To no one's surprise in the Bowl Championship Series negotiations, the Rose Bowl has most of the leverage.
The BCS can do whatever it wants in revamping its lineup for 2006, as long as it leaves granddaddy alone. This is not the twist of a phrase. That's all but an outright mandate from Pasadena interests. The Granddaddy of Them All would like nothing more than to continue rocking comfortably on the porch.
|Miami and Nebraska ended decades of Rose Bowl tradition in 2002.(Getty Images)|
Translation: Y'all figure it out. We'll be here if you need us.
The Rose Bowl seemingly scuttled the most reasonable solution to the now-critical negotiations, the so-called "piggyback" model that would add a fifth game but keep it within the current BCS-bowl lineup: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange.
The Rose recently made it known it wants the Pac-10-Big Ten matchup in every scenario except for the BCS title game (No. 1 vs. No. 2).
That led to dissension by the Big 12 and SEC. The two mega-conferences were suddenly not in favor of the piggyback if the Rose Bowl wasn't incurring its share of "liability". That liability: having to take a non-BCS team in its bowl at some point.
In other words, no major bowl wants Boise State but everyone should share the risk.
Because the Big 12 (Fiesta) and SEC (Sugar) have their own deep ties with anchor bowls, they're wondering why the Rose should get special treatment.
Without saying it outright, the Rose Bowl would like college football to check the calendar. One that dates back to 1902 when the Rose Bowl started and to the mid-1940s when the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions first started playing in the first of 55 consecutive Rose Bowls.
No other bowl can claim that longevity, tradition and clout. The Rose has a major network, conferences encompassing two of the top three markets in the country and, well, some outright arrogance.
"I know other people are saying that (the Rose won't budge) and that's tough," said one source close to the situation.
The Division I-A commissioners are to meet by conference call this week to at least further the discussion that is quickly running up against a hard deadline. ABC begins contract negotiations with the Rose Bowl on Friday. The network and the bowl at least need a template to work off.
But more than three months after presidents mandated a fifth bowl (or game, as it turns out) for the BCS system, the commissioners are not very far off the dime. Faced with that loose deadline of Friday, they will attempt this week the equivalent of what their players do during finals week -- cram.
"I have no idea which one is going to prevail," Dorger said. "Some people are in favor of piggyback, others don't like that for one reason or another. We're sort of waiting to hear what the decisions are."
The highlights of the other models being considered:
- The addition of a fifth BCS bowl. The championship game would then be rotated among the five bowls. The Rose, by the way, is not opposed to that idea.
- The plus-one. Four or five bowls would be played with two teams emerging to play in a championship game the next week. This is the most unlikely scenario unless commissioners can convince presidents that the extra game doesn't resemble a playoff.
- Adding a fifth bowl but not including it in the championship rotation. Only a handful of minor bowls would be interested in becoming a BCS bowl in that scenario.
The problem is not only adding another game, it's incorporating that poison pill -- the non-BCS schools, few of which bring the television ratings, fans or tradition of BCS schools.
"How to integrate the coalition schools, that's the issue," Dorger said. "It would seem to be difficult but we're not going to close any doors. It's going to be very difficult for them to sort it all out."
The Rose realized its new clout (and problems) shortly after the summer of 1998 when BCS co-creator Roy Kramer convinced then-Rose Bowl Committee chairman Harriman Cronk that the Rose Bowl should join the BCS. In reality, the Rose had made the BCS possible. Without the Rose and its partners, any kind of legitimate national championship wasn't possible.
The Rose grudgingly hosted its first BCS title game in 2002 (Miami-Nebraska). More than one Miami source has said in the intervening years that the school was made to feel like a second-class citizen in Pasadena. Nebraska? You can understand that the Huskers were just happy to be there, not having won even its division in the Big 12 that year.
Having to take Oklahoma and Washington State the next year might have been the final straw for the Rose. It lost Iowa and USC to the Orange Bowl. It also lost a lot of Washington State fans to lethargy after Mike Price had committed to Alabama.
It got lucky with its traditional matchup last year. USC clinched a share of the national championship with a victory over Michigan. During the BCS era, the Rose, Fiesta and Sugar have each produced two champions. The Orange gets its second title game after this season.
The current BCS contract expires after the 2006 bowls.
"It's like a Rubik's Cube," Dorger said. "You can turn one side and line it up and it changes the pattern on a different side. I don't know how it's going to all work out."
Dorger does not believe that things will get so rancorous that the BCS will blow itself up. There has always been the chance that the commissioners would become so frustrated that they would go back to the old bowl system. Back then it was usually up to the polls to decide a national champion. No. 1 vs. No. 2 games were a rarity.
While the Bowl Alliance (1992-94) and Bowl Coalition (1995-97) got closer to deciding a more legit national champ, those two models lacked the Rose Bowl -- the one piece needed for total credibility. Or as much credibility as the BCS could provide.
"The BCS raised all boats in terms of rights fees, it would be a significant setback financially for a lot of people to say, 'Let's forget it,'" Dorger said. "People are trying to make it work for everybody."