The Rose Bowl. “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
The slogan once referred to the game’s history. The Rose Bowl was the first bowl game. College football dynasties have been built on the back of Rose Bowl championships; Alabama sings about it in its fight song. For decades the Rose Bowl was THE big game.
The slogan is still a fitting metaphor. Only now, it’s fitting because the game is dull and geriatric. It sits in a corner telling stories about the good ole days while waiting for its social security check, which (for a while) came along every four years in the form of a BCS Championship reprise from the usual Pac-10/Big Ten snore-fest.
Of course, (like social security) that reprise eventually ran out. With the BCS Championship now a separate game, we’re guaranteed an annual New Year’s Day match-up between the two worst major conferences in the country.
The Pac-10/Big Ten tie-in agreement is an insult to what the Rose Bowl once was. It’s as if Carnegie Hall decided to exclusively feature boy bands. It’s as if Saturday Night Live decided to only hire prop comedians. The Rose Bowl was once a historic American institution. Now it’s simply old and boring.
And the Rose Bowl is a cranky old git. Fans justifiably gripe about the BCS, but the BCS was actually lauded as a step in the right direction when it replaced the old Bowl Alliance. Why? Because the Pac-10, Big Ten, and yes, the Rose Bowl had all refused to participate in the previous system.
In hindsight, of course, it’s hard to see why that was a problem. Were it not for the irrational media obsession with USC, after the last few seasons it’s hard to imagine a Pac-10 or Big Ten school playing in a National Championship game over a one-loss SEC or Big 12 team.
Now that the BCS is in place, of course, it’s only made college football fans long for a true playoff. No surprise, the primary objections have come from the Big Ten, and they continue to evoke the Rose Bowl, as if anyone still cared.
There is a certain Twilight-Zone quality to the Big Ten’s commissioner’s statements on the subject. It’s as if he thinks that somehow by making totally ridiculous, borderline surreal statements, he can somehow make them true.
“I'll try to explain the complexity of it,” Delany said when asked about being hauled before Congress to explain why college football can’t have a playoff. “I'll try to explain the importance of the Rose Bowl, the importance of the regular season, the importance of the bowl system.”
Remember the context: Delany is saying the Rose Bowl is more important than having a playoff. More important to who?
No one doubts that the Big Ten finds the Rose Bowl important, considering the performance of its teams against other conferences lately. There’s no way the Big Ten would turn down a yearly pass to a bowl game, even if it does most likely result in yet another thrashing at the hands of USC. But the Big Ten is deluding itself if it thinks the Rose Bowl, especially in its current meaningless state, is worth foregoing a real playoff for anyone else in the country.
Delany’s quote illustrates the problem, though. The Big Ten and the Pac-10 still think the Rose Bowl matters. It’s like having toddlers on tricycles peddling around the Brickyard and calling it the Indianapolis 500. Sure, the name would be the same, but that wouldn’t make it the same race.
So long as the Rose Bowl features the two worst conferences outside the mid-majors, it will continue to be a shadow of its own history. College football fans can only hope that this year’s BCS Championship game will remind the people in charge what it’s like to have a Rose Bowl that matters.