Rose Bowl: A Great Experience Lost
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 06, 2005

A CHRONICLE WRITER suggested this week that, despite the fact that traditionalists bemoaned the loss of the matchup between the Pac-10 and Big 10 champions, we should all be happy this year because the Rose Bowl gets the BCS championship game between USC and Texas. Otherwise, we’d be “stuck” with USC and No. 3 Penn State.

Sorry, but this traditionalist disagrees. The fact that the two conferences caved to fit into the BCS system remains a disgrace.

The national championship game? For openers, it only comes around once every four years, and it’s no guarantee even then. Four years ago, the Rose Bowl got Miami-Nebraska in a very forgettable game, won by Miami, 37-14. Pac-10 champion Oregon, No. 2 in both polls, was snubbed because the BCS computers liked Nebraska, No. 4 in the polls.

The other three years in the rotation, the Rose Bowl gets the leftovers from the championship game. If Cal had played in the game last year, it would have been more palatable, but, of course, the Bears didn’t.

Most important, though, the Rose Bowl had been much more than a sports event, the game itself combining with the famed Tournament of Roses parade for a very special day, one that had started almost with the dawning of the 20th century. Now, it’s just another game.

The Rose Bowl had also been a very special matchup, one that had started right after World War II, between two conferences that were steeped in history and were similar academically, as well.

There was an added appeal to the game because so many people from Big 10 territory have moved to California, particularly southern California. For those who remained in the midwest, southern California became a logical place to visit when their home state team was in the Rose Bowl. I had a personal reminder of that when Cal last appeared in the Rose Bowl; after the game, my visiting relatives from Iowa gloated over the Hawkeyes’ resounding win.

All that has been cast aside so we can have a national championship game every four years. I don’t think I’ll be wasting any good champagne toasting that.

Not parenthetically, it should also be noted that this whole BCS nonsense has not been kind to west coast football. Oregon got the shaft in 2001. In 2003, USC was left out of the title game though it was No. 1 in both polls, because the computer had the Trojans at No. 3. Last year, Cal was kept out of the Rose Bowl though it was No. 4 nationally going into the final game, which it won, reportedly because coaches in the Texas region downrated the Bears in their voting. This year, Oregon again got left out of the BCS bowl picture although the Ducks’ only defeat was to USC; they’ll go to the same Holiday Bowl where Cal landed last year.

So, tell me again how delighted we should be that the Rose Bowl is hosting the national championship.

THIS BCS bowl scheme is an attempt to placate the national mania to find out who is No. 1 in college football.

It’s not even certain that the “national championship” game decides the top team. Last year, undefeated Auburn was left out of the game, and USC crushed Oklahoma, 55-19. The year before, USC was left out (see above), as LSU defeated Oklahoma, 21-14. Sports Illustrated put out two covers that week; the eastern half of the country saw a cover featuring LSU as No. 1, while the western half saw a cover with USC featured as No. 1.

The BCS plan is a compromise that really pleases nobody. Many fans want a national playoff system, which the university presidents and chancellors will not allow, and good for them. So, this system has been put in.

In fact, the much-maligned polls were probably doing at least as good a job of determining a national champion as this system. The reliance on computers is problematical, to say the least. Remember GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Until margin of victory was eliminated this year, coaches were encouraged to pour it on against weak opponents to bolster their status in the computers. Even without that, there seem to be too much unreliable information being fed into the computers.

And, why is it so important to know who’s No. 1? This is not the NFL, where winning the championship is a logical culmination to the season.

It’s easy to be cynical about college football, but that cynicism disguises the reality: that the overwhelming majority of players will never go on to the NFL. They are playing because they enjoy playing, not to build up their resume for the NFL or to win a national championship.

College football is often more entertaining than the NFL precisely because it is not a professional operation. Players are much more emotional, which can lead to startling results. One recent example shows that vividly: Fresno State came very close to upsetting USC, but that effort so spent the Bulldogs emotionally that they lost their next two games to inferior opponents.

The college games can also be a rallying point for alumni and students, one of the very few events that unites them. The traditional games, like the Big Game, are especially important, but even lesser games – and lesser teams – can be important. Almost every time I go to a Cal home game, I walk around the campus before kickoff, a reminder of my distant undergraduate years there. That brought enjoyment even in the Tom Holmoe years, when the games which followed were almost always dreadful.

I suspect that many of those who are so eager to find a national champion are couch potatoes who have no connection with the schools which are playing. They’re interested only in the athletic competition, not the schools’ traditions or the well-being of the athletes. They should not be allowed to dictate the course of intercollegiate sports.

I’LL CHEERFULLY admit that I’m old school with this approach, but I think it’s a sentiment with which many would agree.

The old bowl system was certainly flawed, but there was much to recommend it. The Rose Bowl had the most tradition, but all the major bowls – Sugar, Orange, Cotton – had their own traditions. They were great experiences, for fans and players alike. In its place, we now have this quasi-professional system which has few adherents.

So, no, I’m not happy that the Rose Bowl this year has a true national championship game. We’ve given up too much to get there.

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