Arlington moved to the forefront of college football’s playoff era Wednesday with a double-barrel dose of positive news that will bring high-profile games to Cowboys Stadium for the foreseeable future.
The first national championship game of the playoff era will be held at Cowboys Stadium on Jan. 12, 2015, based on Wednesday’s vote by college administrators in Pasadena, Calif. In addition, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic - played annually at Cowboys Stadium - received approval as one of six bowls in the semifinals rotation of playoff games under the College Football Playoff system that will begin at the conclusion of the 2014 regular season.
Cowboys Stadium won the right to host major-college football’s inaugural championship game of the playoff era when administrators selected the bid from the Arlington continent over a bid from officials pitching to host the game at another NFL venue, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. It marked another milestone for the $1.2 billion facility, opened in 2009. The venue also has hosted a Super Bowl, an NBA All-Star Game and will be the site of the 2014 Final Four.
For the Cotton Bowl Classic, left out of the lucrative top tier of bowl games for almost two decades during the BCS era, Wednesday’s inclusion as part of the semifinals rotation means the venue will host a playoff game every third season. In the other two years, the Cotton Bowl will feature two highly ranked teams that did not make the four-team playoff field.
That made Wednesday’s proceedings a win-win proposition for Cotton Bowl officials, who have handled the bid for the 2015 national championship game in partnership with Cowboys’ administrators.
“It’s just a historic day for the Cotton Bowl, one of the greatest days in its history,” said Tommy Bain, chairman of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. “This is going to be outstanding for Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. To have the first national championship game and the Cotton Bowl back in the [elite bowl] rotation, it’s big-time. And this area deserves that.
“For the last five years, just about every decision that’s been made in regard to this game has been aimed at a day like this. It’s just so satisfying. We’re on Cloud Nine. We’re validated.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said: “We couldn’t be more excited about bringing college football’s biggest game to Cowboys Stadium. This is a major win for our region. We … pledge to do everything we can to make sure this game exceeds everyone’s highest expectations.”
With Wednesday’s developments, Arlington mayor Robert Cluck said: “Arlington has truly become a major college sports destination.”
A unique bonus for D-FW football fans will occur during the 2014 postseason: two high-profile games will be played within 13 days at Cowboys Stadium. The Cotton Bowl will unfold on Dec. 31, 2014 and the championship game on Jan. 12, 2015.
Dates for the Cotton Bowl’s semifinal matchups during the 12-year tenure of the College Football Playoff contract will be Dec. 31, 2015; Dec. 31, 2018; Dec. 31, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2024.
Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker said it took “a team effort” between bowl officials, sponsors, D-FW civic leaders and the Cowboys to make Wednesday’s dual announcements a reality.
College football coaches who have taken teams to play in Cowboys Stadium were quick to offer a thumbs up in regard to the venue hosting a national championship game.
“Without a doubt, they can handle it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said during a Wednesday conference call with SEC coaches. “The combination of the hospitality … and one of the best venues in the country, Cowboys Stadium is just a fabulous place to play in.”
Sumlin said there was “a lot of energy in that stadium” when A&M defeated Oklahoma, 41-13, on Jan. 4 in front of a sellout crowd at the 2013 Cotton Bowl. Baylor coach Art Briles, whose team has played Texas Tech in three neutral-site meetings at Cowboys Stadium in recent seasons (2012, 2011, 2009), said the flexible seating configurations inside the dome stadium represent a huge asset for college football administrators seeking to make a statement _ and a profit _ with the first title game of the playoff era.
“I don’t know how they’ll configure the seats, but they can hold up to … 100,000 people in there and you’ll never have bad weather,” Briles said. “I’m all for it. I’m all for a national playoff and all for it being in [Cowboys Stadium], because it’s a great stadium. I believe football is best down here in the Southwest, so let’s put the best game down here.”
During a Wednesday radio interview in College Station, former Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill predicted college football’s playoffs “will generate more interest than the NFL.” That remains to be seen, but one Cowboys’ official cited Wednesday’s announcement as “a game changer” in regard to raising the profile of Cowboys Stadium as a magnet for additional, high-profile national events.
Bain predicted that the 2015 title game, as the first of the playoff era, would be the most-watched in the history of college football.
“I think it’ll be historic,” Bain said. “Only the Super Bowl, I would think, would generate the same type of TV audience.”
Bain said there will be no temporary seating at the 2015 title game, an issue that triggered problems and lawsuits at Super Bowl XLV. As a result, stadium capacity will be roughly 90,000, including the standing-room-only areas in the end zones that are designated as party passes for Cowboys’ home games.
“We’re going to use the stadium as it is. No additional seating will be brought in,” said Bain, adding that the standing-room-only area will be viewed as “cost-effective tickets for students” from the competing schools.
For Cotton Bowl executives, the added stability of being part of the playoff mix marks a departure from two decades of challenges that began in 1994. Once considered one of the four most prestigious bowls in college football, the Cotton Bowl was left out of the Bowl Alliance, which morphed into the BCS, when the postseason format began changing in 1994.
The bowl game, based in Dallas at the time, suffered from an outdated stadium (Cotton Bowl stadium) and the breakup of the Southwest Conference, its longtime anchor league. But a move to its current venue, coupled with strong ratings during recent prime-time television windows on Fox, helped the Cotton Bowl re-emerge as a major player in the college game. Wednesday’s vote to have the Cotton Bowl join the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Chick-fil-A bowls in the semifinals rotation validated that status.
“This is something we have been working toward for such a long time,” said Baker, the Cotton Bowl president since 1992.
Sherrill, who also coached at Pittsburgh and Mississippi State, credited the Cotton Bowl for a strong rebound from its lean years.
“The Cotton Bowl fell all the way down to the bottom when the BCS was formed,” Sherrill said on KZNE 1150/AM. “They’ve worked hard to build themselves back up. When I came to A&M in 1982, there was no bowl people wanted to go to more than the Cotton Bowl.”
Now, the annual game in Arlington is back on college football’s big stage, with the biggest game of all headed to Cowboys Stadium in 2015.
Bain said the celebration should extend past local communities.
“It’s not just Cowboys Stadium or D-FW. It’s the whole state of Texas that’s celebrating this,” Bain said. “Even when we were dealt a pretty tough hand, we never stopped presenting the Cotton Bowl at the highest level. And that carried us here. It was a 20-year process and thank goodness, it’s here.”