Rose Bowl agrees to 12-team playoff, ending Big Ten & Pac-12 partnership, making Cal path to Pasadena difficult
If Cal makes it to the Rose Bowl, it's going to be under very different circumstances.
The pursuit of Pasadena is going to be very different in 2022-23. The Big Ten and Pac-12 can no longer count on a trip to the Rose Bowl on January 1st, and Cal will need a ton of outside help to get there.
The Rose Bowl committee acquiesced to the College Football Playoff terms. This will mean a 12-team playoff with four rounds based on final rankings determined by the College Football Playoff.
First round: 5th vs. 12th, 6th vs .11th, 7th vs. 10th, 8th vs. 9th, higher seed hosting a playoff home game. 1-4 seeds earn a bye. This is happening the weekend before Christmas in 2024.
Quarterfinals: Winners take on 1-4 seeds in Big 6 Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach) on a rotating basis. In 2024, it’ll be Fiesta-Peach-Rose-Sugar; in 2025, it’ll be Cotton-Orange-Rose-Sugar. This will stay approximately a New Year’s Day tradition.
Semifinals: Winners of the quarterfinals compete in Big 6 Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach) on a rotating basis. In 2024, it’ll be Cotton-Peach; in 2025, it’ll be Fiesta-Orange.
National Championship Game: The title game is currently slotted for a Monday night, in this case, Martin Luther King Jr. Day the next two years (January 20, 2025 in Atlanta; January 19, 2026 in Miami).
This 12-team playoff will exist in form for 2024-25, and all rights belong to ESPN. Expect other networks to get into a bidding war beyond 2025.
What does that mean for Cal and the Rose Bowl?
It’s going to get a lot weirder for Cal to get there. There might actually be MORE paths, but none of them are easy.
Cal doesn’t necessary have to win the Pac-12 anymore to make the playoff. However, it has gotten harder in the sense that they no longer control their own destiny.
Cal does have more openings to a playoff—they just finish in the top 12. Two Pac-12 teams have generally finished in the Pac-12 in the past—currently three Pac-12 teams (USC, Washington, Utah) are situated there at the moment, although Utah likely falls out with a loss. But they will hope they get lucky enough in seeding to pull an upset or two to get to the Rose Bowl in either a quarterfinal or a semifinal.
And even if Cal were to win the Pac-12, they are at the mercy of whether (a) they finish with a top-4 seed, (b) the Rose Bowl is a quarterfinal. If both those hold true, you’d expect the Rose Bowl to vie hard to take a team like the Bears, but it’s also not clear the Playoff would be inclined to grant that. They will in the end decide the seeding and who goes where.
Basically, the conventional path for Cal is no longer available. The Rose Bowl goal, already hard enough in the Playoff era, requires many extra hoops for the Bears to jump through to get there.
This stinks for a lot of old Blues who will now likely never see Pasadena on January 1st the way their parents and grandparents did. We can only rue the close calls of 1975, 1991, 2004, and 2006, and think of what could’ve been had one or two plays gone differently.
But in other ways, it does reset the canvas a little bit. Cal will have to reset their goal to making the Playoff, which is likely not done expanding either, and is an obtainable goal in the right year with the right team. At this point, I think most Cal fans would take that.
And the chance of Cal making a Rose Bowl isn’t dead. It’ll just be different. Like all of college football is these days.
As a '79 Cal Biz School alum, I agree with others that Cal needs to focus on getting to a winning record AND a winning record against Pac 12 schools before we mourn a new and more circuitous path to the Rose Bowl. Come on people, the last time Cal was in the Rose Bowl was 1959. That is 63 years ago people. And WriteforCalifornia had a statistic that shocked me a few weeks ago - Cal is the only Pac 12 football team to never have a winning Pac 12 conference record since the Pac 12 was created in 2011. Let's be honest, our goals should be competitiveness in the Pac 12 (or whatever Power 5 conference we join) and an overall winning record. Otherwise, Cal should just go a conference like the Mountain West, where we could possibly achieve these two goals. RoseBowlBeforeIDie is not in my foreseeable future.
Not like our athletic department sets goals anyways. With Starkey leaving and losing our white whale, the Rose Bowl, it does feel like we have entered a new era.
My dad also went to Cal and he was a huge fan, who passed his disease onto me. When I was younger, he used to question whether we'd go to a Rose Bowl again, and I just thought that was ridiculous. I just assumed you take enough swings and eventually you walk into one. Welp, his concern was indeed valid. Sorry, pops.