SANTA CLARA -- Representatives from the Bay Area teams gathered Wednesday, as they do this time every year, to welcome the start of the college football season.

But the star of the show wasn't a coach or player. It was the place: Levi's Stadium, the $1.3 billion gleaming new home of the 49ers.

If they handed out awards to facilities, Levi's Stadium would have long ago locked up newcomer-of-the-year honors -- such is the impact it's having on college football in the Bay Area and on the West Coast.

In conjunction with the city of Santa Clara, the 49ers are bringing three games to the facility this season: Cal-Oregon, the Pac-12 championship game and the San Francisco Bowl Association's event.

The yet-to-be-named bowl, which is moving from AT&T Park and will match a Pac-12 team against a Big Ten opponent on Dec. 30, was the first non-49ers event to place a stake in the Levi's turf.

"It will be an amazing place for everything from soccer to John Legend," Gary Cavalli, the bowl's executive director, said Wednesday.

49ers president Paraag Marathe is quick to acknowledge that the team made a commitment to Santa Clara to book "as many events as we can," which explains the Earthquakes' match against Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday and WrestleMania 31 in March.

But college football is a priority for a franchise whose greatest coach (Bill Walsh) and current coach (Jim Harbaugh) both arrived from Stanford. "It's in the 49ers' DNA," Marathe added. "We have a great history with college football."


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The relationship benefits both team and sport.

College football on the West Coast needed a state-of-the-art facility -- its version of Cowboys Stadium -- capable of attracting high-profile matchups.

The Pac-12 wouldn't have scrapped the successful home-hosting model in order to hold its championship game at your run-of-the-mill neutral site. Nor would Cal have given up a precious home game against powerhouse Oregon to play just anywhere.

But the lure of Levi's, which will host Super Bowl 50, was too great for either the conference or the Bears to turn down.

"Just to play in a facility like this is a positive," Bears coach Sonny Dykes said.

At the same time, the 49ers need blockbuster events. The more exposure, the easier it becomes to book future events -- and pay the bills.

"It's a chance to show the facility on national television," said Andy Bagnato, a Phoenix-based communications consultant whose clients include that city's Final Four bid committee.

"Yes, they get exposure with the 49ers. But it's a whole different audience with college games. And that stadium has a lot to sell."

Marathe declined to discuss specific future events, but the 49ers are pursuing additional college football options, including:

  • The Bill Walsh Legacy Game.

    Stanford and San Jose State have held preliminary discussions about resuming their series, with games possibly moving to Levi's.

  • The national championship.

    The 49ers' bid to host the 2017 title game was rejected, but Levi's is expected to receive strong consideration in future years.

    As one source noted: If the venue is good enough for Super Bowl 50, it's good enough for the College Football Playoff.

  • Preseason matchups.

    Cowboys Stadium has become the mecca for Week 1 collisions and recently locked up USC and Alabama for a 2016 duel.

    Marathe didn't reject the notion that Levi's could one day host an August showdown.

    Florida State vs. Oregon, anyone?

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL
    AT LEVI'S STADIUM
    The new home of the 49ers
    is scheduled to host three
    college games this season:
    Oct. 24 Oregon vs. Cal, 7 p.m.
    Dec. 5 Pac-12 Conference championship game, TBA
    Dec. 30 San Francisco bowl (yet to be named), 7 p.m.

    INSIDE
  • Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery (inset) hopes to be 100 percent before Aug. 30 season opener against UC Davis. PAGE 5
  • Key dates for the Bay Area's college football teams. PAGE 5