'Gridiron Bash' concert tour goes bust before it starts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It was supposed to be huge: A New York producer planned to lure 1 million people to 16 major college campuses and bring in at least $15 million with big-name acts on the eve of spring football scrimmages starting this week.

The plan for "Gridiron Bash" went bust instead, and questions swirled Monday over who was to blame.

The producer faulted a late rules interpretation by the NCAA for forcing a postponement of the shows planned at Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas State, Penn State, West Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers and Army.

The sanctioning organization, meanwhile, said the company waited until last week to even ask whether the for-profit shows created a potential rules minefield for schools by including football players.

New York-based MSL Sports & Entertainment planned to bring top musical acts to campuses and promote the 2008 fall season with Fox Television coverage and scholarship offers from USA Today. The plan called for stadium pep rallies featuring coaches, players and cheerleaders followed by shows with the likes of Fergie, the Goo Goo Dolls and Alan Jackson.

The first show featuring country singer Sara Evans and Kid Rock was planned for this coming Friday at LSU, and Jackson was to perform a week later at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium.

But everything fell apart over the weekend when MSL Sports announced the shows were being postponed because it said the NCAA's "last-minute interpretation" of rules meant football players couldn't participate or receive free tickets to attend.

MSL Sports president Shawn Garrity said the shows wouldn't work without the football teams present, comparing their absence to staging the annual Christmas show at New York's Radio City Music Hall without the famed Rockettes.

"You'd hear the complaints about that," he said.

In a statement, the NCAA called the claims by MSL Sports inaccurate. The NCAA said its only concern over the event was the participation of players, and it denied asking the company to stop the shows.

"During our discussions with MSL Sports Entertainment, we clearly outlined how they could hold the event within NCAA rules; however, they chose to not continue with the project," the statement said.

LSU sports spokesman Herb Vincent said MSL Sports cited the potential for rules problems in canceling the show in Baton Rogue, La., although school officials were disappointed in the public's response since only 1,500 tickets had been sold a week before the event.

Vincent said he raised questions weeks ago about whether the shows could create rules violations by involving players, and the Southeastern Conference sent a message to its 12 member schools on March 20 stating active players couldn't participate in moneymaking events.

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined comment on any dealings between the league and member schools but said: "It's against NCAA rules for student-athletes to promote for-profit ventures."

LSU is refunding the $41-a-seat tickets for the show, Vincent said, and so are other schools. Purchasers who bought tickets from a Web site, www.tickets.com, have to go there for refunds, Garrity said.

Garrity said the shows were supposed to make $15 million for the schools through the sale of as many as 1 million tickets, concessions and parking, and another slice would go to the companies involved. He declined to say how much the postponements cost MSL Sports.

"Just say it's very costly," he said.