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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

A Rose (Bowl) By Any Other Name

A Rose Bowl by any other name would smell as sweet, said Shakespeare, who remains the only playwright to reference the changing landscape of college football in verse. The meaning of the quote: Names don’t matter. A rose is a rose; even by any other name it would smell as sweet. You can alter the name, tweak a label – say, remove the automatic or non-automatic qualifier tag, for example – but remember: A rose is just a rose. Nothing’s going to change. Nothing is ever going to change. And it works on the opposite end of the spectrum: You can call a pile of garbage a rose, but a pile of garbage is still a pile of garbage. You can put lipstick on the B.C.S., but the B.C.S. will remain the B.C.S., whether you like it or not.

The haves will still be the haves, but we won’t call them haves: we won’t use the term B.C.S. conference, or automatic qualifier, because the haves have decided to do away with the phrasing.

The have-nots will remain the have-nots. We won’t call them non-B.C.S. conference programs, or non-automatic qualifiers, but they’ll be have-nots. The velvet rope will remain in place. This room, the one reserved for the power conferences, remains off-limits. Remember: A rose is still a rose.

Let the christening of the new Rose Bowl – preliminary discussions had the game called the Champions Bowl – serve as evidence. The postseason event, which will begin in 2014, will pit the champions of the SEC and Big 12 on New Year’s Day, perhaps right after the Rose Bowl. If one of two conferences, or both conferences, send their champion to the four-team playoff, the second-place team will reach the game in their stead.

Those saying that this game already rivals the Rose Bowl for a national draw are slightly off-base: the game won’t touch the Rose Bowl in terms of prestige, and it’s due to prestige that we tune into Pasadena every January, not necessarily for the matchup the game itself presents.

But over time, perhaps, the Champions Bowl – or whatever name it goes by, whether it takes on a sponsor or remains unaffiliated – will hold a dear spot in our collective consciousness. One thing this game will have from the start, however, is a made-for-prime-time pairing.

It would have been Arkansas and Kansas State last winter. Not entirely eye-popping, no. But if the four-team playoff considers only conference champions, the bowl would have taken Alabama – which would have wiped the floor with Kansas State, but that’s another story altogether.

The bowl is evil in its simplicity. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have the Rose Bowl. With the bowl system due for a major shakeup in 2014, the SEC knew it needed to create its own Rose Bowl-like postseason event. All the conference needed was a partner. The Big 12 was an easy pick.

I’d be remiss not to include the following buzz words: revenue, dollars, money, advertising, television, commercials, tie-ins, placement, revenue, money, money and money. Coffers will be filled. Seats may or may not be filled, but that’s not important.

Like the Big Ten and Pac-12, the SEC and Big 12 have joined forces to ensure their own post-B.C.S. survival. In doing so, it’s clear that the line of demarcation that separates the current B.C.S. and non-B.C.S. leagues will continue to exist in perpetuity. This bowl is for the SEC and Big 12 only; all other conferences need not apply.

Heck, this partnership spells trouble for the Big East and the A.C.C., two underachieving leagues that have undeservedly supped at the big-boy table of the B.C.S. since the system’s creation in 1996. With their four major conferences pals already locked into position, both the Big East and A.C.C. can only look to each other as future bowl partners. Neither likes what they see – the A.C.C. hates what it sees, as do its individual pieces, like a Florida State.

And it’s deadly for those teams currently outside the B.C.S. structure. If – and this isn’t such a big if – the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl become our de facto national semifinals in advance of a championship game, the chance that a current non-B.C.S. conference team factors into the national title conversation moves from slim to none – none, unequivocally.

Consider this scenario. A current non-B.C.S. conference team is ranked No. 4 heading into the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl. Alabama, No. 5, beats Texas, No. 6, in the latter game. What’s the chance that the non-B.C.S. conference teams maintains its hold on a spot in the four-team playoff? Zero. None. No committee could save them. The committee would only ask that they not let the door him them on the way out.

Here’s another fear: This new partnership is just the first domino to fall. The chasm between the four new leaders – Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC – and the rest of the F.B.S. provides another impetus for Florida State and Boise State to bolt to the Big 12. The SEC moves to 16 teams, taking Clemson and Louisville; suspend your disbelief in this scenario.

The Pac-12 moves to 16 teams. The Big Ten adds Notre Dame Rutgers and others to get to 16 teams. The SEC is at 16. The Big 12 gets to 16 teams. These 64 teams become college football. The remaining 60 teams are filler, fluff. They become the new F.C.S. – the new have-nots, minus the playoff.

