Back in 2007 when Darth Jerry swayed the Cotton Bowl Classic to his Death Star, everybody thought the writing was on the wall. The new BCS lineup in 2011 would include a fifth game in Dallas (er ... Arlington). And, why not? A few other Rebels and I can attest to the show that these folks put on for us in 2004 and 2009. Steeped in tradition and nestled in a state that can rightfully call itself, along with California and Florida, the co-capital of football, the Cotton Bowl has an extensive history with storied programs like Penn State, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Texas. Former MVP's of the game include Eli Manning, Bo Jackson, Joe Montana, Jim Brown, and Doak Walker.
Facilities. Location. Tradition. Jerry's money. Why exactly isn't the Cotton Bowl running with the big dogs?
The consensus seems to be that in 1994 the powers-that-be decided that the harsh climate of a Dallas January was simply not suitable for inclusion in the big-time bowl program. Consequently, the Fiesta Bowl cemented its place among the big boys, and the Cotton Bowl was wondering what life post-SWC meant. They transitioned that SWC tie-in into a Big 12 tie-in, which they maintain. In 1998, they included the SEC, which they had regularly featured in the past, and have since seen appearances by old mainstay Arkansas, sell-outs by Ole Miss, and even a couple of show-downs featuring Tennessee. The match up of, unquestionably, the top two football conferences over the last dozen years has been enough to keep the Cotton Bowl in the second tier of bowl importance.
Nevertheless, a quick buy-up of BCS rights by the worldwide leader made 2011 an impossibility for the Classic. The earliest this storied game could reclaim its spot among the premier destinations is 2015. That doesn't stop people from talking.
But it does leave questions. How would the inclusion of the Cotton Bowl impact the current two games/one city format? Would the BCS move to a five-year rotation? What about tie-ins? If the Mountain West becomes an automatic qualifying conference could they take up the Fiesta Bowl tie-in, opening up the Cotton Bowl for a tie-in with the Big 12 Champion?
Or will this game even go for BCS status? Perhaps this is an out-of-bounds suggestion, but the Cotton Bowl leadership must be concerned about those situations - hello, Fiesta Bowl - where they will have to pony up $17 million for a game that no one will attend or watch. A Fiesta Bowl that features a BCS-hungry regional participant in TCU will make money, but in this age of increasing BCS "equality," a Cincinnati-Boise State Cotton Bowl would make about as much money a Starkville whorehouse with no liquor license.
If pressure to include nontraditional schools continues to build, will there be room - capitalistically - for another BCS bowl? Y'all probably noticed that tickets to this this game in this BCS-worthy stadium went up a bit. Thus far, ticket sales and interest have been respectable among non-AQ schools because - similar to Ole Miss fantastic ticket sales to the 2004 and 2009 Cotton Bowls - unexperienced heights bring out the fans. What happens when these 30,000 capacity fan bases start getting really disappointed with their Fiesta Bowl berths? I mean - in all fairness - if in the name of fairness, the Cotton Bowl is going to have to take some uninterested, over-performing mid-major every other year, will it be in their economic interest to abandon the good thing they have going with the two best football conferences in America?
Will they make more money as a BCS bowl, potentially required to take fan bases that might not fill Jerry World? To you and me, the move seems obvious, but we aren't managing Jones' checkbook. With a shark like Jerry negotiating, it does not seem so far-fetched that, perhaps, he can influence the direction of the system. Imagine a BCS scenario where no conferences are automatic qualifiers, but the BCS Bowls must select, say, six of the eleven conference champions - create the appearance of equality without tying the Cotton Bowl's at-large selection to the undefeated 2016 MAC Champion Buffalo Won't Show Ups.
If I were a sports mogul in charge of the Cotton Bowl, I would not feel married to the BCS - it might not even be around in 2015. The answer to whether or not the Cotton Bowl will be "one of the big boys" when the whole picture shakes up in 2015 (though, I don't discount some strange congressional scenario where the whole system is governmentally altered before then) is entirely correlational with the answer to a different question - where, exactly will all the money be when opportunities start presenting themselves to Jerry Jones.