From mid-December to mid-January, the sports world turns its attention to college football bowl season, and for many, there's nothing more exciting than watching the pageantry and spectacle of those games. The rich tradition of bowl games has been a part of the American sports landscape for generations. Games such as the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl have become a piece of America as much as apple pie on Fourth of July.

In an interview with HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend founder Neil Malvone, 47, Blasting News got the scoop on how the preeminent HBCU and FCS Division II and III collegiate bowl games came to be.


Q: How did you get started?

Neil: "Six years ago I was working for another company that was hosting a Division III college football all-star game. In my role as Vice President, I had the opportunity to see the entire operation and what I saw was not to my liking. During the course of that weekend I started making contact with some of the coaches and some of the interns and we all decided that we could do this bigger, better and smarter. Most importantly we knew the focus had to be on the players and on their families."

"Following that weekend, I disassociated myself with that company and started my own sport event management company, Cutting Edge Sports Management, which in turn began the origination of the Dream Bowl beginning in 2012."

Q: Who are the important people?

Neil: "Well the first person I wanted to be a part of the Dream Bowl Weekend was coach Jordan Neal, who currently is the offensive coordinator at Hendrix College. At the time, he was working for another Division III school down in Texas. He was one of the assistant coaches at the event that I worked and I was fortunate enough to spend time with him after practices, after dinner, just talking about what was going on with that weekend and what was wrong about the experience for the players, coaches, and families.

"When Jordan and I spoke a couple of months later and I told him my idea about starting this new game he said he would come on board on one condition, that we put the players first. I assured him at that moment that the players and families would always be the first priority and our mission has not changed during the past five years."

Origin of 'Dream Bowl'

Q: How did you create the Dream Bowl name?

Neil: "It basically came down to the fact that the game was being played over Martin Luther King weekend, which was our primary intention, because the three-day weekend would allow families the opportunity to travel and watch them play their last game. Also, the timing was ideal as the weekend fell before the Super Bowl and after the NCAA bowl games. So, for us it was a good weekend to host the game. Then we looked for a catchy title that would enable us to honor Dr. King’s legacy. We settled on “Dream” to remember his famous “I have a dream” speech while also offering these special athletes a chance to pursue their dream of playing professional football."

Q: Can you give me an overview of the weekend?

Neil: "The HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend is a culmination of 11 months of event planning. The weekend is where all of those plans come together."

"To see where we have come since year one amazes me at times. Now in year five for the Dream Bowl, we have expanded the weekend as we continue to add more pieces for the families and players. We started the weekend as a three-day event and now the “weekend” has grown to 5 days as we have added a new game, The HBCU Spirit Of America Bowl, two combines, two all-star banquets, and additional practices. We now have enough time for the players, families, and scouts to get all they can from the weekend."

"Speaking of the scouts, we've been very fortunate to have NFL and CFL scouts attend the HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend events.

By extending the weekend they get the important benefit of seeing the players in a combine, multiple practices, one-on-one interviews, and in the games. We start with a check-in where the players get acclimated to our staff and to the hotel and then the next day we have a combine which is run by a scouting company and by several CFL scouts. We put the players through the paces of what a normal NFL Combine would be. This allows their times to be fairly indicative of what they would do in an NFL combine to make the results valuable to the scouts.”

"Then the players will have three to four practices over the course of the next couple of days. The Weekend culminates with the actual All-Star Game itself.

In between the players are provided by CESM with their meals and bus transportation to and from the practices. To me the highlights of the weekend are the all-star banquets that we host for the players and their families. At the banquet, we present the players with their personalized jerseys. This is very significant for our team. For many of these players, they've never played with a jersey that had their name on it. Their excitement and pride in receiving that jersey makes the hard work worth the effort.”

"It's an emotional, exciting evening for the players and families to be presented with their jerseys. In addition, we have worked hard to make sure we present keynote speakers with the right gravitas to speak to the players and families.

We've been fortunate enough to have former NFL players like Brandon Noble tell the players about the hardships in making it to the NFL, staying there, and then transitioning away from the game of football. His speech, which is mixed with humor, really hits home, as he has been where these young men hope to be. Last year at our inaugural HBCU Spirit of America Bowl banquet we had the pleasure of bringing Dr. Ross Hammond to speak to the players about her experiences in attending HBCU schools and dedicating her life to public service thanks to the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther."

Q: How are the teams created?

Neil: "We don't organize our game by region but rather, we organize the game by the best players available.

Our scouting department, led by Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting, Chuck Stuller, and Jason Tyrant of Tyrant Scouting work throughout the college football season evaluating players to fill our rosters for both games. Once we've received 100 to 110 accepted invitations and registrations, we divide the players evenly based upon talent as best as possible. We want to keep teammates together but other than that there's no regional aspect to the roster makeup. We simply are just trying to make sure the squads are as equal as possible in terms of talent.”

"The team names were also selected for specific meaning. Crusaders was chosen because Dr. King was a crusader for equal rights. His crusade continues and we are proud to honor his legacy.

For us that was a natural name to select. Patriots was selected because of our commitment to the community and to our country. The communal spirit found in the players and families and the place football has in America made it easy for us to choose that name to reflect those beliefs and attitudes."

Q: Have any players been drafted? What's HBCU?

Neil: "The last two years we have seen an uptick in interest from NFL teams about our players. This year, the Oakland Raiders, who were represented at the HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend by scout Raleigh McKenzie, selected Alabama State standout, Jylan Ware, in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. Last year Chester Rogers, out of Grambling State played in Dream Bowl IV, and he was signed as an un-drafted free agent by the Colts immediately after the draft directly because of our game.

He spent the whole summer as a free agent and with his hard work, determination, and belief in his dream to play in the NFL, he made the Colts' opening day roster. Chester represents our first NFL player from our games. Last year, Trevon Hartfield, another Dream Bowl IV standout, made the Arizona Cardinals roster late in the season. He now plays for the Tennessee Titans. These developments represent significant growth for the HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend games and allow us to offer a real opportunity for the players to take their talents to the next level. We expect to see more players playing in the NFL, CFL, and in Europe as we continue to grow.”

"Internally we continue to grow as an organization as our core team has been together since the beginning.

Ashley Antipin, John Zisa, Daniel Lococo have been with me since the start. Eric Galko came on board a few years ago as the scouting director and an assistant in terms of helping us organize the event from the football side of things. His ability to coordinate the scouting of the players and the contacts with the scouts has really helped us improve our image across the football landscape.”

"As I mentioned, we have added the HBCU Spirit of America Bowl which is the only all-star game dedicated to the student-athletes playing at the historically black colleges and universities across the country. This game fits well with our Martin Luther King Weekend and again with our philosophy of providing opportunities for players to showcase their talents where they would not otherwise be able to do so.

Several players from our first game this year were invited to NFL camps and we are proud to have given these wonderful athletes this opportunity.”

“This year’s HBCU-Dream Bowl Weekend will bring more activities for the players, families, and scouts as we look to continue our slow but steady growth. Despite the growth and success, we have never forgotten our initial mission and this separates us from the other showcase events. The players and their families always come first."