By Jeff Toquinto on March 15, 2015
When you're dealing with the Big 12 Conference, everyone knows that the biggest fish in the pond is the University of Texas. And it's now official that the City of Bridgeport has hauled in the biggest Big 12 catch of them all.
aryl Whitcomb, the Senior Catering Sales and Services Manager for the Bridgeport Conference Center has confirmed that Texas will be using that facility and the attached Wingate Inn to serve as the football team's headquarters during their 2015 game against West Virginia University. Whitcomb has worked with folks at the Conference Center, Rick Rock at the North Central West Virginia Airport and Drew Pomeroy and Michelle Duez of the Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitor's Bureau and others to secure teams like Texas to stay locally for the upcoming year.
So far, the teamwork is working.
WVU will have seven home games this season. Of that group, five are flying into Bridgeport and staying locally at the Wingate Inn and using the Bridgeport Conference Center as their pre-game headquarters.
Georgia Southern, Liberty, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will also be staying in Bridgeport this year along with Texas. The only two teams not coming to Bridgeport for an overnight stay are Big 12 foe Iowa State and non-conference opponent Maryland.
"We didn't approach Maryland because we know they bus to their game in Morgantown and stay at Rocky Gap prior to coming to Mountaineer Field," said Pomeroy. "Iowa State was considering coming here, but their game is the Friday game after Thanksgiving and felt staying in Morgantown would be a viable option considering there would be a limited student presence due to it being Thanksgiving break."
Whitcomb said as happy as he was to already have four teams lined up, he was even more pleased with landing Texas. And it didn't have anything to do with the program's national reputation.
"Clifford Snow is their director of football operations and when he came here it wasn't to check to see what our facilities were like because they had basically decided to stay here. He came here because he had yet to decide where his team was going to stay," said Whitcomb.
According to Whitcomb, before Snow visited with the local folks he stopped at the Double Tree Hotel in Washington, Pa. to check out accommodations there. And on his way from Pennsylvania to Bridgeport, he made another pit stop.
"He stopped at the Waterfront in Morgantown. It was almost like a bidding process once he was here," said Whitcomb with a slight chuckle. "We told him what we consistently tell others that what we offer is the ideal situation. We have them off the airplane and at the hotel in roughly 30 minutes, which is something no one else can offer and it meets the priority of comfort for their players.
"Once we show them we're on Interstate 79 and how quick it is to get to the stadium it's usually a pretty good selling point," he continued. "When (Snow) weighed everything, he decided to stay with us … The big thing on our end is getting those dollars out of Pennsylvania and bringing it back to West Virginia."
Of course, the building itself has to be able to serve the purposes of the program. Whitcomb said they show individuals like Snow how they set up the existing space to go from ballrooms into athletic training and meeting rooms as well as how they have access to the outdoor parking for their buses and physical requirements the players may need to run through schemes.
"We walked the property with him and were able to sell him on it," said Whitcomb. "I can tell you that in light of how he looked at the other properties this one felt like much more of a victory. There was no pre-determination to come here on their end. The decision was made once he saw everything."
From a CVB standpoint, Pomeroy said landing Texas is huge because of the substantial alumni base that travels with the team. As is often the case, the alumni often charter flights and stay in the same location or area as the team, which has been the case with Big 12 charters in 2014.
"From what I've been told, their team charter alone will bring in around 200 people and we've been told that to expect at least a couple of alumni planes," said Pomeroy. "This could be a day trip or, depending upon when the game is played, it could be an overnight stay. We don't know that yet, but we know for sure that Texas travels strong."
The Texas game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14. Pomeroy also said that for the first time one of the teams – Oklahoma State – will be staying two nights.
"They'll be coming in late Thursday and will be treated once they arrive to a hamburger buffet and they'll get up Friday and have a full day in the city," said Pomeroy. "I imagine that Conference Center is going to be doing a lot of cooking because I think you're looking at a minimum of six meals and, if the Saturday game is late, maybe even more."
The Cowboys will be in Morgantown Oct. 10. That game, too, is set for Saturday.
Pomeroy had words of praise for Whitcomb. He said that when OSU's basketball team flew in, staff from the football operations side of things also came to town to visit Bridgeport. He said Whitcomb met with those individuals and handled everything.
"The guys at the Conference Center are doing their thing and Ricky is doing his thing at the airport so the CVB can now be in more of a support role," said Pomeroy. "We'll be working with them in whatever capacity we can to make sure our guests' expectations are not only met, but exceeded.