Cotton Bowl is in future of OU-Texas
Chris Del Conte arrived early, about 6 a.m., last October for the Oklahoma-Texas game. Del Conte, in his first year as the Longhorn athletic director, wanted to see all sides of the spectacle, from the football game in the Cotton Bowl to the revelry surrounding it in the State Fair of Texas.
And Del Conte was amazed.
“Mind blowing,” Del Conte said. “I spent all morning just walking around, soaking it all in and seeing the vantage point as a fan, what’s the experience like.
The game is awesome. This year’s game was fantastic. You had both GameDays there (ESPN and Fox). The State
Fair was phenomenal. Two great, competitive teams.”
So you halfway believe Del Conte when he says that two months later, when the Sooners and Longhorns met again,
18 miles west of Dallas in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 championship, he never compared the two venues. Never envisioned what OU-Texas might look like in JerryWorld.
Del Conte figures Arlington is perfect for the Big 12 Championship Game. And Dallas is perfect for OU-Texas in October.
“For my perspective, the Red River Rivalry has always been played in the Cotton Bowl,” Del Conte said. “It’s around the state fair. All the pomp and circumstance that surrounds that is fantastic, and it’s such an awesome event and one that is steeped in tradition.”
OU-Texas has been played at Fair Park annually since 1929 and at the Cotton Bowl since 1932. But the return of the Big 12 title game made an OU-Texas rematch possible, and that’s what we got Dec. 1. It was in some ways a sneak peek at what the series could look like if moved from an ancient stadium to football’s most luxurious.
Over the decades, critics called for the series to move to the campuses. Since the construction of JerryWorld a decade ago, some have clamored for the series to stay in Greater Dallas, but move to Arlington. And certainly JerryWorld’s amenities shame the Cotton Bowl, which has small seats, tight concourses and plumbing issues that never seem to end.
So I talked to both athletic directors, Del Conte and Joe Castiglione, to gauge their reaction to an OU-Texas game played outside Fair Park for the first time since 1923.
Both say an OU-Texas championship game in Arlington was great. But both say OU-Texas in October belongs with Big Tex and the corny dog stands and the Texas Star Ferris wheel.
“It’s a bucket-list game,” Castiglione said. Joe C. says he and his staff, and their Longhorn counterparts, are “curators of a grand tradition.”
Del Conte agreed. “One of the things we have to do in college athletics is preserve tradition, because that’s what makes college athletics so great,” he said.
Pragmatically, the Cotton Bowl serves more fans from the schools. JerryWorld famously has a capacity of 100,000. But 20,000 of those are standing-room only, and only the fans standing in the first couple of rows of the pavilions above the end zones actually see the field. The rest are watching the giant video board.
And as we learned at the championship game, JerryWorld’s suite seats number 17,000 and aren’t available to the masses. They are held by Dallas Cowboy suite owners. So in actual seats, OU and Texas would each be allotted about 31,500 in October. They each get about 46,000 at the Cotton Bowl.
“If someone wants to suggest we move, I’m going to offer them the job of calling those fans” that don’t get tickets, Castiglione said.
Fair Park administrators and the city of Dallas have scrambled to keep the Cotton Bowl an acceptable venue. The Dallas Cowboys played at the Cotton Bowl in the 1960s and since have twice moved on to new stadiums. But OU-Texas remains where it’s been for almost nine decades.
Expansion and improvements have been constants in recent years, and for now the venue is holding on.
“Somewhere out in the future, someone will have to make a decision in regards to a new venue,” Castiglione admitted. But “it’s just fine right where it is.”
Del Conte is excited about the possibility of centennial celebrations. 2028 will bring the 100th straight OU-Texas game played at Fair Park. 2029 will bring the 100th anniversary of the game that ignited the annual series. Those same stadium milestones arrive in 2031 and 2032.
The OU-Texas contract with the city of Dallas runs through
2025, but there appears no appetite to consider leaving after that.
For the foreseeable future, this is the OU-Texas lineup: for sure in Dallas in October, maybe in Arlington in December.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected]lahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Tickets to the OU-Texas game in the Cotton Bowl annually are difficult to obtain.