Progress in college football comes at the expense of certain traditions, among them the significance of bowl games. The Rose Bowl—college football's first postseason showcase—is no exception.
Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas and wide receiver Josh Huff caused a stir last week when the two made comments downplaying the significance of the Rose Bowl. Head coach Mark Helfrich distanced the program from those comments on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference, saying they "don't represent anyone" else at Oregon.
While Huff and Thomas could have expressed differently their frustration at not playing for a national championship—"whatever" may not have been the best word choice for describing the Granddaddy of 'Em All—their sentiment has merit. The Rose Bowl was once the highest benchmark of success a team from the conference that has become the Pac-12 could reach, aside from the national championship.
Of course, the road to the national championship went directly through Pasadena, Calif., as was the case in the last postseason before the BCS was introduced. Michigan and Washington State gave the traditional Rose Bowl a fitting farewell in January 1998. Their 21-16 showdown is one of those moments indicative of the pageantry and history detractors expect Huff and Thomas to acknowledge.
Helfrich called Thomas and Huff's comments "part ignorance" and "part outside expectations." The latter, outside expectations, alludes to Oregon's national championship aspirations. Those Ducks were striving to be their absolute best, which meant playing for the BCS championship, not the Rose Bowl championship.
The Rose Bowl wasn't treated as a consolation prize before the BCS, because it wasn't one.
Ironic as it may be given the years of protest, the BCS was formed to crown a true college football champion. The concept was simple enough: Pair No. 1 and No. 2 in the same bowl at season's end, regardless of conference affiliation.
Simple in theory, yes. In practice, the BCS was flawed from the outset. The Rose Bowl was integral in exposing one of the system's flaws when, in 2003, USC won a share of the national championship with its performance there.
The Rose Bowl has hosted two national championship games in the BCS era, one of which was among the greatest college football games ever played. Texas vs. USC in January 2006 was the last time the Rose Bowl Game would factor into the national championship. The Rose Bowl Stadium is still involved, including this year. But the football tradition that bears its name? No longer.
That additional, fifth game added to the BCS rotation in the 2006 season did so much more to diminish the Rose Bowl's value than anything two youngsters at Oregon said off the cuff.
In its current incarnation, none of the traditional bowl games matter in deciding a national champion. The host venues of the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls are involved, sure. But the actual bowls no longer matter in the national championship race.
The College Football Playoff will be more effective for crowning a national champion than the BCS, but rest assured it won't go unchanged. The Football Championship Subdivision playoff, which kicks off this week, grew from 20 teams to 24 this year. The tournament is 50 percent larger than it was just four years ago.
Calls for the College Football Playoff to expand have already started, and the inaugural edition is still more than a year away. As that happens, the Rose Bowl will be less like the Rose Bowl, and more like the interchangeable regional final locales in the NCAA basketball tournament.
As for those who wanted Thomas to show the Rose Bowl's history more deference, remember that he owns a piece of it with his 91-yard touchdown rush in the 2012 edition against Wisconsin.