By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the big news of the summer: The College Football Playoff management committee will be meeting this week, and they will be considering a massive expansion of the playoff field. The current 4 team field would rise to 12, with 6 spots automatically going to the 6 highest ranked conference champions and 7 spots for at-large teams.
It’s not official yet, but the plan was devised by commissioners from the SEC, Big-12, and Mountain West plus Notre Dame’s athletic director, and was announced by the college football playoff executive director, which means that the basic layout is almost certainly going to happen and now it’s more a question of logistics. Questions like “what year would this start?” or “Where would these games be played?”
Some day, I would like to think, this change will directly impact Cal. A 12 team playoff wouldn’t have included the Bears from 2005 to the present, when Cal’s highest end-of-regular-season ranking was #20 in 2006, but the odds are that someday Cal will have a team that’s one of the 12 best in the nation and/or good enough to win the Pac-12.
And while the details are yet to be released, that team probably won’t play in the Rose Bowl stadium, and that game won’t particularly resemble The Rose Bowl game. Which is fine.
The advent of the four team playoff in 2014 didn’t kill the traditional Rose Bowl, but the game was certainly wounded. Four times in seven games since the Rose Bowl has featured a Pac-12 vs. Big-10 game, and one of those four featured both the Pac-12 champion and the Big-10 champion.
But in three of those years, the Rose Bowl was part of the playoff semi-final rotation. And with a 12 team playoff featuring 11 total games, the Rose Bowl will almost assuredly be part of the college football playoff site rotation every season. How are game assignments likely to be handled? Here’s the current proposal:
The working group didn't include which bowls might be a part of the CFP in the future, but it did recommend that if "traditional bowls" host games, teams would be assigned to their traditional bowls for quarterfinal games with the priority going to the higher-seeded team.
In other words, the Rose Bowl would probably be a quarterfinal game most years, hosted by the highest ranked Pac-12 or Big-10 team that made the playoffs, facing whichever random team advances out of the first round held at home stadiums. Or, worse, the Rose Bowl would host a semi-final game or the actual national championship, meaning Cal would have to win 1 to 3 games to get there.
So the door hasn’t completely closed on the idea of Cal playing a post-season game in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. However, it would almost certainly require that Cal win the Pac-12 AND get a top 4 seed AND have a higher ranking than the best team in the Big-10, AND EVEN THEN the game would be against whichever random team advances from the play in round. Considering that Cal hasn’t even achieved the first part of this equation and won the damned conference, I won’t be holding my breath to see Cal in the Rose Bowl.
A follow up question: if all of this lined up and Cal found themselves playing in the playoffs in the venue named the Rose Bowl, would you as a fan consider that THE Rose Bowl?
Way back when the first playoff proposals were getting serious consideration by college football decision makers, more than NINE years ago, I wrote the following:
Cal fans, I think it might be time to change our mantra. I know, this is like asking cookie monster to give up the chocolate chip, like asking USC not to cheat, like asking Stanford fans to be. It’s not easy to change a part of our fandom that seems so immutably fundamental. But for so long we’ve been focused on the reward rather than the accomplishment. For decades Cal would go to the Rose Bowl if they won the conference. The Rose Bowl part may be shifting, but the conference part isn’t. Perhaps rather than ‘Rose Bowl before I die,’ the phrase should become ‘Win the Pac-12 before I die."
Far be it from me to tell you what to think and desire as a fan. Cal as Pac-12 champs facing the Big-10 champs in Pasadena sounds delightful to me, but not so delightful that I’ll refuse to consider other post-season rewards. Maybe I lack reverence for the Rose Bowl because I associate the venue more with inept UCLA teams than I do with a great New Year’s day bowl. Maybe it’s because my experiences actually watching games in Pasadena are comically lame compared to what I understand is a wonderful fan experience when it’s actually THE Rose Bowl game.
But ultimately what moves the scales is that I also think that a playoff spot would be great. Playing a playoff game against an SEC power in the Sugar Bowl would be a thrill. Playing Texas in the Cotton Bowl would be equal parts awesome and anxiety-inducing. Hosting any team in the nation in Berkeley for a first round playoff game would be more unique and exciting than any game I’ve experienced as a Cal fan.
The Rose Bowl is important because fans decided it was important. The forces of college football have irretrievably changed the landscape of the sport such that the Rose Bowl of our popular imagination doesn’t really exist any more. You can choose to find that distressing and unsatisfactory, or you can just as easily decide that a different reward is important too.
Win the Pac-12 before I die.