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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Cotton Bowl moves; what about Texas-OU?

School officials say bowl game's decision won't affect future for Longhorns, Sooners — at least for now.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Cotton Bowl Classic, a holiday football fixture at Dallas' Fair Park since 1937, is on the move. Is the Texas-Oklahoma game far behind?

The Cotton Bowl Athletic Association voted Tuesday to move its bowl game to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington when the $1 billion retractable-roof facility opens in 2009. The first Cotton Bowl there will be on New Year's Day, 2010.

The change of address might allow the venerable bowl to regain its status as one of college football's elite games. Its prestige took a devastating hit in 1994 when it was excluded from the rotation of the Tier I Bowl Alliance, which became the Bowl Championship Series in 1999. The main reasons cited were Dallas' unpredictable weather at the end of the year as well as the scruffy state of the stadium, built in 1930.

Tuesday's announcement also could open the door for a move for the Texas-Oklahoma game, played on the grounds of the Texas State Fair yearly since 1929.

The possibility of making the game a home-and-home affair, alternating annually between the campuses in Austin and Norman, Okla., has been broached in the past. But last May, the Longhorns and Sooners extended their contract with the Cotton Bowl stadium through the 2010 season.

In November, Dallas voters approved a $30 million improvement package to the stadium in addition to $20 million earmarked for the project by the State Fair and the city. The $20 million currently is being spent on new scoreboards and seating.

Officials say it's too early to tell if the Texas-OU game will follow the Cotton Bowl Classic to Arlington or break with the neutral-site tradition to go to the home-and-home format.

"This move of the Cotton Bowl Classic to Arlington does nothing to change our agreement for the Texas-Oklahoma game," Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds said in a statement. "We have no plans beyond that."

Joe Castiglione, OU's athletic director, said the Cotton Bowl Classic's decision to move was not a surprise.

"But I really can't say whether it will have any effect on future (Texas-OU) decisions because that's so far down the road," he said.

Castiglione added the majority of Sooner fans want to keep the game in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

"I think our fans really embrace the tradition and uniqueness of the game," he said. "They want to preserve the tradition for as long as they can. It's established itself as one of the unique phenomenons in the pageantry of college football, and people want to see that tradition upheld.

"The dynamics for that (bowl) game are totally different than for OU-Texas," Castiglione added. "What they're trying to do is keep the Classic viable to put them in position for a BCS game."

Cotton Bowl Association President Rick Baker said the Texas-OU game enjoys two benefits that the postseason bowl doesn't — typically less inclement weather in early October and the backdrop of the Texas State Fair.

"The factors we had to face as we went through this decision process are different than what Texas and Oklahoma will face," Baker said.

Baker added the ability to enclose the roof at the Cowboys' stadium "is the one missing piece we feel can make our game great again. (Weather) has always sort of been our Achilles' heel."

Whether that's enough to put the Cotton Bowl in the mix if the BCS decides to expand is unknown, although "I don't think the move hurts them in that regard, that's for sure," said Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg, a former BCS coordinator.

The BCS just completed the first of a four-year "double-hosting" format in which one of its bowls — the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose — hosts the BCS title game as well as its traditional bowl.

Baker believes the new stadium will put the Cotton Bowl in contention should the BCS alter its format.

"I don't know what the odds are," he said. "But looking at the landscape, it makes sense that if they add a city to the BCS, they look at the state of Texas. As important as football is here, and being in the relative center of the country, it seems very logical that Texas would be a preferred location.

"We know we have strong competition with Houston and San Antonio," Baker added. "All we can do is put ourselves in the best position to be competitive, and we believe we've done that."

rriggs@statesman.com; 445-3957

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