In Full Bloom

By Kyle Rowland on July 3, 2012 at 10:00a
A backdrop unlike any other.

What began 110 years ago as an exhibition between eastern and western football powers at Tournament Park in Pasadena, Calif., has morphed into an American institution and one of the premier annual sporting events in the world: the Rose Bowl.

Since the first game in 1902, though, the Rose Bowl Game has been a part of college football’s many changes. The first game, between Michigan and Stanford, ended after the third quarter when Stanford, trailing 49-0, quit. The game wouldn’t be played for another 15 years due to the dangers of the game. A century later, history is attempting to repeat itself. Instead of hosting a football game, the Tournament of Roses held chariot races, ostrich races and other forms of entertainment.

Appropriately the first game featured Big Ten and Pac-12 schools. Starting with the 1947 edition of “The “Granddaddy of Them All,” teams representing the Big Ten and Pac-12 would meet in 54 consecutive Rose Bowls. The close relationship between all three entities is rarely seen in today’s world of sports and business, where loyalty is non-existent. It is now one of the longest-standing associations in any walk of life.

The first non-Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup came at the hands of the Bowl Championship Series in 2002. Not only did the dreaded BCS cause angst when it came to the national championship game, it also ruined one of the grandest traditions in all of sports.

Now, with the formation of a four-team playoff, beginning with the 2014 regular season, more alterations to the Rose Bowl are on the horizon. And this time they could be death blows.

The Rose Bowl became a central focus of the discussions, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott ensured the game had a voice and would not be excluded. Their anxieties were eased when the playoff stayed a part of the bowl system, but the changes could be devastating, akin to removing the smile from the Mona Lisa. The years the Rose Bowl isn’t a semifinal host guarantees Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups. However, other years are unprotected.

“I think the commissioners found a really good balance for preserving the bowl system and giving the public what they wanted,” Rose Bowl chief administrative officer Kevin Ash told Eleven Warriors. “We’re excited in regards to the future and where it might go. We know change is inevitable, and we have to adapt and move forward with college football.

Delany has been vocal in his support of the Rose Bowl.

“I think we did a pretty good job with the BCS. A lot of people thought we would become irrelevant in the postseason and not be as important we once were, and I think our brand today is as exciting as it’s ever been. We have two great conferences and a great game and an opportunity for some flexibility in the postseason, and I think it’s going to be a great thing.”

With six bowls taking part in the four-team playoff and a 12-year contract in place, the math tells you each bowl will host a semifinal four separate years. Simple math doesn’t apply to college athletics, though. Adam Rittenberg, of, reported last week that the Rose Bowl may host less frequently than the other games in an effort to keep its tri-party relationship alive.

“There are a lot of details that need worked out right now,” Ash said. “I think the commissioners are trying to work out some of the details. We really haven’t gotten to that stage yet.”

The SEC and Big XII were two of the loudest voices in the room against having a playoff played in existing bowls. Both conferences and presidents and athletics directors affiliated with them were outspoken in their criticism of the Big Ten and Pac-12’s attachment with the Rose Bowl.

“We have two great conferences,” Ash said. “I think the Pac-12 and the Big Ten produce some of the best football in this country, and I think it’s wonderful the conferences have an opportunity to play in the semifinals for the championship game. I think we’re going to have a great game here. It’s going to be a Pac-12-Big Ten game, and it’s going to be exciting. We are going to have some great games and be fine moving forward.”

Sunset in Pasadena.

Like Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl will always garner attention and not lose a shed of its relevancy. And like Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl is misunderstood among today’s youth. Teenagers don’t know the Rose Bowl like those who grew up during the game’s heyday. Sure, they’ve heard stories about the game’s importance and tradition, but the national championship game is the game that carries the most stature now.

For those who have experienced the pageantry of the Rose Bowl and watched the sunset in the Arroyo Seco, the Rose Bowl carries more meaning. Chances are if you grew up in the Midwest or on the West Coast, you dreamed of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses. On New Year’s Day, the family was gathered around the TV in the living room, tuned into the Rose Parade and at 5 Eastern, 2 Pacific, the Rose Bowl Game kicked off. Time stood still.

