On the Rose Bowl, Tradition, and Myopia

I had lost track of the psuedoplayoff plan working its way through the BCS, until catching up with it at Addicted to Quack. One commisioner torpedoed the plan, and yes, it was all about the Rose Bowl:

"Our presidents have no interest whatsoever in a plus-one model -- none," [Pac-10 Commissioner Tom] Hansen says. "It's a little annoying that my colleagues continue to float this idea as though it has merit. If they continue to push it, and try to push us into a corner ... "

Will the Pac-10 walk away from the BCS?

"Yes, no question."

Hansen's comments are the strongest yet from Pac-10 or Big Ten officials. He says Pac-10 university presidents are more concerned about protecting the sanctity of Rose Bowl than further tweaking the current system, which dilutes the Rose Bowl with a double-hosting model. Hansen says "many" officials within the league and within the powerful Rose Bowl committee want the game once again to pit the Big Ten champions against the Pac-10 champions -- with no BCS strings attached.

Addicted to Quack is a little confused, coming from the school of thought that the sancity of the BCS has already destroyed the Rose Bowl. Coming from the ACC, I have a completely different perspective, which may come as a surpise to my West Coast and Big 10 bretheren:

I don't care about the Rose Bowl. Never have, never will.

That may be a little harsh. I can appreciate aspects of the Rose Bowl, and it's place in history as The Granddaddy of Them All. I even admire it's origins - in a time when it was tough to get college teams to travel across country, the West Coast put forth a football team and said, "We'll take the best the Eastern U.S. has to offer." Michigan promptly stomped Stanford 49 to nothing (Stanford quit in the third quarter) and the game wasn't played again for fourteen years. I suppose this makes the Rose Bowl more The Deadbeat Dad of Them All, but still, they were first, and that's special.

But I get confused when I read things like this:

Having teams like Texas, Oklahoma, Miami, and Nebraska in the Rose Bowl is a smack in the face to tradition.

Nebraska first played in the Rose Bowl in 1941. A year later the game was played at Duke's Wallace Wade. Yes, you've got Duke football in your grand and noble tradition, I'm afraid. I can only imagine how embarassing that must be for you. It was only in 1947 that the game became a Pac-10 Big-10 affair. But that's the tradition everybody waxes rhapsodic about, and the dirty little secret of the Rose Bowl. It's just a smaller scale "plus-one game" just like the proposal the Pac-10's railing against.

As near as I can tell, the Rose Bowl invented the biggest cancer to college football - the conference tie-in. A meeting of the Pac-10 and Big 10 champs is exciting to the conference members involved, but the rest of the country doesn't give a damn, and odds are, a better matchup could have been put together with a degree or two of freedom in picking teams. Instead, you get streaks where the Big 10 wins 12 of 13, or the Pac-10 takes 15 of 17.  And the denizens of thirty-eight states yawn.

Did you ever wonder how the Fiesta Bowl came out of nowhere to be a chip-selling championship event? Because they lost their WAC conference tie-in and went out and got the independents, co-champions, and other top schools that weren't locked into contracts. All of a sudden, an obnoxious, second-tier bowl was hosting national championships while The Grandaddy of Them All was inhibiting them.

And that's what a large part of the country of a certain age now remembers the Rose Bowl as - the game that prevented Penn State and Nebraska from playing for a championship. All for the tradition of two conferences in a time when conferences where expanding and merging and cutting teams loose all for the sake of media share - Hell, Nebraska had more Rose Bowl appearances than tradition-mandated Penn State going into that game. One of the best Rose Bowl games ever played (Texas-Southern Cal) only came about because the Rose Bowl finally caved. Are you telling me this isn't better than Southern Cal-Penn State and Texas-West Virginia another year of things being argued ad nauseum on message boards?

Let me put it another way. The ACC was, if I recall correctly, the first conference to decide their basketball champion by a tournament, especially with regards to the NCAA tournament. It was, to steal a phrase, The Grandaddy of Them All. And I love it dearly. It's original three days are the High Holy Days of Sports for me, and no other event in the year can come close to eclipsing it.

And I don't expect Joe Random Pac-10 fan to give a damn.

Why would I? UCLA's not going to storm the conference one year and win three straight in Greensboro. Cal won't take Duke to the wire in a thrilling overtime game. It's a conference tournament. A Pac-10 fan can enjoy an exciting game, marvel at the skill of the teams, but won't live and die by the event because they're not involved.

This is the Rose Bowl to a majority of the country. A parade attached to a conference championship game. The door's been closed to us for fifty years, and we've got other things to worry about.

So if the Pac-10 wants to take their bowl and go home, so be it. College football will take a step back, good matchups won't happen, and the sport will be the worse for it. But we'll keep on with the business of putting together the best football games, and deciding a champion as best we can, and y'all can keep playing with yourselves and your tradition.

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