PASADENA, Calif. — The grandest stage in sports was too much for the guys who are putting together the College Football Playoff to pass up.
The BCS conference commissioners announced Wednesday that Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, edged Tampa, Fla., in the bidding to be the site of the first championship game in the new playoff system.
"The stadium itself was the biggest determiner," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said about the $1.2 billion dollar, 100,000-plus seat home of the NFL's Cowboys and the Cotton Bowl. "It's still THE stadium with a capital 'T.'"
The College Football Championship Game will be held Jan. 12, 2015.
"We couldn't be more excited about bringing college football's biggest game to Cowboys Stadium," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "Rest assured, we all pledge to do everything we can to make sure this game exceeds everyone's highest expectations."
The final three sites for the semifinal rotation also were announced during the second of three days of meetings at a resort hotel a few miles from the Rose Bowl. And Cowboys Stadium came up a winner again. The Cotton Bowl will be part of the six-bowl rotation, along with the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego also bid for a spot in the semifinal rotation, but couldn't pull the upset.
The Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls are already part of the semifinal rotation. The Rose and Sugar will host the first semifinals Jan. 1, 2015,
The next season, the Cotton and Orange bowls will host the semifinals on New Year's Eve. The semis will be played in the Fiesta and Chick-fil-A bowls after the 2016 season.
In the years those games do not host a national semifinal, they will stage a major, BCS-type bowl game played on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. That means two days of huge college football triple-headers.
For the Cotton Bowl and its organizers, landing a spot in the rotation and the first title game is the culmination of a long slow return to prominence for a game with a rich history.
The game dates to 1937 and has hosted some of the most memorable matchups in college football, including Notre Dame's stirring comeback victory led by Joe Montana against Houston in the 1979 game.
But when the Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998, the Cotton Bowl was left out and lost much of its luster. Organizers for years tried to break into the BCS, but couldn't overcome the limitations of their antiquated namesake stadium in Dallas.
Things turned for the Cotton Bowl when it moved out of the old stadium at the fairgrounds in 2010 and into Cowboys Stadium.
When the conference commissioners announced last year that the BCS would be abandoned for a four-team playoff starting in 2014, with the championship game bid out like a Super Bowl, it was all but assumed the Cotton Bowl would be part of the new system and that Cowboys Stadium would be a strong candidate to eventually host a championship game.
They didn't have to wait long to accomplish both goals.
"The Cotton Bowl did it right," Hancock said. "Kept the Cotton Bowl a terrific event, bided their time and now they're back among the top group."
Tampa made a strong push for the first championship game to be played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Buccaneers and the Outback Bowl. But Jones' football palace was too much to overcome.
"They were very close. Tampa won a lot of hearts and minds of the commissioners," Hancock said.
Raymond James' capacity is listed at 65,857, but seated about 71,000 for the Super Bowl. Hancock said neither bidder guaranteed a specific amount of revenue.
"Obviously, with 20,000 more tickets certainly there are better revenue opportunities," Hancock said.
As for filling out the rest of the rotation, the sites that got the nod were no surprise.
The Fiesta Bowl has been part of the Bowl Championship Series from the start, though its place among the elite bowls was threatened when the Arizona Republic reported in December 2009 allegations of a political-contribution scheme being run by game organizers. It also was revealed the bowl officials were misusing funds.
The scandal was an embarrassment to the BCS and the conferences that run it, but the Fiesta Bowl overhauled its front office and implemented reforms that allowed the game to stay in the good graces of the commissioners.
"This is a confirmation that that's all in the rearview mirror," Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said.
In the heart of both the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference, Atlanta gives the College Football Playoff a second game in the East, joining the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl, formerly the Peach Bowl, has been played in the Georgia Dome since 1992.
"For 16 years, we've made this our goal," said Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A bowl.
A new domed stadium is in the works for Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A bowl will move into that when it opens in 2017.
The new postseason system was named the College Football Playoff by the conference commissioners Tuesday, the first of three days of meetings at a resort hotel a few miles from the Rose Bowl.
Now that the sites are locked in, the only major remaining issue to tackle for the commissioners is the composition and structure of the selection committee, which will pick the teams that play for the national championship.
That won't be finalized at these meetings, but it's on the agenda and they would like to leave California with a framework in place.