ARLINGTON -- AT&T Stadium in Arlington said goodbye to the Cotton Bowl as we know it Friday night.
Next year, there will be two games: the Cotton Bowl, played on Jan. 1 featuring two at-large teams selected by the College Football Playoff selection committee, and then 11 days later, Arlington will host the first-ever College Football Championship Game.
“Great way to end it, but we're really excited about the future,” said President and CEO of the Cotton Bowl Rick Baker of Missouri's win over Oklahoma State in this year's bowl. “We've got a great future ahead of us. I think our best years are ahead of us.”
“I just don't know if there is a better facility out there that puts on a show and is accommodating to football,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. "It’s very impressive, and I think whoever made the decision made a good decision to give these people the opportunity to have the national championship game.”
After this year, the Cotton Bowl's affiliation with the Big 12 and the SEC will end as the transition to become a part of the College Football Playoff system begins.
“Things are going to change next year,” said Cotton Bowl Chairman Tommy Bain. “Next year, we become one of the six playoff bowls. Every three years, we'll host the semifinal playoff game, and in the other two years, we'll be at-large games.”
AT&T Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in February of 2011. Next year’s College Football Championship Game is already being compared to the second coming of the Super Bowl.
“I think this is going to be a huge game,” Baker said. “I think people are used to having brackets and playoffs, and I think they're used to following teams in winner-take-all kinds of games, and this is going to create those kinds of games and I think the fans will really enjoy that.”
But football is only part of what the stadium continues to attract.
In April, the stadium will host the Men's Final Four, bringing the NCAA Championship Game back to North Texas for the first time since it was held at Reunion Arena back in 1986. That means within nine months, Arlington will host the two biggest college championships.
“Yeah, I think that's what we envisioned when we opened the stadium,” said stadium spokesman Brett Daniels. “We wanted this to be a place where champions are crowned. We wanted to create the best stage possible - whether it’s football or basketball - to want everyone to want to bring their event here to AT&T Stadium.”
The NCAA had a trial run of their basketball tournament last March when the stadium hosted the regional finals, but the games in April will be a lot bigger.
“Things are coming together,” Daniels said. “We've had great meetings with the NCAA basically on a monthly basis since about April of last year. So it’s a year-long process of getting ready. We've got a couple of more months to go, and then we play basketball.”
“We've worked literally for 20 years to get back to where we were,” Baker said. “I think without a doubt, we're going to be hosting the most compelling games in this stadium. The sky is the limit. We're really excited about the future.”
And the future will be here in a hurry.