Big Ten: Kevin Ash

As Big Ten players acclimatized to the rigors of preseason camp earlier this month, the league's commissioner endured a different type of conditioning test.

One that ended 19,340 feet above sea level.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
Courtesy of Big Ten Conference Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany (front left) and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky (back left) were part of a group that climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro earlier this month.
Shortly after the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago, Delany boarded a plane for Africa. He gathered with nine others in Tanzania and began the trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.

They began the climb Aug. 3, and at 6:20 a.m. on Aug. 8, Delany's group reached the summit.

"It was a terrific trip," Delany told ESPN.com. "We had great leadership, a great group. We had pretty decent weather. We only got rained on once, snowed on just a little bit. But all in all, just a cultural experience, a physical experience, a chance to get away and see how other people live. We were fortunate that everyone who started finished."

Scott Jenkins, the executive vice president of the Tournament of Roses, organized the trip, which also included Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and Kevin Ash, the Rose Bowl's chief administrative officer.

The 64-year-old Delany, who played basketball at North Carolina, spent about six months training for the Kilimanjaro climb. He and Banowsky, 52, climbed Pikes Peak in Colorado in May. Delany also did some climbing in Ketchum, Idaho, and in California.

"Everybody needed to get themselves in great physical shape," Delany said. "Those people who had no trekking, the experience of working at altitude, living outdoors for a week is different. The altitude is a great challenge, especially above 12 or 13,000 [feet]."

The group, which called itself Team Rose Bowl, spent several days adjusting to the elevation between 12,000-15,000 feet before climbing to the summit. Ben Jones, a 2003 graduate of Indiana University who has taken on Mt. Everest and other peaks, led the tour and received help from a group of Tanzanian sherpas.

While a few members of the group fell ill with stomach sickness and dizziness, they all ended up reaching the summit.

"Everybody was pretty determined to make it, and everybody did make it," Delany said. "There were a lot of people supporting us, who were committed in helping us get to the top of the mountain.

"It was difficult, challenging, but it was a lot of fun, too. It was worthwhile."

 
The Rose Bowl didn't want to be excluded from college football's future playoff, and it had commissioners Jim Delany (Big Ten) and Larry Scott (Pac-12) ensure it wasn't left out.

As I reported earlier this week, three leagues -- the SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA -- wanted the national semifinals to take place outside the bowls. Delany and Scott wouldn't go for that, and they got their way in the end.

"We're excited," Rose Bowl chief administrative officer Kevin Ash told ESPN.com. "We've got people out there protecting us. They found a great balance of protecting the bowl system and yet giving the fans a four-team semifinal playoff. We’re excited to be part of the postseason moving forward."

[+] EnlargeRose Bowl Stadium
AP Photo/David StlukaA future Big Ten-Pac-12 playoff matchup would surely make for a rowdy Rose Bowl atmosphere.
The next question: How often will the Rose Bowl actually host national semifinals?

If going by basic math, the equation is simple. The playoff agreement includes a 12-year agreement and six bowls in the rotation. Each bowl would host a semifinal four times during the 12-year span.

But don't be surprised if the Rose Bowl hosts the semis fewer than four times between 2015-26. ESPN.com has learned that while the Rose Bowl wants to be part of the playoff, it might not host the semifinals as much as the other bowls in the rotation.

The reason: it doesn't want to go years and years without the traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup.

Ash said Thursday that no decisions have been made on how often each bowl will host semifinal games. The Rose Bowl will continue to discuss its preferences with Delany and Scott.

"It's sitting down with Jim and Larry and working out that balance: How do we become relevant in the postseason and be part of a system, and how do we keep the traditional game?" Ash said. "In order to do that, we've got to sit down with our partners and meet on this. It will take a little while."

A decision on preferences will be made "as a tri-party," Ash said. According to Ash, the Rose Bowl understands the need to adapt while maintaining traditional and historical ties.

