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Taking a Cotton to the BCS
By Ryan McGee
Welcome back to Going Bowling, where these days we're like Brett Favre at a spring press conference, constantly trying to keep from breaking down and sobbing. Why? Because there are only four bowl games to go. And we already can't Kraft Fight the Hunger for next season.
And don't give me that complaining that the three games before Monday night's BCS championship don't matter. If one of those games has its way, it'll one day host that very same title bout.
[+] EnlargeDallas Stadium
Lionel Hahn/Presse Sport/US PresswireA future BCS venue?
When LSU and Texas A&M rumble onto the field for Friday night's 75th edition of the Cotton Bowl, it will not be a BCS game. But it sure will look, sound, smell and feel like a BCS game. Take a look at the evidence:
• It's played in one of the planet's most tricked-out stadiums.
• It's played in a top-five media market.
• It's hosting two of college football's most storied programs.
• It sold out faster and has demanded street prices higher than every game except for the national championship.
• It will be played in a standalone prime-time spot on a major over-the-air television network.
"I don't know about you," says Dallas Cowboys and Cowboys Stadium owner Jerry Jones, "but that sounds an awful lot like a BCS bowl game to me."
Now Jones and the Cotton Bowl executives are aiming to make it official. The current five BCS bowls -- Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and the rotating championship game -- are locked in through 2014. But there is a rumor making the rounds with bowl executives that there could be a window opening to add a game in 2012, if for no other reason than to sweeten the pot for upcoming television rights negotiations.
It makes some sense. The BCS is in an evaluation period during which it is weighing non-AQ conferences for potential inclusion. That four-year sizing-up cycle closes at the end of the 2011 season and many expect the newly revamped Mountain West to be offered an AQ invite. Adding a seventh conference in '12 would increase the number of AQ teams by at least 10, and that's in addition to Utah, which will have been added via the Pac-12, and TCU via the Big East. That's certainly enough to allow for the addition of a sixth BCS bowl.
On Thursday afternoon I asked BCS executive director Bill Hancock about the possibility of adding the Cotton Bowl to the fold and he replied via e-mail that "it's premature to speculate about the future."
Not to the folks in Dallas.
"We view this year's game, particularly with the matchup that we have, as a coming out party for the Cotton Bowl on a truly national stage," says Cotton Bowl chairman Tommy Bain. "This is a showcase event. Now it's time to showcase it the college football world."
This is the game's second go-round in the $1 billion Arlington, Texas, showplace and its first with a wide-open national television audience. One year ago it shared the lunch hour of January 2 with the low-rent likes of the PapaJohns.com and International bowls. This year its biggest competition will be "Supernanny".
There was a time, most of the 20th century in fact, when the Cotton Bowl was easily one of college football's four "majors." For three decades the Rose Bowl stood alone (thus the "Granddaddy of Them All"). In 1934 the Orange, Sugar and Sun were added to the slate. The Cotton followed two years later.
Over the next half century, the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton separated themselves from the pack. They dominated New Year's Day and the Cotton was the game that kicked that day off, featuring mostly southern and southwestern superpowers.
But two major happenings ended up unraveling the ball of cotton. First, the Fiesta Bowl was founded in 1971. At the time there was no way of knowing that the Arizona-based game would end up becoming the big-time payday and destination that it has, but slowly it gained stature and cash, slowly siphoned off the Cotton Bowl.
The second blow happened much quicker. The Southwest Conference had long been the anchor of the Cotton Bowl in the same way that the Big Eight supported the Orange, the SEC held up the Sugar and the Pac-10/Big Ten built the Rose Bowl. But the SWC was weakened by scandal in the 1980s (as we all learned by watching "30 For 30: Pony Excess") and mortally wounded when Arkansas bolted for the SEC in '91. It disbanded five years later.
In addition, the Cotton Bowl itself had declined to the point of needing repairs. The 70-year-old publicly-owned stadium was without modern amenities such as luxury boxes or even seat backs.
Meanwhile, the Orange Bowl had moved to Dolphins Stadium, joining the Sugar and Fiesta in NFL facilities. In addition, the Cotton hadn't been able to keep up with the ever-growing per-school payouts of the other games, particularly the Fiesta, which had moved into the a prime-time New Year's night TV slot opposite the Orange and Sugar.
What's more, the game had earned a bad weather reputation. Some years, such as Eli Manning's college farewell in 2004, the Texas heat won out. But most years it was cold, certainly more frigid than South Florida, SoCal or the Arizona desert.
I think that hurt a lot of feelings in Dallas, but it also woke a lot of people up.
” -- Frank Broyles
So when the BCS was formed in 1998, the Cotton Bowl found itself left off the invitation list. Just one decade earlier that would have been unthinkable. But when it happened, there was little outcry nationally.
"I think that hurt a lot of feelings in Dallas, but it also woke a lot of people up," says former Arkansas coach and AD Frank Broyles, who coached the Razorbacks in four Cotton Bowls, winning two and being elected to the Cotton Bowl's Hall of Fame. "They had to do something to keep that game from kind of fading back into the pack and becoming just another one of several dozen bowl games."
Enter Jones, who played for Broyles in the '65 Cotton Bowl. He had long pledged that one of the cornerstones of his new "billion-with-a-b" dollar stadium would be big-time college football. Goal number one was to get the Cotton Bowl into that stadium. He accomplished that last year. (Goal two is to lure away Texas-Oklahoma. Stay tuned.)
Once inside its new home 20 miles to the north, the game's visibility increased literally overnight.
"It was, quite frankly, a little stunning," Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker admitted to me earlier this year. "In an instant, it was as if this whole younger generation that had been raised on the BCS went, 'Wow ... this game down in Texas is a really big deal'."
Now the push is on to put it in the rotation for the biggest deal in college football.
"It absolutely feels like a BCS bowl game," LSU coach Les Miles said Thursday, a little more than 24 hours before kickoff. He would know. He's led the Tigers to two BCS bowls, including the 2007 title game. "We came to the Cotton Bowl with Oklahoma State [in 2003] and as a kid of my generation we always looked at the Cotton Bowl as one of the four or five major games. I still do. And now it really feels like one."
Pretty soon, it could actually be one.