Bent on tradition, Rose Bowl stubbornly obstructs progress

PASADENA, Calif. — Some traditions are harmless. Opening one gift on Christmas Eve. Family recipes handed down through generations. Music and dance of diverse cultures. Wedding rituals.

Other traditions need to be eliminated for the sake of progress. Take the Rose Bowl alliance between Pacfic-10 and Big Ten schools.

It’s unknown if those who run college football might eventually side with the correct opinion and create a playoff system that allows national champions to be decided on the field and not devised by a computer. That’s like trying to predict when a hurricane might hit. Good luck with that.

But if there is any fact behind the theory that Rose Bowl officials are the major obstacle preventing those playoff designs from moving forward, the shame grows with each Southern California blowout. Such stubbornness has even begun to ruin games with far less at stake.

For the sake of history, Illinois was selected to be the Trojans’ pinata to pummel this time.

For the sake of common sense, history is becoming more and more a stupid reason for such a matchup.

The final score here Tuesday was 49-17. Illinois will argue it could have been much closer had it not adopted this untimely habit of fumbling when close to scoring. Maybe.

But what does that mean? It would have lost by only three touchdowns?

Know that USC amassed 30 first downs and 633 total yards. Consider that the Trojans were penalized 11 times for 130 yards and still won by 32. They again existed in a much different and far superior class, much like last year against Michigan. That’s two straight routs of the Big Ten by a combined score of 81-35.

"Obviously, it’s not good for us," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "It hurts the Big Ten. It was important for us to play to the best of our ability, and obviously we didn’t do that. We let the Big Ten down, as well."

It’s true these things go in cycles. The Big Ten won seven of eight Rose Bowls from 1993 to 2000. But in passing over a much higher-ranked team like Missouri this year to select Illinois for some dated sense of tradition only confirms the foolishness of such a position.

Missouri also played Tuesday. It went out and pounded Arkansas 38-7 a few hours before Illinois appeared to have no business standing on such a prominent stage as the Rose Bowl. It’s impossible to believe the Tigers would have looked as bad against USC as the Illini. Even then, you couldn’t make a convincing case for picking Illinois over Missouri.

Change is a difficult concept to contemplate with an event like the Rose Bowl, the so-called "Granddaddy of ‘Em All," whose roots stretch deeper than most desert plants’. The stadium. The parade. The memorable plays. If you even suggest to some the idea of tweaking the selection process in years like this, you are greeted with the same look of abhorrence that must follow Bill Belichick through life.

But no one bowl — even the oldest and most recognizable one — should be allowed to delay the advancement of the best possible games today and potential playoff discussions tomorrow and beyond. But that’s how it is with the Bowl Championship Series cartel. It rules the universe.

Those who run the Rose Bowl insist nothing has been proposed to them about altering the current BCS format, that they can’t reject that which hasn’t been suggested. But at least one of their family members has publicly rebuffed the concept of a national championship game being added to the end of the bowl season.

Why?

You guessed it. Tradition.

"We’re not in favor of a plus-one," Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said this week. "That would probably require sending teams out of their historic bowl alliances. We’re opposed to that. We want to keep the Rose Bowl as a Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup. We’re delighted with it this year."

Of course he was. He knew the competition.

You hear about a television contract with ABC that has been in place for years and won’t be dissolved under any circumstance. You hear about both conferences digging in their feet and taking the stance that no potential playoff will ever completely disrupt their union.

Maybe all we can hope for is baby steps. Maybe if the Rose Bowl is in a similar position next year, its committee will have heard enough about how unworthy Illinois was and won’t repeat the error for the sake of anything. Maybe it will just do the smart thing and try its best to give those attending and watching at home the best possible game.

"We talk about it all the time," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We want to win forever."

If they keep getting Rose Bowl opponents like this, they just might.

Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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