoff Game during Bank of America Stadium.

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Atlanta’s kickoff contest, biggest of a bunch, offers a 71,000-spectator sellout, a vast inhabitant TV audience, and a $5 million payout per school. This season, as in 2012 and 2014, a second diversion is scheduled for Monday, Labor Day, when Georgia Tech faces Tennessee.

Alabama won a initial Chick-fil-A Kickoff in 2008 opposite higher-ranked Clemson. Nick Saban’s club, appearing this weekend for a fourth time in a event’s 9 years, is also scheduled to accommodate Duke in a 2019 edition. North Carolina took on Georgia final year.

According to salesman Stokan, his Kickoff provides a advantages of complicated media bearing in Georgia’s abounding recruiting territory; inhabitant courtesy during a off-season; a motivational aim by exhausting summer practices; and a exam opposite a tough nonconference competition that’s certain to greatfully CFP voters. The several payoffs for participants pull schools to hit Stokan, many as Clemson’s Dabo Swinney found uninterrupted trips to a inhabitant championship diversion led tip recruits to find out a Tigers.

But, like Swinney’s talent hunts, Stokan’s lineups are frequency left to chance. The stat male examines joining schedules, recruiting-class strengths, module trends, coaches’ pursuit standing and relations with competitors. Sometimes friends will play opposite friends; infrequently they won’t. Alabama’s Saban and FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, both West Virginians and before on a same LSU staff, didn’t mind a faceoff to start a ’17 season. “It’s a small bit of a Rubik’s Cube,” Stokan says of building his Labor Day weekend rosters, now set by 2020.

Basketball folks intermittently plead formulating a comparably impactful diversion or array to launch a college season, so distant with small luck. Maybe a hoops society should deliberate Stokan, a 1975 N.C. State basketball walk-on. “He was a intelligent player,” recalls associate Pittsburgh product Eddie Biedenbach, afterwards a Wolfpack partner coach. “He was a genuine good player, though he was not an ACC-caliber winner. Guys like him have played in a ACC before, though not on winning teams.” A six-foot guard, Stokan warranted a grant notwithstanding singular athleticism and seemed in 19 games during his career. He started once.

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Stokan became a connoisseur partner underneath Norman Sloan in 1978, afterwards a full-time partner until a conduct manager over for Florida following a 1980 season. At that point, Stokan went into sports marketing.

“I will tell you, we have one bewail in my life, unequivocally usually one regret, and that is that I’m not still coaching basketball,” Stokan says. “I skip coaching basketball each day of my life. we skip a smell of a gym, we skip a competitiveness. And so what I’ve finished is interpret that competitiveness into a business side.”

Stokan’s work brought him to Atlanta, where he volunteered during a second-tier Peach Bowl. In 1998 he was hired to run a bowl; during a same time he served as boss of a Atlanta Sports Council. Approaching a 50th year, a Peach is now tip tier. Stokan is utterly unapproachable of a income a diversion generates for gift – $22 million given 2002, $1.7 million in 2016 alone.

Then there’s a annual tour for both play teams to a inhabitant ancestral site where Martin Luther King comparison and youth preached. Stokan’s discriminating outline of actor reactions to talks a play arranges during a church by aging polite rights leaders can move a rip to a listener’s eye. “To me it’s a biggest thing we do,” says Stokan, 62. “The diversion is a game. You’ve got to play a game. But a Ebenezer Baptist Church thing is a many absolute thing we do given it’s education.”

Yet it all happens given of a game, partial of a lax structure Stokan doesn’t see going away, observant a outrageous revenues and viewership generated by a 40 bowls played in 2016. Sixteen enjoyed incomparable TV audiences than a finals of a ACC men’s basketball tournament, that had a best display (3.6 million viewers) given 1998.

Stokan also can teach on expected changes in a sports promote landscape, because a championship playoffs won’t enhance anytime soon, or plan a expansion of a one “autonomy consortium” as a Power Five conferences collapse to four. Careful scrutiny, unimportant networking, and those statistics he studies tell him what he needs to know.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta


No. 25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 4

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta


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