From the day he began plotting the future of AT&T Stadium, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has maintained a long-term vision for it.“I have often said we wanted this building to be more familiar than the White House,” Jones said during a recent news conference to announce the title sponsor of the venue formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.Regardless of what it has been called since opening in 2009, the $1.2 billion stadium has become an iconic backdrop for sports fans around the world. In addition to generating regular sellouts for Cowboys home games, the stadium in Arlington has drawn crowds of more than 100,000 for Super Bowl XLV and the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. It will be the venue for the 2014 Final Four.But off-season developments have given it a new niche: hottest venue on the college football landscape.AT&T Stadium is the site for the first national championship game of the College Football Playoff era, set for Jan. 12, 2015. The stadium’s annual bowl game, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, earned approval as one of six bowls in the regular playoff rotation.In addition, this year’s slate of neutral-site games at the stadium — starting with the Aug. 31 matchup between TCU and LSU — arguably is the strongest of any season since the stadium opened.“We haven’t come off of cloud nine yet,” said Tommy Bain, chairman of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. “I don’t even think the community recognizes how big that national championship game in college football is going to be. When it actually comes to pass, I think people will realize that, outside of the Super Bowl, it’s going to be the No. 1 sporting event in the United States. And that’s awesome that it’s going to be right here.”Until it arrives, AT&T Stadium will not be lacking for headliner events. Both the TCU-LSU game and the Oct. 5 matchup between Notre Dame and Arizona State rank among the 10 hottest preseason tickets in college football, based on a recent price check at Stubhub.com.Resale prices for the TCU-LSU game ranged from $70 to $2,000 per seat, with suites starting at $15,000. For Notre Dame’s initial visit to AT&T Stadium, resale tickets ranged from $103 to $2,500, with suite prices starting at $11,648. The 2014 Cotton Bowl, matching a Big 12 team against an SEC opponent, sold out in July.Mix in the Texas Tech-Baylor matchup on Nov. 16 as well as the seven-game Lone Star Festival (Sept. 12-14) to showcase college teams from the Lone Star Conference, and there’s an undeniable uptick in regard to Arlington’s profile in college football.“Once we opened up the facility and these big things started coming, I’ve really felt like it was going to happen,” said Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, one of the individuals involved in formalizing a bid to host the 2017 national championship game at AT&T Stadium. “I didn’t think Jerry would just play nine or 10 games here and lock it up, so it’s great. And there’s going to be some other big announcements.”Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker, whose staff has office space at the stadium, called the venue “the center of the universe now for college football.” And he’s glad his postseason contest is linked arm-in-arm with the stadium going forward.Also in close proximity to AT&T Stadium is the headquarters of the College Football Playoff, based in Irving. Bill Hancock, the executive director, said organizers liked the central location and the “tremendous buzz” about college football in the Dallas-Fort Worth market when they selected their location earlier this year.Much of it, Hancock acknowledged, stems from the stadium he called “very significant” in convincing college commissioners to bring the inaugural championship game of the playoff era to Arlington.“Everybody in our business knows what a palace it is,” Hancock said. “Having the stadium was a great advantage. … At first, I thought, ‘It can’t be as nice as everybody says.’ Then I went there, and it blew me away.”Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said his school opted to move one of its home games to Arlington in part because of the positive impact the move will have on the school’s recruiting efforts.“There’s no question that when you talk about playing here, that gets every recruit’s attention,” Kelly said during a May visit to the stadium. “They know that venue and they want to play here. With it being announced now that it’s the destination for the first national championship game, all eyes are on this geographic area and, in particular, this venue.”It’s just as Jones envisioned years ago when he funded the finish-outs to a $1.2 billion building in which the Arlington taxpayers’ contribution was capped at $325 million. Now, Jerry has built it. And the college football world is coming to Arlington.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch