The First Responder Bowl Needs To Return to the Cotton Bowl

A $140 million renovation will breathe new life in the Cotton Bowl. Now, a bowl that used to call “The House That Doak Built” must return for the renovation to be worth it.

The Cotton Bowl will receive $140 million in renovations.
Source: Rendering Courtesy of Overland Partners

The First Responder Bowl's stay at the Cotton Bowl ended in the most unceremonious way imaginable. A weather delay became a cancelation, and the 2018 Heart of Dallas Bowl between Boston College and Boise State ended in a no-contest. The following year, the Winter Classic moved to the Cotton Bowl, and the First Responder Bowl flocked to SMU's Gerald Ford Stadium, its home to this day.

There is nothing wrong with Gerald Ford Stadium, but it is not the Cotton Bowl. It does not have the history of the iconic venue. However, it serves the First Responder Bowl well with its modern amenities and smaller capacity than the Cotton Bowl. Yet, the Cotton Bowl will modernize its amenities to compare to its SMU counterpart.

On Wednesday, Texas announced the Red River Rivalry extended its contract to hold the game at the Cotton Bowl until 2036. More importantly, the announcement detailed long overdue renovations for the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl will maintain its iconic look for the most part, but improvements such as wider concourses and fan areas will enhance the fan experience.

In all, the investment in the renovations is $140 million. During the season, the Cotton Bowl sees just two college football games a year, the Red River Rivalry and the State Fair Classic between Grambling and Prairie View A&M.

A $140 million investment seems outlandish for a stadium that hosts just two games. Consequently, it would be wise for ESPN Events to move the First Responder Bowl from Gerald Ford Stadium to the Cotton Bowl.

The First Responder Bowl usually showcases a Group of Five exclusive matchup. Playing the game at the Cotton Bowl could increase attendance for the matchup significantly. The table below shows attendance figures for every First Responder Bowl ever.

Attendance for every First Responder Bowl
Source: Table Generated By Author

Attendance since the bowl's 2019 move has failed to come close to the bowl's days in the Cotton Bowl. Fans of schools like Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, and Utah State would have flocked to the Cotton Bowl to see their schools play in one of college football's most hallowed venues.

Instead, their bowl destination was a random Group of Five stadium built in the late-1990s. Moving the First Responder Bowl to the Cotton Bowl could boost the tourism numbers bowls games emphasize each postseason.

A move to the Cotton Bowl could deconflict with the 12-team College Football Playoff in the coming years. SMU's move to the ACC puts them in a much better position to make the Playoff field should they run the table. They could host a first-round game on campus if they make the College Football Playoff.

The first round will take place on the third Saturday of December in 2024 and 2025, but there is no certainty if those will be the dates for the first round going forward. SMU hosting a College Football Playoff first-round game could put the First Responder Bowl in limbo. A move to the Cotton Bowl alleviates such a conflict.

The Cotton Bowl renovations breathe new life into a venue that became stagnant since the move of its namesake bowl in 2009. This move can also energize a bowl game fighting for attention in a metro area with four bowl games and an all-star game.

The First Responder Bowl has a chance to give college football what many bowls cannot: nostalgia. Moving to the Cotton Bowl is beneficial to all parties and helps the state of Texas get more return on its lucrative investment.