College Sports

July 11, 2014

Arlington gears up for college football championship in six months

The champion of the first College Football Playoff will be crowned at AT&T Stadium.

Tommy Bain spent two days in January at the Rose Bowl, shadowing local organizers as they prepared for the final BCS National Championship Game. Then, when game day arrived, Bain found his seat and watched one era of college football drift to the next.

“That’s when it really it hit me,” said Bain, who chairs the North Texas committee that secured a bid for the College Football Playoff title game. “I said OK, we’re on the clock now.”

That clock has ticked down to the six-month mark for the Jan. 12, 2015, date, when the four-team playoff — the first of its kind in major college football history — will culminate with a championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The new format, which replaces 16 years of the Bowl Championship Series and decades of poll-based titles before that, was announced in June 2012.

And the College Football Playoff will have plenty of local flair in its inaugural season, aside from the title game being played in Arlington.

On Monday, the trophy will be unveiled at the CFP offices in Las Colinas. The playoff’s 13-person selection committee will meet at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, and Fort Worth and Dallas will be hubs of activity in the week leading to the championship game.

Specifics aren’t in place, but downtown Dallas will host concerts and other festivities the week of the game, much like it did during April’s Final Four. And downtown Fort Worth — as it was for the Final Four and for the 2011 Super Bowl — is likely to be the home base for ESPN’s coverage, Bain said.

AT&T Stadium also landed a spot as one of six rotating sites for the two semifinal games. The Cotton Bowl will serve as a semifinal location next year.

The road to Arlington — and Glendale, Ariz., in 2016 and Tampa, Fla., in 2017 — will go like this: The selection committee will meet weekly, beginning Oct. 28 and rank the top 25 teams in the country. On Dec. 7, final rankings will be announced. No. 1 will play No. 4 in one semifinal, while No. 2 will play No. 3 in the other. The semifinal locations the first year are the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl. Both will be played on Jan. 1, along with the Cotton Bowl. The Fiesta, Peach and Orange bowls will be played on Dec. 31.

The man overseeing all the moving pieces of the event is Bill Hancock, who headed the Bowl Championship Series from 2005 through last year. Hancock was named executive director of the new playoff in November 2012.

From that point, the time-consuming process of “four million snaps of the finger” began, Hancock said. First, came the College Football Playoff name, announced last April. Then, the next day, the Arlington location — branded as North Texas — was announced.

Hancock said AT&T Stadium and its history of hosting major events the last five years, and the central location of Dallas-Fort Worth were major factors in awarding North Texas the first title game. It also didn’t hurt that the North Texas committee was able to guarantee 16,000 moderate-to-high end hotel rooms, Bain said.

Later that same week, the Gold Football logo — voted on by fans — was revealed. Gradually, a staff of 13 was assembled and housed in permanent offices. And last fall, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was named chairman of a selection committee that includes former and current athletic directors, former coaches and players and even an ex-White House cabinet member. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, is the lone female member on the committee.

Strength of schedule, head-to-head results and results against common opponents will all be considered in the voting process. That protocol was announced in May.

In between all of that, a 12-year television deal with ESPN was struck. The Wall Street Journal reported the figure to be around $470 million a year for ESPN to have exclusive broadcast rights to the three playoff games and the four other bowls in the rotation.

“We’re right on schedule, right where we thought we’d be at this time,” Hancock said. “However, there’s really no manual at setting up a major sporting event from scratch.”

The responsibilities of putting on the championship game is divided among three main groups: The CFP staff, most of which is working on event details while a small portion — including Hancock — will be tasked with accommodating the selection committee once the season starts; the Stadium Events Organizing Committee, which is the local committee that Bain oversees; and the city of Arlington, which will help coordinate security and traffic flow around the stadium.

Arlington mayor Robert Cluck said he expects a record number of police officers on the streets the day of the title game. The city’s experience hosting big games should help, too.

“We’re still concerned about safety, but we know how to handle a big crowd,” Cluck said. “We weren’t sure how mobile people would be for the Final Four. But it turned out to be a reproduction of the Super Bowl. The only thing missing was the ice.”

Bain half-jokingly said the most important subcommittee at the local level is the one praying for good weather.

And while the anticipation from those organizing the event has grown, so has the demand for tickets. Club level seats are being sold in packages that include hotel stays and other amenities. Those range from $1,899 to $5,999. Suites start at $4,000. On the secondary market, game-only tickets were listed for as much as $2,258 on, as of this week.

Tickets outside the club levels have a face value of $450. And fans can purchase a TeamTix specific to their favorite team that reserves their right to buy a ticket, should that team reach the championship. TeamTix prices for each school are dependent on demand. The most expensive TeamTix is for Florida State. Reservations start at $220 for 200 level corner, $194 for 400 level goal line and $118 for 400 level corner. TCU, for example, has TeamTix reservations starting at $130 for 200 corner, $70 for 400 goal line and $20 for 400 corner. Each school is guaranteed 1,250 reservations.

CFP officials estimated around 80,000 tickets will be sold, plus approximately 9,000 standing-room-only tickets in the end zone plazas, a similar setup to Dallas Cowboys games. Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said the team is working closely with CFP officials to coordinate game-day operations. Around half of the 80,000 tickets will be allotted to the schools that advance to the game, Hancock said.

As the title game approaches, finding the smoothest way to get those 90,000 or so people from their hotels to their seats will be one of the main priorities for organizers. Tailgating will be encouraged, Hancock said.

“I think we learned that we have some work to do on transportation, getting people to Arlington and back,” Hancock said. “We’re going to tell people to leave early and get out to the stadium. The last two [BCS] title games, people arrived six to seven hours before the game, and we’re going to encourage that here.”

But if there is any uncertainty from Hancock and others in how the playoff will run, it won’t be from decisions based on past experiences. It’ll be from the experiences that haven’t happened.

“Everybody is walking the path that they’ve never walked before in this,” Hancock said. “The trainers, the ticket managers, the equipment people — they have to get their equipment home from the semifinal game to practice then get it back on that truck to bring it to Texas for the championship game. Nobody’s ever done anything like this in college football.”

At the local level, hosting the title game for what Hancock called in all likelihood the biggest change ever in the history of the game, comes with about as much pressure as you’d expect, Bain said.

“Half of it is absolute joy; the other half is burden,” Bain said. “We want to be sure that the whole North Texas area delivers this well. We want to make this just a fabulous event.”

For Hancock, who also served as director of the NCAA basketball tournament for 13 years, his latest gig might be his most special.

“Starting this event is just the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “The fans are just going to love this playoff.”

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