I know the Big 12 and the SEC aren’t knowingly putting this plan into action, and I realize that this is a nightmare scenario, not a likely scenario. But I worry about the future of this game should all of the power, not just most of the power, move firmly into the haves’ camp.

This is a crisis moment for college football. It’s also a look-in-the-mirror moment for those who dictate the game’s ebb and flow: either the power-brokers – a Mike Slive, a Jim Delany, a Larry Scott, a Bob Bowlsby – can cater to their constituents, like a politician aiming for reelection, or they can do what’s best for the game itself.

What’s best for college football is equality. Don’t be scared of that word: it doesn’t mean socialism, and it doesn’t necessarily mean parity. It means that deserving teams get what they deserve; it means that regardless of the size of your stadium, your career winning percentage, your TV contract or the name on the front of your jersey, you get a seat at the table.

The new system, when in place two years down the road, should ensure that each of every program in the F.B.S. can play for the national championship. It must, for the sake of college football itself. Anything less would be a continuation of our current, flawed system.

If the four power conferences continue to consolidate power, continually adding programs in an effort to reel in more and more revenue, the chance that a have-not can break into the title conversation all but disappears. Don’t call it relegation; that word implies movement. There will be no movement: no program will rise, and none will fall.

The powers that be are trying to convince us that things will change. They won’t, if the dominoes continue to fall. You can change a name, tweak a label – add a playoff, create a new bowl system, change a conference, draft a new postseason – but remember: a rose is still a rose. More than a label needs to change.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    Don’t be so sure that the SEC and Big 12 don’t know exactly what they are doing and their intent is in fact the 64 team nightmare you envision. The handwriting is on the wall. Four super conferences. Big 10 and Pac 12 in one semifinal in the Rose Bowl. The SEC and Big 12 in the other semifinal in the Sugar Bowl. National Championship game at Jerry World. Let the musical chairs begin. I count sixteen open chairs. If Florida State bolts to the Big 12, things can and will change rapidly.

  2. [...] reaction to yesterday’s news about the new Big 12-SEC postseason game, Paul Myerberg indulges in some romantic thinking. This is a crisis moment for college football. It’s also a [...]

  3. While I agree that this may be one of the events that, long down the road, we point to as the beginning of a sea change in the sport, I think you may be overdramatizing this a bit by presuming its linkage to a playoff.

    You say:
    “Consider this scenario. A current non-B.C.S. conference team is ranked No. 4 heading into the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl. Alabama, No. 5, beats Texas, No. 6, in the latter game. What’s the chance that the non-B.C.S. conference teams maintains its hold on a spot in the four-team playoff? Zero. None.”

    But that presumes a type of playoff (a true plus-one) that has been ruled out. The playoff field would be set well before the playing of the “Champions Bowl” (ugh, what an awful name – I prefer Magnolia Bowl), and even if No. 5 beat No. 6, the four-team field would be unchanged. It’s a bowl game. We’re not selecting the playoff field after the bowl games.

    I think people are trying to tie this into the playoff structure when the two commissioners have explicitly stated that it won’t be. It’s a new bowl created so the SEC and Big 12 have something of their own to point to when the Big Ten and Pac 12 are griping about the Rose Bowl.

  4. Very good assessment of what lies ahead. Like Burnt Orange, I think the 64 team scenario is the actual plan that is knowingly being put into action.

    One nit: I’m not sure I understand this scenario you proposed:
    “Consider this scenario. A current non-B.C.S. conference team is ranked No. 4 heading into the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl. Alabama, No. 5, beats Texas, No. 6, in the latter game. What’s the chance that the non-B.C.S. conference teams maintains its hold on a spot in the four-team playoff?”

    Wouldn’t the spots in the four team playoff already have been determined and that the Champions Bowl participants already have been excluded? Wouldn’t the No.4 non-BCS team in your scenario already be playing the No.1 team in the national semifinal?

  5. Parker says:

    Burnt Orange

    Why would the 4 Power conferences want the Rose and Champion Bowls to be the defacto semifinals?

    No, they want to earn a ton of money from the Rose and Champion Bowls AND earn a ton MORE money from a 4-team playoff.

    The Rose and Champion Bowl become awesome consolation prizes for any of those 4 conference champs who aren’t among the 4 team playoff. Think Georgia upsetting LSU last year.

    It’s a brilliant stroke. It takes away Delany’s main argument. And it sends a message to the football schools in the ACC + Notre Dame about where the future is headed which will impact future expansion/consolidation of power.

