Botched Championship Series
Rose Bowl must stop narrow-minded selection; more
Posted: Thursday January 3, 2008 12:19PM; Updated: Thursday January 3, 2008 3:12PM
For hardcore college football fans, New Year's Day 2008 was essentially upside down.
The Outback, Gator and Capital One bowls -- the games half the nation usually misses due to their hangovers and/or the fact they start so darn early (8 a.m. on the West Coast) -- provided no shortage of excitement. But then when it came time for the purported main events, the Rose and Sugar Bowls, viewers across the country were treated to what was essentially an eight-hour snooze fest.
Many Mailbag readers were understandably miffed. And their anger was almost universally directed at a certain, century-old establishment.
Two BCS games, two blowouts. The two teams that won, Georgia and USC, should have been playing each other in the Rose Bowl. Will the Rose be shamed at all for taking a three-loss team?
After today, if I ever hear someone talk again about how important the Big Ten-Pac-10 tradition is to the Rose Bowl, I'm going to lose my mind. Why in the name of everything holy were the fans denied a USC-Georgia match up?
First off, one important clarification on an issue the above readers, and many others, seem confused about. The way the final BCS standings worked out, there's almost no way the Rose Bowl could have paired USC and Georgia. Yes, the Rose specifically chose Illinois to replace Ohio State, but even had the game decided it wanted Georgia, the Sugar Bowl, by losing LSU, would have had to "consent" to allowing the next-ranked SEC team to play elsewhere. There's no way it would have done that. That's not to say the Rose couldn't have selected a higher-ranked team, most notably Missouri, but Georgia was not a realistic possibility.
That said, it's been interesting to see the wave of public animosity that's sprouted up this bowl season toward the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl, in light of both the unpopular Illinois selection and recent comments by the two conference's commissioners emphasizing their adamant opposition to any change to the current BCS model. I've been working on a detailed story that will be posted Friday regarding the politics behind the proposed plus-one game and the unique positions of the three parties my colleague Austin Murphy recently dubbed the "Axis of Obstruction," but you do have to wonder what effect, if any, will the massive backlash toward this year's game have on the future of the Rose Bowl.
It's pretty amazing when you stop and think about just how much the national perception of that game has changed. For fifty years, the Big Ten-Pac-10 stranglehold on the Rose Bowl was not only accepted, it was widely revered even outside those two regions. Nobody complained when a 6-4-1 UCLA team played in Pasadena because there was no formal mechanism in place for selecting a different matchup. Even after the advent of the BCS, you didn't hear much grumbling on the Rose Bowl's continued emphasis on tradition because for the most part it still produced games people wanted to watch (like last year's USC-Michigan matchup).
But a couple of things have changed in recent years. For one, the Rose Bowl had no choice but to host a few non-Big Ten-Pac-10 matchups, and to the shock of absolutely no one, most proved to be no less compelling. In fact the two games involving Texas in 2005 (against Michigan) and '06 (USC) produced the most exciting Rose Bowls in nearly a decade. Meanwhile, the deeper we get into the BCS era, the public (the younger of whom may not even remember a pre-BCS era) is getting that much further removed from its attachment to the old bowl era in general.
At this point, it's fairly obvious to about 90 percent of the country that the BCS, and even the Rose Bowl itself, would benefit from opening the game up to all conferences. Even I, someone who not only grew up in the Midwest but who experienced first-hand the thrill of being an undergrad when my Big Ten school made its first trip to Pasadena in 47 years, feels that way at this point. Fans of other schools are foaming at the mouth for the chance to play in that game. LSU pre-sold 42,000 tickets to the game last year on the mere possibility of being invited.
But that same "pull" that comes with the aura of the Rose Bowl is exactly why the Big Ten and Pac-10 aren't going to voluntarily give up their dibs on the game. One thing most people don't realize is that the two conferences aren't just "partners" with the game -- they actually hold seats on the board that manages the game. While FOX's deal to televise the other four BCS games is an agreement between the network and the BCS itself, the Big Ten and Pac-10 are formally part of ABC's contract with the Rose Bowl.
So basically, as long as the Big Ten and Pac-10 continue to believe it's in their best interest to remain loyal to the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl is going to remain understandably loyal to them. But the question the Rose Bowl needs to ask itself the next time it finds itself in a situation like this year's is whether loyalty is more important to them than actually staging a good game.
So we've seen this plenty of times over the past few years: Oklahoma highly ranked and highly touted going into a BCS bowl only to be embarrassed. So what is it? Are they under-motivated, overrated or just choke artists?
It's pretty puzzling me to me how the same coach, Bob Stoops, who won a national championship in his second season, won nine of his first 10 games against top-10 foes and to this day has an absolutely sterling overall record has now lost four straight BCS bowl games, three of which his team was widely expected to win, two of which have been absolute blowouts. It's equally puzzling why Oklahoma has not suffered anywhere near the same backlash that Ohio State -- 3-1 in BCS games under Jim Tressel -- has endured for its sole bad showing a year ago.
Obviously, each game had its own unique circumstances, whether it was Jason White's injury against LSU or Boise State's improbable series of trick plays or the absence of four key starters (WR Malcolm Kelly, DT DeMarcus Granger and DBs Lendy Holmes and Reggie Smith) that unquestionably contributed to West Virginia's dismantling of the Sooners Wednesday night.