One of the key questions in the proposed four-team playoff system that could be implemented as soon as 2014 is how the Rose Bowl will remain relevant and important. As the Big Ten and Pac-12 look to preserve that tradition, it could become a major sticking point in the negotiations.
While nothing has been decided, USA Today reports that one of the options BCS commissioners are looking at would continue to send the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions to the Rose Bowl and incorporate that into the playoff. Writes Steve Wieberg:
"In the latter plan, the four highest-ranked teams at the end of the regular season would meet in semifinals unless the Big Ten or Pac-12 champion, or both, were among the top four. Those leagues' teams still would meet in the Rose, and the next highest-ranked team or teams would slide into the semis. The national championship finalists would be selected after those three games."
So instead of a Final Four, you'd have a ... Final Six? A potential of three "semifinal" games? This is much more like the original "plus-one" scenario -- play all the bowls, then pick the two top teams afterward -- than a true four-team playoff.
"The "four team plus" concept could be a means of selling the Pac-12 and long-resistant Big Ten on stepping into the playoff waters," Wieberg writes. "Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, in particular, has expressed concern that a modest, four-team plan would whet appetites and inevitably lead to a larger-scale playoff down the road. At the same time, both leagues are highly protective of the Rose Bowl and their champions' traditional meeting there -- dating to 1947."
As we've written here many times, the Big Ten's desire to protect the Rose Bowl is completely understandable and defensible. There are few better traditions or environments in college sports than New Year's Day in Pasadena.
Yes, the Rose Bowl would undeniably be compromised in some years by a true four-team playoff. Using last year's BCS standings, the Wisconsin-Oregon game would have been unaffected. But there will be years when the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions both qualified for the four-team format, basically creating a battle of second-place teams in the Granddaddy. While that has happened before on at least one side (Illinois in 2008, for example), would fans and teams still view the game as special if it featured runners-up?
You'd like to think the Rose could still maintain a strong place in the sport, and Delany wields a lot of power to make that happen. Still, if we're going to stage a playoff, let's have a playoff. Using the Rose Bowl as an "extra" semifinal or a potential qualifier for the championship game only further muddies the waters of what should be a pretty simple concept.
It's important to note that conference commissioners are undecided on any plan right now, and this is only one option. But it seems like an option created by committees and compromises, and not one that makes things much better.