    But I don’t think it’s meant to be a money loser. So why sacrifice the playoff money and make the Rose and Champion Bowl the de facto semifinals? Doesn’t make sense.

  6. Burnt Orange says:

    Good points Parker. Here is my thinking – the SEC is the big dog and has now selected a dance partner to force the Big 10 and Pac 12 to not let the sacred Rose Bowl stand in the way of a playoff and perhaps accelerate the move to super conferences. While the Big 10 can be a tad stuffy at times, it will try to insist that the Rose Bowl be preserved with the Pac 12/ Big 10 tie in. Being a traditionalist, I respect such a stance. What I suggested above is the inevitable compromise and it is effectively an eight team playoff if you include four super conference championship games. It ends January 8 or so. Revenue would still be through the roof.

  7. DMK says:

    All teams beyond the top 64 *are* “filler, fluff.” What sports league in the universe supports 64 viable teams? Most support half that, at best.

    Never mind that the bottom 70 or so (plus FCS, etc., etc.,) suck the life out of higher education in America.

    What about a relegation/death-penalty for teams that can’t pay their own way for three consecutive years?

    Scholarship athletics have reached a breaking point and can only work where those who receive scholarships rank academically, say, in the top quarter of the matriculating class, and/or their programs pay their way.

    Why not?

    We can still watch Bama, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, FSU.

    The rest can stop getting concussions senior year of high school.

  8. Renolutionary says:

    24 team playoff like division 2. 6 teams from 4 regions, top 2 teams get a bye, with regional pollsters deciding who makes the tourney. Imagine that, college football going back to its regional roots…

    Want to keep the bowls, that’s fine. Basketball has it’s NIT, so football can have exhibition games for those left out of the tourney.

  9. Dave says:

    @ DMK –

    But it’s NOT a sports league. The beauty and excitement of college hoops is that any number of teams – not just the blue bloods – can win it all any given year. Sure, your Kentuckys will win more often than not, but you get your Butlers and your VCUs too, to keep in interesting. College football needs to capture some of that or it will devolve into a regional sport.

    And the service academies, BTW, are hardly “sucking the life out of higher education in America.” The three of them probably graduate more football players than any given CONFERENCE.

    I agree that there probably doesn’t need to be 120+ FBS teams, but I wouldn’t cut it off at 64. I’d say 96 is about the right number – 8 conferences, 12 teams.

  10. DMK says:

    I don’t get it.

    Do we want tradition or a playoff? They are not the same thing.

    Tradition is The Rose Bowl and eye-tests. A playoff is a rose is a rose is a rose is a tournament.

    As for the drag that scholarship/recruited athletes put on higher education: it’s been rigorously studied again and again and again (see W.G. Bowen and S.A. Levin and follow their bibliography for the rest). The drag is as true at Texas St. as it is at Harvard as it is at West Point. Many, many thousands of university spots go to people who are accepted through an entirely different admissions scheme than are their peers.

    Perhaps it’s worth it to see Trent Richardson or RGIII. The rest? There are still tickets available for UT-San Antonio vs. South Alabama …

  11. Ezra says:

    Russell Kirk wrote, of his marriage, that on his wedding day he was almost unable to believe his good fortune. TCU fans feel this way– it was only a couple years ago that the Horned Frogs would never have been included in this kind of discussion.

  12. Renolutionary says:

    Tradition is already out the window in college football. Had tradition been something worthy of keeping around ut & a&m would still be playing each other, Kansas and Missouri would still have their border war, and San Diego State would still be in a western oriented conference. Make the bracket, make it legit. Tell the 12PAC and B1G if they want to keep playing each other they can continue to do so, but college football will continue with a meaningful tournament and their game will not merit consideration in the tournament.

    Instead of throwing away tradition piece by piece, let’s can the whole thing, start from scratch, and make a post season that is inclusive of all teams.

  13. Hokieshibe says:

    This is all really much ado about nothing, in my opinion. The Big 12 and SEC champs are probably going to meet in the playoffs anyhow. So who cares what their #2 or 3 teams do? This is just them remaking the cottonbowl with the schools taking control of the scheduling instead of the bowls.
    How is this a gamechanger with regards to any other conferences? How does this alter the 4 team playoff at all? It doesn’t. That ACC is in the same boat it was in last week (not a great one, but certainly not on its death bed). The Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, and SEC are clearly the top 4, with the ACC behind them, and the Big East behind that. This hasn’t suddenly changed in any way.
    The top 4 teams are still going into the playoffs, regardless of this “bowl”, so what does it really matter?

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