By Jonathan Hardison
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - It's BBVA Compass Bowl week for Birmingham. Monday, the University of Kentucky's football team rolled into town for Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl.
The University of Pittsburgh arrives Tuesday and the big question now is how many Wildcat and Panther fans are coming to help boost the metro area economy?
Never missing a chance to recruit new fans, the Kentucky wildcat, UK head coach Joker Phillips, and several players headed straight for a free skills camp for Birmingham-area Boys and Girls Club members at the BJCC.
"Today, what we want to do is make sure we leave that with these kids, make sure they are doing what they're supposed to do in the classroom, giving back to this community here in Birmingham, and also making sure they're taking care of their health and their bodies," said Phillips.
"This was Kentucky's idea and we're happy they came in," said BBVA Compass Bowl representative Mark Meadow. "They wanted to be part of the community and have an impact, and so they come up with this idea and came to town and put on this clinic for local kids, and we're pretty excited about that."
Bowl organizers hope that excitement builds over the week because Pitt and UK have struggled to sell their allotment of tickets, but "Right now local ticket sales are a little above where we were at this point last year," Meadows said. "Our corporate participation is up this year, so I think we'll probably be somewhere north of 40,000 on Saturday. Bigger than last year? I think there's the potential to be with a few days left, we certainly hope so."
Last year, the game was the day after New Year's Day and still part of the holiday weekend. This year, it's a week later, and controversy swirls around the Pitt football program after they relieved head coach Dave Wannstedt of his duties, and then fired his replacement Michael Haywood on Saturday after he was arrested for an alleged domestic assault.
But the bowl host committee still thinks this will be a multi-million dollar economic impact on the city, especially as we get closer to gameday.
"I would hope that they would come and support their teams, and we'll see how that works out for them," said Meadow. "I think the last I had heard, Pitt's gonna travel probably a little more than UConn last year, so we feel pretty good about that."
Pittsburgh arrives in town Tuesday afternoon. Both teams will practice throughout the week.
The big street festival in Five Points South is Friday night.