Senior College Football Columnist

To stay in national playoff mix, Rose Bowl likely to shed more tradition


With its own conference partners and TV deal, the Rose Bowl sets itself apart from other bowls. (US Presswire)  
With its own conference partners and TV deal, the Rose Bowl sets itself apart from other bowls. (US Presswire)  

Bob Stoops has been to 10 different bowls as Oklahoma's coach. Forget the relative football importance of each, for Stoops there may not have been a more enjoyable bowl trip than the 2003 Rose.

"I thought it was fabulous. The practice sites, the accommodations, the six days leading up to the game," Stoops said. "It was a very positive experience."

But he'd heard the whispers. At the time, Oklahoma was only the third team from outside the Pac-10 and Big Ten to play in Pasadena since the two conferences hooked up with the Rose in 1947. The other two had been Nebraska and Miami a year earlier in the 2002 BCS title game. At the time, the feeling was that the Rose didn't take kindly to strangers.

"I remember there was some talk," Stoops added. "You know how people want to try to find some controversy in it. I remember chiming up and saying, 'It's not like we're not bringing some history with us.' We've got one of the better overall traditions we were bringing out there."

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But to Rose traditionalists, it just wasn't the same. And tradition is everything to the Rose Bowl.

"The Rose Bowl represents our history," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "It's important. Whatever we do, it is central to our thinking. ... I don't think you can overstate how important it is to us."

Welcome, then, to the 800-pound Granddaddy in the room.

The Rose's wishes and fate are central to the discussion at the annual BCS meetings this week in Hollywood, Fla. Really, nothing can happen until something is decided regarding the oldest bowl. It has its own conference partners, television contract and own preferences apart from the other BCS bowls.

While media have been told repeatedly that little is going to happen in Florida this week, the issues are beginning to become clear. In no particular order, the 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame must consider these three key elements for a new postseason beginning with the 2014 season:

 Access: Who is going to be eligible in a four-team playoff, conference champs only? The four highest-rated? A combination? If a rating system is involved, what is it going to be?

 Money: A playoff figures to at least double the current take of $180 million from BCS bowls per year. Even though the BCS/non-BCS distinction is going away, what obligation, if any, do college football's power elite have in sharing that money with the have-nots?

 The Rose Bowl: No one is saying it directly but there is significant doubt that the Rose wants to be a national semifinal in a four-team plus-one (top four teams in a bracketed playoff). That would cut into that tradition.

It's a complicated relationship. There would be no BCS without the Rose Bowl and its two partners agreeing to join the BCS in 1998. Participating coaches, ADs and players have loved the Rose Bowl for the experience that Stoops enjoyed. But that experience has changed because of the BCS. Now the Rose's segregated position apart from the rest of the BCS bowls keep it from what it could be -- a full-fledged participant in a playoff. The feeling is that the Rose would accept keeping its rotation in hosting the championship game, but has reservations about hosting a semifinal that would keep it from being the end-all game it has become over parts of 11 decades.

Where it gets further complicated: The system needs the Rose and its 24 partners from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. They represent approximately one-fifth of the 120 schools in FBS. There can't be a legitimate postseason without them.

"At some point you're going to have to ask if the Rose Bowl is going to compete for the national championship?" said a source with interest in this week's discussions.

The same source proposed that the Rose be able to keep its traditional Jan. 1 date and its traditional 5 p.m. ET starting time, but would basically be told it has to open its doors to a "quality game," in a national playoff.

While the media has been told there will be a consensus when the new postseason is announced (possibly as early as late June) that doesn't mean a "vote" inside the room couldn't go against the Rose. Adding to the mystery: We know Delany's protective stance. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has been strangely low-key on the matter.

Old guard vs. new guard? Scott changed the game in the Pac-12 by expanding, negotiating a new TV contract and adding a network. Having his champion open to other bowls may be a way of extending the Pac-12 brand.

In the current BCS structure, the Rose hosts the national championship game once very four years as well as its traditional game each year. That once-every-four years double-hosting has occurred only once for the Rose: Alabama beat Texas in the 2010 BCS title game six days after TCU beat Wisconsin in the traditional Rose.

If the Big Ten and/or Pac-12 champion play in the BCS title game, the Rose has been allowed in most years get replacements from the conferences. In 2011, TCU went to Pasadena because the bowl was contractually bound that season to take the highest-ranked non-automatic qualifier. Even then, only five times in the past 66 postseason games played in Rose Bowl Stadium (including BCS title games) had the matchup not been Pac-12 vs. Big Ten. Those five times have all occurred since the 2001 season.

We'll find out soon if the Rose and its partners are getting fed up with that sort of "invasion" or more used to it.

In a four-team plus-one, the possibility exists of a playoff game in the Rose Bowl between Boise State and Boston College. That's just an example, but one that would make some Rose loyalists choke on their Merlot. Don't feel sorry for the Granddaddy just yet. Delany is in there fighting hard. Whether it came from him or not, the "four-team plus" contained in this memo earlier this month would have given the Rose even more preferential treatment.

The four-team plus was largely panned to the point that even SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that the idea, "... is not one of my favorites."

The Rose grew in stature because of its location (Southern California), TV (beaming images of Southern California in early January) and the wide appeal of those two conferences. It was the first bowl with two league tie-ins. Before the bowl boom, stars and legends were made in the floor of the Rose. It was almost a championship in itself.

Not anymore. The Rose gave up a bit of its tradition when it joined the BCS in 1998. It will have to give up more to be included as an equal partner in college football's new postseason.

Get ready for that Boise State-Boston College matchup, or something like it, in Pasadena in the near future.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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