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Everything's Coming Up Roses: A Compromise with the Granddaddy of 'Em All

Earlier in the week, before I brought down the wrath of the blogosphere on my head, I shared my thoughts on the Rose Bowl. The gist of my position was this: Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen is right to want to preserve the tradition of the Granddaddy of 'Em All.

Naturally, since the future of the Tournament of Roses has significant implications for the future of the Bowl Championship Series and the prospects for a Division I-A college football playoff, opinions upon the subject are diverse and strongly held. Three such opinions have been expressed by my SB Nation colleagues at Addicted to Quack, Carolina March, and Ramblin' Racket.

ATQ's Dave, responding to the selfsame comments by Hansen of which I wrote in support, argued against the prospect of Pac-10 expansion by invoking a particularly traditionalist argument:

One of the great things about college sports is that they are so regional. The Pac-10 is the west coast league, the Big-10 is the midwest league, the SEC is the southern league, etc. Things have been this way for 100 years. . . .

In spite of the horrendous TV contract, the playoff gaffe, the Pac-10 tournament perennially being in LA, and other boneheaded Pac-10 decisions, the one they have consistently gotten right is fighting the urge to expand. We have the perfect system to determine a true conference champion in both football and basketball. Every team plays every other team the same number of times. Its a relatively easy concept, yet one that the other leagues fail to understand. But if the Big Ten goes to 12 teams and has a championship game, that leaves the Pac-10 as the only BCS holdout (well, the Big East, but they don't really count). Lets be honest with ourselves. The conference championship game is completely unnecessary in the Pac-10, because every team plays every other team.

Naturally, the argument in favor of regional diversity---to let the Pac-10 be the Pac-10 and to let the S.E.C. be the S.E.C., each with its own quirky and familiar folkways---is one that appeals to me a great deal. Instead of the dull homogeneity of the N.F.L., let's have the distinctiveness of unique conferences.

Carolina March's TH, who doubted whether the Rose Bowl's venerable tradition had produced that much in the way of compelling football, responded specifically to my defense of the system that produced the 1983 postseason. TH takes the view that current conference composition renders a repeat of 1983 impossible.

It is no longer the case, for instance, that an undefeated Nebraska squad could go into the Orange Bowl ranked No. 1 and an undefeated Texas team could go into the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 2. The Southwest Conference has folded, the Big Eight is now the Big 12, and, were the Cornhuskers and the Longhorns to go unbeaten through the regular season, they would meet in the conference championship game.

Obviously, TH is correct upon this point. While I don't think the impossibility of a recurrence of my specific example undermines my larger point---built-in conference tie-ins of the Big Ten and the Pac-10 to the Rose Bowl, the Big 12 champion to the Orange Bowl, and the S.E.C. to the Sugar Bowl still could produce some sensational matchups, even without a single designated national championship game---there is much merit in TH's conclusion:

The end result of the modern 1983? Nebraska presumably destroys West Virginia, taking the national championship. Miami and Auburn play a good game for second place. UCLA still stomps Illinois, and nobody cares, and Brigham Young and East Carolina round out your New Year's snoozefest.

Look, it's not like the conference commisioners sat down one day in the '90's and said, "We've got a great thing going here with conference tie-ins- let's destroy it!" A system that's passable with six strong, eight-team conferences and an incredible lineup of independents to pit them against (Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida State, BYU, Boston College, most of the Big East...) just doesn't work in an era of mega-conferences, conference championships, and bowl tie-ins that extend all the way down the line.

That is, as I say, a bit strong . . . but only a bit.

This brings us to Ramblin' Racket's Jeff, who concedes my point about the validity of the Pac-10's claim on an annual Rose Bowl berth but calls the Big Ten to account for its substantially weaker Pasadena tradition. Argues Jeff:

Clearly, the Rose Bowl's "tradition" with the Big-10 was manufactured out of nowhere. When you take into account that Georgia Tech and Tulane were both SEC members when they played in the Rose, the Southeastern Conference clearly had the most legitimate claim to a Rose bid of any conference. When the Tournament of Roses began, the idea was to match the best team from the east with the best team from the west; what one might have called at the time a "National Champion-ship." People wanted then exactly what they want now: to know who's best. At the time the best way to figure that out was East vs. West. . . .

Why this changed, from inviting the (nominal) best of the east, to inviting the Big 10 champions no matter what, I don't know. (Desire to play against an academically prestigious conference? likely.) The sad fact was it blackballed everyone else from the Granddaddy of Them All. . . .

Yes, the Big 10's 50-plus years of tradition with the Rose Bowl matter, but I think it's unfortunate that the formal arrangement was established.

While I would not go quite as far as Jeff and TH, there is a great deal of validity to what they are saying and I am persuaded by their points that a happy medium is possible.

The Pac-10's Rose Bowl tradition obviously represents the strongest connection between a conference and a postseason outing in the history of the sport. Although not as ancient, the bonds uniting the S.E.C. with the Sugar Bowl and the Big 12 (at least in its earlier incarnation) with the Orange Bowl have withstood the test of time, as well.

The A.C.C. and the Big East, by contrast, have no similarly venerable tradition with a single specific bowl game. As Jeff has demonstrated, the Big Ten's Rose Bowl heritage is a relatively recent addition to the history of the Granddaddy of 'Em All.

The solution is simple. Forget about having a single prearranged, foreordained national championship game. Send the Big 12 champion to the Orange Bowl, the Pac-10 champion to the Rose Bowl, and the S.E.C. champion to the Sugar Bowl every year. Let the other five B.C.S. berths (both spots in the Fiesta Bowl and the other bids to the Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls) be selected in rotation from among the A.C.C., Big East, and Big Ten champions and sufficiently highly-ranked major conference runners-up, independents, or non-B.C.S. league champs.

The Pac-10 gets to preserve its unique regional Rose Bowl tradition, which understandably means so much to folks on the West Coast. The three truly historic conference bowl tie-ins are retained, making a repeat of 1983 at least theoretically possible, while teams from outside the Midwest get the chance to play in Pasadena and the availability of at least one at-large berth in every major bowl game heightens the likelihood of a quality matchup in every significant postseason tilt. College football fans get to go back to spending New Year's Day watching all of the historic bowl games, more than one of which might matter to the national championship in any given year and all of which will represent good games that are worth watching.

It's a win-win situation. Although this was not the conclusion at which any one of them was driving, Dave, Jeff, and TH have convinced me. The solution to the Rose Bowl conundrum is Solomonic: instead of either preserving a hidebound modern heritage that always pits the same two conferences and only those conferences in Pasadena or foolishly jettisoning a century of history in the service of latter-day fashion that reads better than it would live, college football should split the baby by honoring much the better half of the Rose Bowl's tradition while freeing up the other berth in the Granddaddy of 'Em All so that the Tournament of Roses can go back to being all that it originally was.

Go 'Dawgs!