The Big Ten's and Pac-12's involvement reinforces the Rose Bowl's sentiments about its two partners and about the traditional matchup. If the Rose Bowl isn't hosting a national semifinal, it will pair a Big Ten team and a Pac-12 team. The 12-year extension announced Thursday with ESPN ensures the Rose Bowl keeps its traditional date (Jan. 1) and time slot (5 p.m. ET), which prevents any other games from taking place at the same time.

"The Rose Bowl will always be the premier postseason bowl game," Ash said, "due to our history and our tradition, and the fact we have the Pac-12 and the Big Ten playing in our game."

But will the Rose Bowl remain relevant if it's not a national semifinal?

"I really do believe it will," Ash said. "The last couple months have been really interesting because there's all this talk about a new model going forward and trying to figure out the national champion. But during that time, there's been a lot of people I've spoken to, and tradition is really important, history and tradition. The Rose Bowl Game is important to all of us. It's a part of America. It's what we do every January 1st at 2 o'clock on the West Coast.

"So it's always going to be relevant in the postseason."

Of course, the Rose Bowl's ideal scenario is to host a Pac-12 team and a Big Ten team in a national semifinal.

"It'd be huge," Ash said. "The best of both worlds."
Larry Scott, Jim DelaneyUS PresswireThe Rose Bowl needs commissioners Larry Scott (Pac-12, left) and Jim Delany (Big Ten) in its corner.
Every Big Ten administrator who has commented on the league's four-team playoff proposal also has made sure to acknowledge the Rose Bowl in the same breath.

"The Rose Bowl is extremely important to Michigan State just as it is to every school in the Big Ten and Pac-12," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Associated Press.

"Any talk of a limited playoff needs to keep the tradition of the Rose Bowl and the bowl system in play," Iowa AD Gary Barta wrote to the Des Moines Register in an email.

"My concern -- first and foremost -- is maintaining our relationship with the Rose Bowl," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez wrote in his monthly letter to fans.

Perhaps there's some little-known Big Ten bylaw requiring league officials and administrators to pay homage to the Rose Bowl whenever discussing the future of college football. Commissioner Jim Delany always makes a point to acknowledge the Rose Bowl as the league's most important external relationship.

Kevin Ash, the Rose Bowl's chief administrative officer, enjoys hearing this from one of the game's conference partners. He hopes the pledges continue, as the Rose Bowl needs both the Big Ten and Pac-12 to be in its corner.

One of the big questions with any playoff model is how it would impact the current bowls, including the Rose. Would the Rose Bowl remain a premier sporting event on New Year's Day, or would the game start seeing drops in attendance and ratings like some of the other major bowls?

The Big Ten plan would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed. The championship game then could be bid out, like the Super Bowl.

The Rose Bowl's fate largely rests with Delany and his Pac-12 counterpart Larry Scott.

"We rely on them heavily to lead on our behalf, because we don't sit at the table with them," Ash told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We're not an active party. We know they have our best interest at heart, and we're a huge part of who they are in the postseason."

Like many, Ash senses the momentum building toward a college football playoff. He understands that the next BCS cycle, beginning in 2014, could bring changes for the Rose Bowl.

"It's going to be interesting to see some of the proposals," he said. "There could be variations that could be OK for the Rose Bowl game. If the commissioners feel we need to move in a different direction, which is best for college football, we've got to be a part of that."

The desire to maintain the traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 Rose Bowl matchup has been viewed as one of the primary impediments to a college football playoff.

Like the Big Ten and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, the Rose Bowl has been viewed as an obstruction to a college football playoff. Although the game has loosened its access rules and has had teams from other leagues, most recently TCU in the 2011 game, the desire always has been to have the Big Ten champion face the Pac-12 champion on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

Any type of playoff format would decrease the likelihood of having both league champions in the game.

"Whatever system they decide to put forward, we will deal with the access issue as it applies to us, and we will embrace any visitor that comes to our game," Ash said. "But each year, we hope to have a Pac-12 and Big Ten champion playing for the Rose Bowl championship. Simple as that. Does it hurt us to have other teams in here? No. But we're traditionalists. It's a part of who we are."

