The post-season college football game formerly known as the Heart of Dallas Bowl and now, seriously, known as the Servpro First Responders Bowl, will live on at least two more years, the Dallas City Council made sure Wednesday with an 8-6 vote. As a result, two college football teams will get what they've always wanted during Christmas week, a trip to Dallas and its seasonally abandoned Fair Park for a game in an, at best, half-full Cotton Bowl.
The city will give ESPN $300,000 from its parks budget to help stage the game, which perennially features teams from smaller conferences, like the University of North Texas or the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, or power conference teams coming off mediocre seasons. Last year, the game pitted a 6-6 Pac-12 team against a 7-5 Big 12 squad. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Wednesday that's good enough.
"I'm going to tell you, two million fans, 2.5 million fans of college football watch teams like West Virginia and Utah," Rawlings said, referring to the maligned 2017 matchup. "I believe that it is a great use of the money."
Critics of the game have pushed back against the ESPN subsidy for months, pointing to the bowl's low attendance — it's never drawn more than 50,000 fans to the Cotton Bowl, which has a capacity of more than 92,000 — and low-profile participants. Dallas also might not want to be involved with something as fraught with unfavorable headlines as college football, council member Philip Kingston said.
"I don't want to be complicit with the tax dollars of the city of Dallas in the dilution of the bowl system and the continued focus on athletics over academics," Kingston said.
The fact that the city needs to pay for the game at all is a warning sign, council member Scott Griggs said.
"This is Texas, the home of Friday night lights. If you've got to pay to make a game happen, maybe you shouldn't be having that football game," he said. "This game is such a failure that ESPN doesn't want to put it on unless we write them a big check."
Council member Lee Kleinman, who, more often than not, votes with Rawlings, pushed back against the game and the mayor.
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"In my opinion, this should be named the 'Indentured Servants Bowl' because students generate millions and millions of dollars for their universities and the media while they don't get paid for their work," Kleinman said. "They get paid room and board and rarely, almost never, graduate or get a degree and an education."
Rawlings, who played defensive end at Boston College, did not like his colleague's choice of words. College football was a great thing for players like the mayor and District 8 council member Tennell Atkins, who played running back at SMU, Rawlings said.
"Throwing around words like 'indentured servitude' ... or saying 'fans of college football don't like this,' that's just not in the fairway," Rawlings said. "Mr. Atkins and I did not feel like indentured servants. We couldn't afford to go to college and it was football that put us through college."