BCS Controversy: No, the Big Ten and Pac-12 Should Not Abandon the BCS (Again)
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The Wall Street Journal recently published an editorial by Rachel Bachman, who argues quite forcefully that the Rose Bowl is so important to college football, the Big Ten and Pac-12 need to "secede" (her word, not ours) from college football in order to keep sending their top teams to Pasadena every year. Seriously.
Bachman's rationale is as follows, though you truly must read the whole thing:
The schools of the Big Ten and Pac-12, whose shared history dates to the early 20th century, need to push away from this diabolical poker table, hail a pedicab for two, make their way to the airport and book a flight to Pasadena, Calif. They need to renew their vows and pledge themselves to serve the greater glory of the best thing about college football: the Rose Bowl.
Proponents say a four-team playoff is the perfect size. They argue it would barely disturb the sport's existing structure, probably adding just one game for two teams at season's end.
What they don't mention is that a playoff would diminish the value of the Rose Bowl, which has long been college football's most prized asset. Since it was launched in 1902 to promote tourism, the game has enjoyed a golden history. It was the first college-football game aired on national TV in 1952 and, 10 years later, the first broadcast in color.
My colleague Barrett Sallee slapped his "most prized asset" argument away here. Sallee argues correctly that the Rose Bowl was college football's most prized asset, but those days are long gone. Whether the game was the first broadcast in color 50 years ago has precisely zero bearing on whether it should be protected in perpetuity.
There is a history lesson that Bachman would be wise to learn from, but it comes three whole decades after that groundbreaking color telecast.
Until 1991, of course, there was no championship system, only the mythical national championship. Bowls and polls. It sucked. But the BCS as we know it (or knew it up through this past postseason) didn't just appear out of thin air in 1992.
At first there was the Bowl Coalition, and you'll never guess which conferences refused to participate: the Big Ten and Pac-10.
Should the Rose Bowl conferences opt out of the BCS?
The resultant arrangement was a mess; conference champions, runners-up and Notre Dame were all slotted into mostly predetermined bowl slots. Yes, and Notre Dame, at all costs; in 1994, the last year of the Alliance, Notre Dame made the Fiesta Bowl at 6-4-1, where it was smacked by an 11-win Colorado team*.
This arrangement had a directly negative effect on the Big Ten; in 1994, Penn State was undefeated and untied. It was probably the best Penn State team in Joe Paterno's history. Nebraska was also undefeated and untied that season. The nation wanted to see the two teams play, and had Penn State not joined the Big Ten (and its exclusive TV deal with the Rose Bowl) the previous year, No. 2 Penn State and No. 1 Nebraska would have played for the national title.
What actually happened was Penn State was forced to play a tough-but-wholly-over-matched Oregon team in the Rose Bowl, while Nebraska rallied to beat No. 3 Miami 24-17 for the de jure national championship. Penn State fans will forever feel wronged by that slight, as they should.
But they should feel wronged by the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl for denying the Nittany Lions the opportunity to play for the National Championship, not by pollsters who had no choice but to keep Nebraska ranked first in the nation.
The Bowl Coalition collapsed after the 1994 season, when the SWC dissolved and people gradually realized that Notre Dame wasn't a lock for a Top 10 season every year (to say the least). It was replaced by a Bowl Alliance that still kowtowed to the exclusivity of the Rose Bowl, but at least let Big Ten runners-up into one of the four major bowls.
That, too, was a mistake, and one that cost the Big Ten dearly in the postseason. In 1997, Michigan came into the postseason ranked atop both polls. Nebraska was more than worthy as an opponent; like Michigan, the Cornhuskers were undefeated and had demolished their opposition. Michigan's defense was giving up fewer than 10 points per game, and Nebraska was scoring 47 points per game. It was, again, a matchup between the clear top two teams in the nation.
Instead, the Big Ten was again beholden to the Rose Bowl and its TV deal with ABC, so Michigan was forced to play eighth-ranked Washington State instead, while Nebraska kicked around third-ranked Tennessee. Michigan took home the AP title while Nebraska won the coaches' poll, and nobody was better off for it.
Again, this was the doing of the Rose Bowl, its conferences, and its TV deal. Not anybody else. All in the name of tradition.
If Bachman seriously wants to send fans back down that road, I don't know what to tell her, except that she doesn't have the fans' best interests in mind (I won't echo Mike Felder's sentiments, which are basically "do it then, quitters"). We've already seen what happens when the Big Ten and Pac-12 go down this road. It sucks.
It's not 1962 anymore. All the bowl games are in color. Fans want to see all the teams be eligible for the same postseason. Even Big Ten and Pac-12 fans want that. If the Rose Bowl doesn't like that, then it's standing on the wrong side of history in favor of its own bank account. And if that's the case, it deserves to die the same quiet death that other antiquated relics of history have.
*Interesting side note: Notre Dame decided to make a cheap appeal to history in this game by wearing green uniforms for the first time in a decade. Obviously, that didn't help. In the end, their cheap appeal to history was that and nothing more.
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