By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) If only Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany could go back in time and erase the last two days.
Oh, what an embarrassment they were.
1) The Big Ten doesn’t want to host a possible national semifinal football game because they would rather play it in a stadium 2,006 miles away.
2) The Big Ten is worried about playing playoff games in the Midwest in late December/early January because of weather concerns, but they would also like to form a partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl, which is played outdoors at Yankee Stadium in New York City during the exact same time of year.
3) The Big Ten wants to protect the value of the regular season, but is abandoning the home-field advantage aspect of the playoffs, which would naturally add value to the regular season.
4) The Big Ten is worried about destroying the bowl system, but it is also proposing a new seven-win requirement to qualify for a bowl game, which will effectively destroy a large number of bowl games.
But if you’ve been following college football over the last 20 years, you shouldn’t be surprised. Remember, this is the NCAA’s most popular sport, and the only one in which the NCAA doesn’t give out the National Championship trophy. What?
For so long, the NCAA suits have been so deep in the pockets of money-hungry bowl executives and in some cases, politicians, that they were too blind to realize how much they could make off a college football playoff. Finally, they’ve woken up, but if the Big Ten athletic directors are any indication, they are going to find a way to mess this up.
The fact that conference commissioners and athletic directors all over the country would rather outsource the valuable semifinal games to their BCS bowl buddies instead of keep all the money in their own stadiums is a strong indication that they still have no idea what they are doing. I used to be naive enough to assume the suits knew what was best for their sport. After all, they hold all these impressive masters and doctorate degrees, so they must be smart, right? Probably, but that doesn’t mean they can run college football properly. Most of them never even played football and almost none of them ever coached college football.
Of course, neither did I, but I don’t have bowl reps dangling money in front of my face and taking me on tropical cruises.
A few weeks ago, before heading to the April BCS meetings in Florida, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez wrote something very revealing. In his weekly column in the UW Athletic Department’s Varsity online magazine, Alvarez expressed concern about the lack of former coaches involved in the meetings.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to think not only like an AD, but a coach, a former coach,” Alvarez wrote. “I don’t believe there will be many people sitting in the room with previous head coaching experience.”
In fact, from what I can tell, Alvarez was the only former coach in the room. All 11 conference commissioners and an athletic director from each conference were invited, including Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma, Jeremy Foley of Florida, Pat Haden of USC, Tom Jurich of Louisville, Dan Radakovich of Georgia Tech, and Jack Swarbrick of independent Notre Dame. While a few of those guys were former players, none of them ever coached a college football team.
That’s right, the future of college football is being decided by a bunch of suits who never ran their own college football program. How ridiculous is that?
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Big Ten is blindly letting the Rose Bowl stand in the way of what’s best for college football.
Now, to be fair, of all the ADs madly in love with the Rose Bowl, Alvarez might need a restraining order. Remember this video from December? As he put it: “The Rose Bowl is like ridiculous.”
And it is. I covered the Rose Bowl two years ago and sat in the stands last year and I’d put it at the top of my list of sporting events I’ve been to. But letting the Rose Bowl stand in the way of what could be college football’s equivalent to the Super Bowl would be even more ridiculous.
The Big Ten is on an all-out crusade to protect their relationship with the Rose Bowl and the crazy thing is that they don’t need to. Tuesday, they conceded their only bargaining chip in the playoff negotiations before even using it.
“For us, it’s critical to keep the Rose Bowl in the equation,” Michigan State AD Mark Hollis told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s historical value and future value to have the Rose Bowl connected to Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten, and the ‘home’ (proposal) takes that out.
“And from the kids’ perspective, the bowl experience is the one thing they want to keep in the equation. With campus sites, it becomes like a regular-season game.”
Just like that, the only conference pushing for home playoff games gave up on the idea and instead said, “Nah, we’d rather play USC in their own backyard than make the Trojans come to East Lansing, Columbus, Madison, or Ann Arbor.”
That’s like the Green Bay Packers saying, “You know what, instead of hosting the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, let’s play them at Superdome.”
First off, the whole “bowl experience” argument is probably moot. Are teams really going to spend an entire week on the road before the semifinals and then spend another week on the road before the championship game? That seems doubtful. The “bowl experience” before the semifinals would almost assuredly be slimmed down. Schools are already complaining about how much money it costs them to send band members, cheerleaders and school entourages down for an entire week before bowl games. There’s no way they’d do that two weeks in row.
Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to treat the semifinals like a normal game (fly in a day or two before the game) and then treat the championship like a bowl game? In that scenario, only two teams qualifying for bowl games — the two semifinal losers — will lose out on the “bowl experience”. Instead, they’ll get to play in a game that actually means something, not an exhibition game — which by the way, is exactly what the Rose Bowl is.
And I still don’t understand how the Big Ten plans on guaranteeing a Pac 12-Big Ten matchup in the Rose Bowl in a four-team playoff. There will be plenty of years in which a school from neither conference finishes in the top four. That explains why many Big Ten athletic directors are in favor of conference champions receiving automatic berths to the final four, but that still doesn’t guarantee that both the Big Ten champion and Pac-12 championship will be among the top four conference champions. And what, is there going to be some rule guaranteeing that if both conferences make the four-team playoff they will automatically play each other in Pasadena? What about seeding?
Could you imagine if Roger Goodell said, “Hey, let’s forget playoff seeding. For now on, the NFC North will automatically play the NFC South and the NFC East will automatically play the NFC West.” What?
The traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl can still exist outside a four-team playoff. In fact, it can give it even more protection than it has now. Why can’t these athletic directors understand that?
Again, there are going to be many years in which the Pac 12 or Big Ten fails to qualify a team for the four-team playoff. In fact, there will be plenty of years in which neither conference will qualify. Instead, they will play each other, where? In the Rose Bowl. And when the conferences do send a team to the playoff, the next-best team will get to go to Pasadena, which will still ensure a damn good matchup.
How would this have looked last season? Well, using the BCS standings to select the top four, Oregon and Wisconsin still would have played each other in the Rose Bowl. And if conference champions were given an automatic berth to the playoff, the Rose Bowl would have either consisted of Stanford-Wisconsin, Stanford-Michigan State or Stanford-Michigan depending on the specifics. All three matchups would have been fantastic.
Oh, and Earth to Jim Delany, the addition of a four-team playoff could guarantee a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup EVERY year. Remember, it was just two years ago when TCU played in Pasadena instead of the Pac-12 runner-up because Oregon went to the BCS National Championship Game. Isolating the Rose Bowl from the playoff rotation would protect the matchup. Meanwhile, the stadium could still host a semifinal or championship game a week later as it does now in years when the BCS Championship comes to Pasadena.
Wait, does that mean that TWO Big Ten teams could still play at the Rose Bowl in the same year? Why, yes it does. Imagine that.
The reality is that the “home or neutral site” debate has nothing to do with the Rose Bowl, even though the Big Ten athletic directors blindly believe it does.
For the life of me, I have no idea why Ohio State would rather play LSU in Superdome than in Columbus. That makes absolutely no sense. They do remember they lost to LSU in the National Championship Game at the Superdome in 2007, right?
No wonder the Big Ten only has one National Championship during the BCS era while the SEC has eight.
“If you took (the Rose Bowl) out of the playoff, it would pretty much destroy the bowl system,” Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said.
No it wouldn’t. As I just proved, it would actually protect the Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup, which is what they claim they want. Separate the Rose Bowl from the playoff, and still use the Rose Bowl as the playoff site as the BCS already does with the championship game.
And oh, by the way, on the same day Osborne delivered this gem, the Big Ten announced that they were proposing a seven-win requirement to qualify for a bowl game, which will, in effect, “destroy” a number of bowl games.
You can’t make this stuff up.
And we haven’t even gotten into the fan-aspect of all this. Does Delany really believe Ohio State fans are going to travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game, then the Rose Bowl for the semifinals and then somewhere else for the championship game? The Buckeyes have a great fan base, but at some point, reality sets in with the economy. Indianapolis is drivable and the championship game is more important than the semifinals. Guess what loses?
The Rose Bowl.
The reality of the situation, however, is that home semifinal games were a longshot even before the Big Ten gave up on the idea. But it was a bargaining chip that the conference had and Delany didn’t even bother to use it.
The harder the SEC had to fight against the idea of playing playoff games in Lincoln, Neb. and Ann Arbor, Mich. the more the conference was going to be perceived as a bunch of wimps who were afraid of playing in the cold. Then, at some point, the Big Ten could have conceded the idea in return for some other advantage (like ensuring cities like Indianapolis, Detroit and Minneapolis would get a crack at the national championship game).
Like I said, if Delany could erase the last two days, he probably would.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.