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HOW THE ROSE BOWL SOLD IT SOUL ... AND IS PAYING DEARLY FOR IT

Nov. 2, 2006

This is a cautionary tale on the virtue of patience.

It’s a story on how the “Granddaddy of Them All” became just another one of BCS’s little bitches.

And the Rose Bowl submitted willingly, because the poobahs at the Tournament of Roses ran out of patience and opted for the quick bang and buck.

To be sure, when the Rose Bowl struck the deal to join the BCS in 1996, it was concerned about losing prestige among the big bowls. At the time, the last undisputed national champion that played in the Rose Bowl was the 1972 USC team. In the next 24 years, only three Rose Bowl teams went on to win the coaches poll – USC in 1974 and ’78 and Washington in 1991.

But little did the Rose Bowl know that the wheels of fortune was about to turn in its favor – if it could just sit tight and hold the position.

First, Michigan won a share of the 1997 national championship, the last year before the BCS agreement went into effect. The Wolverines really should’ve won the whole thing outright, if wasn’t for some distasteful politicking by Nebraska.

Then, the first three years of the BCS went as if nothing had happened, as far as the Rose Bowl was concerned. It got three mediocre matchups, with no team ranked higher than fourth. And just when the Rose Bowl breathed a sigh of relief, believing it’s made a good deal so that the 2001 national championship will finally be determined on its turf, the first major BCS crisis erupted.

The Rose Bowl got a matchup of No. 1 Miami vs. Nebraska, ranked fourth in both AP and coaches polls, not 1-vs.-2, as it had signed up for. No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Colorado both got bumped in favor of a Cornhusker team that gave up 62 points in their final regular-season game at Colorado. They promptly got trounced by Miami in a game no one really believed was the national title game.

And it got worse from there for the Rose Bowl. This is a list of what the Rose Bowl could’ve had in the last five years versus what it actually got:

            Big Ten vs. Pac-10                               BCS

2006: #1 USC & #3 Penn State           #1 USC vs. #2 Texas

2005: #1 USC & #13 Michigan            #6 Texas vs. #13 Michigan               

2004: #1 USC & #4 Michigan             same

2003: #2 Ohio State & #6 WSU          #6 Washington State vs. #8 Oklahoma

2002: #2 Oregon & #7 Illinois              #1 Miami vs. #4 Nebraska

 

Only last year, when the Rose Bowl had the USC-Texas thriller, did it receive a better deal than it would’ve gotten had it stayed with the Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup. And in 2004, the Rose Bowl got lucky when USC inexplicably dropped to No. 3 in the BCS rankings and ended up winning the AP title in Pasadena. Had the Trojans edged out LSU, they would’ve played Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Rose Bowl with No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 9 Miami.

So the truth is, had the Rose Bowl not made the deal with the devil … uh, BCS, it would’ve had no lower than the second-ranked team in each of the last five years (and make that six, counting this year). It would’ve crowned at least three national champions, if not all five.

In terms of finances, the jury is still out. While the Rose Bowl’s attendance didn’t suffer with the visitors of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas in tow, its TV ratings have begun to slip. Prior to the BCS years, the Rose Bowl almost always had the highest-rated telecasts, regardless of the matchup. But since the BCS deal, the Rose Bowl’s ratings have dipped significantly when teams were not playing for the national championship.

And as an aside, USC became collateral damage in the Rose Bowl’s selling out. The Trojans would’ve won an unprecedented three consecutive consensus national championships, had the Rose Bowl stayed out of the BCS. They wouldn’t had to share in 2003, and, last year they would’ve easily handled Penn State to finish alone in first again.

So all in all, the Rose Bowl’s joining the BCS was hardly a deal made in heaven. And although the TofR folks gave some thought before reupping for four more years, they soon felt like they voted for the wrong guy in the presidential election.

This year, the Rose Bowl is guaranteed to lose the Big Ten champion, also the top-ranked team, to the BCS championship game. It might lose both the Big Ten and Pac-10 champ, if USC stays up in the BCS standings. It could even lose the Big Ten’s top two teams, if Michigan and Ohio State play in a rematch for the national title.

That leaves the Rose Bowl endless possibilities for a matchup – and none nearly as attractive had it just stayed the course. But like everyone else, the Granddaddy will have to pay for making a bad investment decision.


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