- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- When the college football playoff push kicked off, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith planted himself in the campus-sites camp.
Smith favored having the semifinals on the campuses of the higher-seeded teams. The setup would give Big Ten teams like Ohio State an advantage they've never enjoyed in the current BCS/bowl setup -- nationally significant games on Midwest soil in late December or early January. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was among the first major college football figures to stump for campus sites this winter.
"We've shifted," Smith told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I was originally for campus sites, and I still go back there mentally every now and then as discussions occur, but the bowls have a really good system set up to host."
The reasons for the Big Ten's shift are well known by now. Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said Tuesday that a playoff outside of the existing bowls would "pretty much destroy the bowl system." Preserving and protecting the Rose Bowl is paramount to Delany and the rest of the Big Ten brass.
Smith also thinks there are operational advantages to keeping the biggest games at bowl sites.
"There are certain schools that would put it on and host it extremely well," he said. "Others might be challenged with that. Bowls have done this a long time. They have great local organizing committees. ... And it's good for the game."
The strongest counterargument is that campus sites would ease the burden on college football fans. Rather than make separate trips for a league title game, a national semifinal and a national championship game, fans of some teams could have one of those games closer to their homes.
Another apparent plus for Big Ten backers is the potential weather advantage Big Ten teams could exploit by hosting games. Unlike squads in the South and West, Big Ten teams are conditioned to play cold-weather football, but they typically face the best from the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 in ideal conditions at places like the Rose Bowl, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and University of Phoenix Stadium.
The thought of a college football playoff in the snow is both novel and exciting to some Big Ten fans. But Smith actually sees it as a drawback.
Brace yourselves, Woody and Bo ...
"Let's say Ohio State is hosting and it's January or December, and let's say it is 5 degrees," Smith said. "Is that right for the game? We're not pro. We need to figure out what's best for the game, and I think a fast surface, good weather is important for the game. It's important for the kids."
Delany, Osborne and others acknowledge that campus sites could favor the Big Ten, which hasn't won a national championship since after the 2002 season. But in surveying presidents, athletic directors, coaches and even players, the overwhelming majority favored the bowl sites.
"It would be a competitive advantage to have semifinal games at home fields," Osborne said. "... but the bowls have been good to us."
The sentiment isn't sitting well with some folks. The Big Ten might have been alone in advocating for campus sites, but it's fair to ask if the Big Ten gave up on the crusade far too easily.
Somewhere Mike Slive of the SEC and Larry Scott of the Pac-12 are kicking back with a cackle of delight. These guys are angling for every possible edge while the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl sit in adjacent bathtubs, holding hands and waiting for the moment to be right.
Wait, the rest of college football has to be asking, you're not even going to fight and try to make us look like wimps for arguing against football in the cold?
Wait, you seriously are going to ask the same fan base to travel three times in a month -- Big Ten title game, semifinals and championship game, the last two at least via airplane? And you think we won't end up with the majority of the crowd?
The Rose Bowl's power over the Big Ten is something to behold. It makes normally intelligent men say ridiculous things.
Of the Big Ten groups advocating for playoffs at bowl sites, the coaches' position makes the least sense. These are guys who typically capitalize on every possible advantage presented to them. But they seem to value their players' bowl experience over the possibility of making Alabama or USC play them in the snow.
Why should the Big Ten care if TCU and Oregon have small stadiums and can't accommodate the media and the corporate sponsors? The Big Ten, for the most part, doesn't have those problems.
In my recent interview with Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, I asked him why so many powerful people in the Midwest care so much about bowl games located so far away.
"It's part of the tradition of college football," Perlman said. "It is a good experience for student-athletes. It makes more sense in terms of ending the season than some kind of playoff. It helps the communities that have been supportive of intercollegiate football for a long time."
What about the local communities Big Ten schools can serve by keeping games on campus?
There's no question Big Ten fans love the Rose Bowl, although not as much as they once did. They also like to win, also would like to shut the SEC up and also really like showing off their legendary stadiums and great cities, fighting against the idea that they live in some inhospitable, rusted-out region.
Plenty of them could use the economic impact of staging these massive events in the Midwest too.
That's not going to happen. The campus-sites ship has sailed. Perhaps it's a tradeoff the Big Ten made to ultimately ensure strong playoff access for league champions.
If and when the Big Ten champion qualifies for a playoff, however, it will more than likely play a virtual road game. The team will have to fight like heck to win.
A lot harder than the league did to have meaningful games on campus.