In 30-some years of covering big-boy college football, I've never gotten my head around the Big Ten's fascination with the Rose Bowl.
I get that “The Granddaddy of Them All” — a nickname from it being the oldest bowl — is an iconic sports property (code language for “huge moneymaker”). I get that the setting is cool and the late-afternoon southern California views are gorgeous.
I also know from covering games at the Rose Bowl in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that significant parts of the physical plant are like a decayed factory. It's nice to see a $152 million renovation under way, yet far more is needed.
My point is that the Big Ten's Rose Bowl glorification is more brag than fact.
It's not the nicest stadium. It's rarely the biggest game. The traffic stinks. It's like, “If I tell everyone the Rose Bowl is extra special, maybe folks will believe it.”
The impression left is that Big Ten football programs sell the Rose Bowl as their ultimate goal because they know they aren't good enough to play for national championships very often.
Now that I cover the Big Ten, that sentence will earn me some dirty looks in press boxes across the league.
But I'm hardly alone in that opinion. In discussions with colleagues nationally over the years, the conclusion has been that hyping the Rose Bowl is the Big Ten's crutch against criticism for producing good but not championship results.
Now, that crutch is about to be kicked away.
Starting with the 2014 season, it appears a final four is coming to college football. And the big-name bowls, whether they like it or not, are going to see their star power diminished as focus shifts to a playoff.
This isn't good news for the Big Ten, which doesn't like its spotty record as a title threat examined.
You can't sell yourself as an elite football league if you don't play for national titles at least semi-regularly. And you can't win national titles if you don't qualify for the game.
The hard truth is the Big Ten has stumbled badly in terms of reaching the top four since the Bowl Championship Series began in 1998.
In that 14-year span, only Ohio State has won a national title (2002), and that took a controversial penalty in overtime against Miami. Also in that time, only Ohio State has reached another title game (2006, 2007).
Since the BCS began, just two other Big Ten schools would have qualified for a final four using the BCS standings — Michigan twice (No. 4 in 2003, No. 3 in 2006) and Penn State (No. 3 in 2005). Ohio State also would have made it at No. 4 in 1998.
No one bangs the drum louder for the Rose Bowl than Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. But he damaged his reputation as perhaps the smartest man in college athletics by being in on a “Four Teams Plus” proposal.
That idea would have used the Rose Bowl as an oxymoronic “third semifinal,” allowing the Big Ten and Pac-12 to still meet in that game.
We all understand buttering the bread of those who feed us, but Delany stretched ridiculously far on that one in trying to find the Big Ten a soft landing spot. The four-plus proposal rightfully was hooted down.
The Big Ten has a wonderful array of tools with which to build championship teams: big budgets, strong tradition, giant alumni bases, massive stadiums, cutting-edge facilities, excellent coaches and a TV network that creates an indescribable recruiting advantage.
What seems to be missing is a championship mind-set.
Too many times last season, us Big Ten rookies couldn't fathom how title-contending teams could lose a meaningful game and show so little remorse or emotion. Two that come immediately to mind were Michigan State at Nebraska and Michigan at Iowa
The reaction seemed to be “ho hum, we can still win the division and get the Rose Bowl.”
Sorry, but if you lower the bar far enough, you'll eventually stumble over it. That's why it's time for Big Ten teams to aim national title-high instead of settling for the Rose, which by any other name is still a consolation game.
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