The East-West Shrine Bowl took a gamble in Las Vegas and it looks like it lost. After just two years at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the game has packed up and moved to Texas, the game's seventh home since 2001. Moving the game does not seem so problematic at the surface, but the new site may be controversial as the game moves to Frisco’s Ford Center, the 12,000-seat practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys.
While it is uncertain whether the move is long-term as the organizers may have moved the game for this year only to avoid creating poor field conditions for the Super Bowl, which Allegiant Stadium hosts ten days after the Shrine Bowl. Several venues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would have been suitable for the Shrine Bowl. Ranking them seems necessary.
6.) Toyota Stadium
Putting Toyota Stadium at the bottom was a tough choice because there is nothing inherently wrong with Toyota Stadium. It is a pretty solid venue. It just strikes me as boring. The 20,000-seat capacity is ideal for the East-West Shrine game, but the simple rectangular bowl seating is too simple.
The venue is entrenched into college football culture as it hosts the FCS National Championship and Frisco Bowls but lacks history. Additionally, the grass surface has caused issues in the past due to December in North Texas not being ideal conditions for grass. Toyota Stadium does not have the features or history that other natural grass stadiums have to make up for this.
5.) Gerald Ford Stadium
Gerald Ford Stadium is a good stadium but is underwhelming. The stadium has an ideal capacity for the Shrine Bowl of 32,000. However, it lacks the distinctive architecture of Amon G. Carter Stadium, home of SMU's archrival, TCU. The stadium hosts the First Responder Bowl, but it is far from an iconic venue in college football and lacks history at only 23 years of age.
Another small but important factor is the end zones. Despite hosting the First Responder Bowl since 2019 and two editions of the Armed Forces Bowl in 2010, SMU’s insignia has remained in the end zones for every bowl hosted at Gerald Ford Stadium.
Likely, the oldest college football all-star game and second-most high-profile one would not have wanted a venue where they could not paint the end zones to their liking. One advantage of the playing surface at SMU is that it is Field Turf, negating the concerns of poor grass quality in early February that venues like Toyota Stadium, the Cotton Bowl, and Amon G. Carter Stadium have.
4.) Globe Life Park
“The House that Jonah Heim Built” had a small cup of coffee as a football venue by hosting the Commanders’ Classic between Air Force and Army in 2021 and 2022. The football layout is solid with the only seats with bad or distant sight lines being the right field seats, but there is ample room to set up temporary bleachers.
Globe Life Field being an MLB venue maintains the big-game feel of the East-West Shrine Game and would have made it the fourth MLB ballpark to host the game, joining the Oakland Coliseum, Oracle Park in San Francisco, and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the retractable roof would have protected fans from the cold.
The one downside of Globe Life Field is its bland interior. Globe Life Field hardly seems distinct from the inside and reminded me of Phoenix’s Chase Field during my one visit. The lack of distinctive features within the ballpark would have set the East-West Shrine Game back to its Tropicana Field days.
3.) Amon G. Carter Stadium
Amon G. Carter does not come up on many lists of the best stadiums in college football, but its renovation in 2011 made the stadium one of the most underrated backdrops in college football. The self-proclaimed “Camden Yards of College Football” seems like a fitting place to house an all-star game with a history dating back to 1925. Opened in 1930, the stadium has more history than most venues on this list and has hosted the Armed Forces Bowl since 2003.
The stadium’s architecture, particularly its end zone structure, is reminiscent of the era of the East-West Shrine Bowl’s heyday. Unlike their archrival SMU, TCU has painted the end zones for the bowl game it hosts so they almost certainly would have painted the end zones to suit the Shrine Bowl.
The capacity of 47,000 is a little bit too large for the East-West Shrine Bowl’s declining attendance, but the stadium could likely close the upper deck to create a more intimate feel. However, like multiple stadiums that preceded it on the list, the quality of the grass and cold weather are concerns. Still, the architecture and atmosphere make up for it.
2.) Choctaw Stadium
One of the most polarizing stadiums in the football and baseball world would have made an intriguing home for the East-West Shrine Game. Formerly known as Rangers’ Ballpark and later Globe Life Park, Choctaw Stadium had some of the most unique features of any ballpark in Major League Baseball.
However, unlike its Lone Star State counterpart, Minute Maid Park, it is an open-air stadium, subjecting baseball fans to blistering heat. As a result, the Rangers moved out of Globe Life Park in 2020 after only 26 years.
Now, the stadium is the home of the Arlington Renegades and the occasional college football game but is a scenic backdrop for those events. Builders refit the stadium to make it a more optimal football venue and many of the ballpark's seats provide solid sightlines for football. Ironically, it is not heat that may have doomed this venue but the cold as I sound like a broken record by now with how much I have mentioned the chilly Dallas weather.
Like Amon G. Carter the stadium’s size may create a sea of empty seats, not a great look for the East-West Shrine Bowl, as it seats over 48,000. Still, this is a unique venue and it could have been great for publicity had they chosen this venue instead of the Ford Center.
1.) The Cotton Bowl
What better way for the East-West Shrine Bowl to put its storied history on display than moving to the Cotton Bowl? The Cotton Bowl needs no introduction to college football fans as it has been the site of several iconic football moments and is still home to one of the biggest college football games of the season, The Red River Rivalry. The State Fair Classic between Grambling and Prairie View also draws well at the stadium, with a crowd of 53,971 showing up to last season’s game.
The Cotton Bowl only hosts two games per year so the East-West Shrine Game would be a worthy addition. However, there are downsides. If poor attendance was a problem at Allegiant Stadium, it would have been an even bigger problem at the Cotton Bowl. The 92-year-old stadium seats a whopping 92,100 fans. Even a solid crowd of 30,000 would look minuscule in the cavernous Cotton Bowl. Additionally, the parking around the Cotton Bowl is inadequate, even though the Shrine Bowl kicking off on a Thursday night for NFL Network would have reduced the severity of this.
However, despite all these problems moving the Shrine Bowl to the Cotton Bowl would have been worth it. In an age when all-star games like the Hula Bowl losing their identity, seeing the East-West Shrine Bowl paying homage to college football and its own history would have been refreshing. As college football devolves into something similar to its professional counterpart, bits, and pieces of the roots of college football are ever so valuable. By picking the Ford Center over the Cotton Bowl, college football continued its shill to the NFL.
Whether this new era of the East-West Shrine Bowl is a long-term arrangement or a brief one-year move to avoid interfering with the Super Bowl, college football’s oldest all-star game could have done much better than the Ford Center.