“Tradition and history are very important,” Ash said. “I’ve appreciated that the older I’ve gotten. In all the talks about the BCS, because we are so close to our commissioners, we’ve been part of those discussions and even the media has been talking about change, but then they’re equally talking about the tradition and the history and how important that is.

“The Rose Bowl is part of the fabric of America. It’s who we are. It’s really important to people, and I think history is important to people. I think the semifinals and the championship game are important to evolution. But I think there is always going to be a very important role for the history and tradition of the Rose Bowl Game. I think it will always move forward and be important to people because of the longevity, the history and the tradition. People love that.”

Ohio State has been a part of that history 14 times, with the Buckeyes’ last appearance coming after the 2009 regular season. Since 1985, Ohio State has only appeared in two Rose Bowls, that number would be much higher, though, if the BCS didn’t exist. The Buckeyes have appeared in the national championship game three times during the BCS era. The most famous OSU no-show, however, came in 1962, when the faculty voted not to take part in the Rose Bowl, citing football’s popularity on campus as the reason for the snub. It caused riots and gave OSU a black eye.

Ohio State won the 1968 national title at the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State’s latest black eye has assured that they won’t be playing in the Rose Bowl this coming season – or any bowl for that matter. But Urban Meyer’s hiring and subsequent recruiting haul has reinvigorated the Ohio State fan base. The 2013 national championship is on the mind of many, and it just so happens that the Rose Bowl is hosting the title game that season.

In the final year of the BCS, the man who has mastered the system has an opportunity to turn the lights out on one of college football’s most controversial chapters with yet another signature victory. The following year the Rose Bowl may or may not be a semifinal playoff host. Regardless, change will be evident all around the game. But as things take on a new identity, so much remains the same.

“The parade will not change,” Ash said. “It will be the same lineup, with the parade segueing into the game.

“It’s a part of who we are – an American celebration.”


Comments Show All Comments

painterlad's picture

I am a traditionalist to the hilt. I am 46, which means I grew up with the pageantry of the Rose Bowl. In my younger days going to Pasedena meant you won the Big Ten, which means you most likely beat Michigan as well. But now the Rose has become second fiddle since we are all obsessed with having a non-mythical national championship. Even though the old bowl system would mean we wouldn't have won the 02 title, I think we would be better off using the old system of bowls and votes. And yes, I know that makes me a very small minority.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

pcon258's picture

i am totally in favor of the 4-team playoff system and im not a huge fan of the existing bowl system. BUT i will one day be going to a rose bowl game that involves osu. save the national championship game, it might be the only bowl game that i would be willing to shell out money for travel and lodging for. it is the quintessential college football bowl game, and maligned as it may be, im happy that it will retain some shred of its former glory under the new system

buckeyeEddie27's picture

I got a chill down my spine when I read The Rose Bowl is hosting the title game for '13.  
please oh please lord let us go. 

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

rdubs's picture

I was at the most recent Oregon Rose Bowl game.  When the hills lit up with a scarlet hue as the sun set and the O-H-I-O chant resounded from all 4 corners of the stadium (even the section designated for the Ducks), it was as if fate had intervened and there was no way we would lose that game.  By far my favorite sports fan experience and one that I doubt will be surpassed by a playoff of any form.

thatlillefty's picture

"The first game, between Michigan and Stanford, ended after the third quarter when Stanford, trailing 49-0, quit."
as much as i hate that school up north, i'll give them props for that

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

The Granddaddy of Them All is still one of the premiere bowl games regardless of whether it will be played between the PAC-12 and B1G. I always thought it was kinda unfair for the B1G teams because it was almost a home game for the PAC-12 teams that played. Maybe this new format will level the playing field a bit more and make the game better. Whether some people want to admit it or not, change can be good. The Rose Bowl will still be played annually. It just may not be between the two traditional conferences that once competed in it...

