Answer: One person would like to try. David Downs, senior vice president of programming at ABC Sports, which holds the rights to the Rose and the Sugar bowls, said last week, "Any good broadcast executive would try to explore that option." However, Downs also acknowledged that "whether we want that game to happen or not, there's only a very slim chance of it happening."
In fact, there's almost no chance. To set up such a game, ABC would have to do more than just make a call to Ohio State and write a fat check to persuade the Rose Bowl to free up the Buckeyes. It would also have to get approval from the Big Ten and the Pac-10, which have contracts with the Rose Bowl. Moreover, dropping Ohio Stale into the Sugar Bowl would have a ripple effect on the other two alliance bowls, the Fiesta and the Orange. Thus, the network would have to get the members of the alliance—the three bowls, plus the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences and Notre Dame—to sign off on the deal. Akron will crack the Top 10 before all of these pieces fall into place.
Consider Ohio State's position: The Buckeyes haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1984. Pasadena represents fulfillment for them. "I think it would be rude of us not to go to the Rose Bowl," says Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger. "I think it would be rude of anyone to ask us not to go." Buckeyes coach John Cooper, whose team still must face Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, says, "Nothing would make me happier than going to the Rose Bowl. I can't see us not going."
Consider the Rose Bowl's position: "Suppose we did let Ohio State play in the Sugar," says Rose Bowl executive director Jack French. "Who plays in our game then? Nobody has presented us with a good reason to do it." The assumption had been that the Rose Bowl would get another hot Big Ten team (read: Northwestern) to replace Ohio State. But with the Wildcats' loss at Penn State last Saturday, no attractive alternative remains in the Big Ten.
Alliance members would be the most averse to the change. According to several alliance sources, a contract may be signed by the end of this week establishing a superalliance that includes the current members plus the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl. "And we're holding our noses while we sign it," says Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne. Members of the original alliance, particularly the Big East and the Big 12, feel that the superalliance, which will begin determining bowl matchups following the 1998 regular season, has been shaped to benefit the alliance newcomers; the original members point out that the Rose Bowl will always host either the matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams (every fourth year, starting in January 1999) or its traditional matchup of Big Ten and Pac-10 champions (as long as neither of those teams is in the national-title game). By contrast, in their nonchampionship years the other three superalliance bowls will serve up a smorgasbord of leftover teams.
Moreover, there is ill will between the original alliance members and ABC because the network announced the super-alliance as a done deal in July, when, in fact, it was still under fierce negotiation.
None of this infighting benefits college football, which has suffered from its inability to determine a national champion on the field. Though there are still several crucial games left to play, this year's most likely outcome will have the Florida-Florida State winner, ranked No. 1, playing Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Ohio State facing off against Arizona State in the Rose. Both are attractive games, but the outcome will leave a void, and the national champion—or champions—will be decided by polls, not bowls.