Jake Barnes’ NFR Pregame Huddle
The legendary Jake Barnes still holds the NFR average record with Clay O'Brien Cooper. He's got a few key insights heading into the 2020 Finals in Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field.

The 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rolls into Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, this month, and the configuration of the arena is pretty different than it is at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The size of the arena will be a lot bigger, and with the team roping chutes over against the right wall there will be a lot more room to the left—and in general.

I’ve roped on a few different baseball fields in my career. The first time was when they moved the rodeo in El Paso (Texas) to a baseball field. That particular move was not a good one. In the perf that I was in, every steer circled back to the left to where they’d brought the cattle in, by the bucking chutes. They did it like that for a year or two, then flipped things and put the timed-event chutes at the opposite end from the bucking chutes and it worked better.

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The Astrodome and then Reliant/NRG Stadium in Houston have always been crapshoots because of those arenas being so big and wide open. It’s almost like pasture roping, because there’s not really anything to hold those steers, which makes it hard to gauge where the steers will go. With the stripping chute so far away, a lot of cattle kind of wander aimlessly. AT&T Stadium, where they have The American, is big and open like that. There’s a lot of left there, too.

I’m not trying to compare these other setups to Globe Life Field, because you never really know until you rope live cattle in real time how it’s going to go. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes with this year’s triangle-shaped arena and the team roping chutes on the third baseline. They tell me it’s 230 feet from the team roping box to the catchpen gate in Arlington, and the base of the triangle that has both timed-event chutes and the bucking chutes is 330 feet across. The Thomas & Mack in Vegas is 99’ across and 148’ long. Big difference.

The 2020 Wrangler NFR configuration at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Courtesy of the PRCA

Everybody’s accustomed to fast times at the NFR, but a good run according to the conditions always wins. In my personal opinion, it’d be a better roping contest at Globe Life if they stuck the score out there a ways. It would require better horses, scoring and handles, and we’d be more likely to see guys catch 10 steers. I really think that’d make for the best watching, and make it more of a “may the best man win” deal. Since you have the space, it makes sense to me to use it.

The score in Vegas is four under, which means the scoreline is four feet less than the length of the box. I’m told (by PRCA Chief Operating Officer and Director of Rodeo Administration Tom Glause, who also reports that this year’s NFR arena has no return alley, and that timed-event cattle will be trailered out of the gate between the two sets of bucking chutes at the other end of the arena after each performance) that the boxes in Arlington are about 17 feet deep and 10 feet wide (very similar to the boxes in Vegas), and the PRCA rule book says the score shall not be less than two feet under the length of the box.

[Full details on this year’s NFR score.]

If they set the score out there where you had to see hip or tail to the pin, it’d be more of a roping contest instead of a slinging contest. Team roping purists will appreciate what I’m saying here, and we all know that NFR fans are hard-core rodeo and roping fans. And again, the best guys will always find a way to win, regardless of the conditions.

I’m not in the mix this year, but if I was my game plan would be the same as always. I would try to be smart, and I’d rope for the average. I wouldn’t be conservative, but I would be aggressive. When I drew a good steer, I’d be roping for about third through sixth in the round. That’s smart strategy to me. My money’s on the smart headers who don’t stick their necks out there too far, and just try to win what each steer they draw allows. If you can place along, the big pot of gold—the average—awaits at the end. “Win every round and the average will take care of itself,” said no smart header ever. TRJ

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