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

Catch 5's picture

You bring up a really good point.  I can't count how many times I've read how unfair the SEC's recent title runs are since many of them were "home games", but Delany and the B10 will fight like hell to keep their exclusive representation in the Rose, which is as much or more a home game for the P12 teams. 
The truth is that most of the country doesn't really care about the Rose Bowl - because it has restricted itself to these two conferences.  I never understood as a kid why it got the attention it does when none of the teams we ever saw were ever playing in it (didn't get a lot of B10 games in the South in the early 80's) - and why dioes Alabama's fight song mention it when they couldn't ever play there? 
They ought to set the semi's by who the higher ranked teams are.  If a B10 or P12 team is ranked 1 or 2, let them play their semi round at the Rose, regardless of the year - that way if an SEC, B12, or ACC team were ranked opposite them, they would then get to play there.  In years where the B10 and P12 champs weren't ranked in the top 2, the Rose would invite per usual.  That keeps the current deal with the Rose, makes it a very meaningfull game to aspire to, while also slightly opening it up to the rest of the country in a very meaningful way.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

gravey's picture

I'm a traditionalist as well.  I could really care less about the new system because I firmly believe it will undermine, not make better, the most exciting sport.   Letting Texas play in that Rose Bowl was like having AT&T sponsor script Ohio.  It was ugly.  I was at Burbank airport watching them roll off planes; not proper midwesterners at all.  I would have puked had a seen TCU fans doing the same.
The Big10 and the Pac12 play by the same general set of rules academically.  After teaching college in the Deep South, I'm certain they don't have the same set of restrictions (beyond oversigning).
Baseball, NASCAR and Indy have all messed around with tradition so much that they've suffered for it.  

Bucksfan's picture

I respect the tradition immensely.  That's why I broke the bank to see Ohio State and Oregon in Jan 2010, an old-school Big Ten champ vs. Pac-10 champ.  I knew that it was possible that a playoff was on the horizon, or at the very least adding a B1G championship game into the mix was going to make it that much harder for Ohio State to make it to the Rose Bowl.  I knew it might be one of the last times Ohio State as the outright B1G champ plays the outright Pac-12 champ in the Bowl least, one of the last times I can go without any family obligations.
When it comes around, you GO!  If you missed it, I pity you.  It might be another 20 years before you get that matchup again.  Or it could be 2014, who knows?
I had a back and forth on a post earlier this week about this.  I feel that a playoff is better for everyone.  It's better for the B1G's national title hopes, it's better for the country, and it's better for the Rose Bowl in my opinion.  Yes, a B1G vs. Pac-12 Rose Bowl game is romantic.  We love it.  But at the end of the day, in terms of how it affects the landscape of college football, it has literally no impact on the national contrast to the 1960s and 1970s.  Now it will in 1/3 of the years.
I love the Rose Bowl.  It was one of the best trips of my life.  It is probably the only bowl game I'd ever pay to go see...because for me, it doesn't matter if you win or lose the Rose Bowl.  You're there to see the 100 year old parade, the gorgeous city of Pasadena, and the venue.  If you're there pining for a win, you're there for the wrong reasons.

rlyle6's picture

The only problem with your argument -not to say that it's a bad one- is that The Rose Bowl makes no attempts to "affect the landscape of college football." You heard it from Ash himself, they're willing to forfeit their stake in the playoffs to host more B1G vs. Pac-12 matchups. The history and tradition is more important to them than helping decide who the national champion is.

Bucksfan's picture

Ash never said that.

rlyle6's picture

If that's the only problem you had with my comment, I'll just assume you agree... Ash didn't affirm or deny, interpret that however you like.

LABuckeye's picture

I was just running loops around the Rose Bowl this morning... what a nice follow-up.

buckeye76BHop's picture

@Buckeye Eddie:  So did I...don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but that seems a bit like destiny,  I didn't know that until I read this piece and a nice one at that...Thanks Kyle.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987