Some see the Rose Bowl's traditionalist nature as being inflexible. The Big Ten, and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, have been viewed this way as well.

Ash said it's not the case.

"Since the BCS, we've learned to evolve, and we still have our tradition," Ash said. "Tradition is a two-sided sword. If you sit on tradition, then you can get left behind, but if you are careful about how you move forward, then you can keep that tradition going. There's possibilities out there, models that can be successful for us. We've got to see what plays out."

And follow Delany's and Scott's lead.

"They're very, very intelligent guys, and their leadership is amazing," Ash said. "We need to evolve in order to stay relevant. I think those are the guys who can take us there.

"They're going to protect us as best they can."
NEW ORLEANS -- If you haven't done so already, check out my column from earlier on why BCS bowls need more freedom, not less, to create better matchups. Some things about BCS bowls likely will never change, but the selection process can be loosened -- eliminating the two-team-per-league limit and the automatic-qualifying designation -- to avoid controversial picks like Virginia Tech.

One area I explored for the piece is how double-hosting -- having the traditional bowl game plus the national championship game -- impacts the bowls, the selections and the operations. We're in the sixth year of the BCS title game, and the Allstate Sugar Bowl is the second game to double-host for the second time (following the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl).

DOUBLE-HOSTING

2006 season: Fiesta
2007 season: Sugar
2008 season: Orange
2009 season: Rose
2010 season: Fiesta
2011 season: Sugar

For the most part, I found that double-hosting doesn't impact the selections for the traditional bowls. The bowls that double-host typically have the last pick of teams, so their selections are pretty much locked in because of the AQ rules and the conference tie-ins. This happened for Fiesta in 2006 (last pick: Boise State), Sugar in 2007 ( last pick: Hawaii), Orange in 2008 (last pick: Cincinnati) and Fiesta in 2010 (last pick: Connecticut).

The Rose Bowl's tie-ins with the Big Ten and Pac-12 locked in its selections in 2009 (Big Ten champ Ohio State and Pac-12 champ Oregon).

The Sugar Bowl didn't have the last pick this year despite double-hosting and picked Virginia Tech as an at-large ahead of Boise State and Kansas State.

"The Sugar Bowl had a unique circumstance with selection," Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms told me. "Usually, it's the last pick standing. If it happens to be an at-large, there may be some decisions to be made. But if it's not, like this year, we had the final pick, and the Big East champion [West Virginia] was automatic."

The Sugar Bowl acknowledged that its familiarity with Virginia Tech, which has appeared in the game three times since 1995, factored into the selection. One theory is that because the national title game participants, LSU and Alabama, boast fan bases that can commute easily to the game, the game needed teams from other regions that typically travel well.

But Sugar Bowl chief operating officer Jeff Hundley said hotel room rates are soaring for the championship game, and that double-hosting had little bearing on the selection.

"It's one of those cases where you have to look at your game, the annual bowl game in the context of that game," Andy Bagnato, the Fiesta Bowl's chief of communications, told me. "You can't really have it dictated by the championship matchup. Obviously, the champ game helps you leverage ticket sales for your [bowl] game."

The Fiesta Bowl sets up its ticketing plan so folks have to buy tickets to the traditional game to have a chance to buy championship game tickets. Other games like the Sugar have similar setups when double-hosting.

"Our season-ticket holders are required to buy both games," Hundley told me. "We certainly don't want people cherry-picking the championship game, which would be the natural inclination most of the time. That's one caveat we have."

The bowls take different approaches to the operations of double-hosting. The Rose Bowl, for instance, goes to great lengths to separate the title game from its traditional contest.

The teams in the title game don't stay in the same hotels as the Rose Bowl teams, and the media setup also is in a different location. While Rose Bowl week is very much Los Angeles-based, championship week is more removed from the city.

"We take a lot of pride in the fact that we don't want the championship game to outshine the Rose Bowl game," Rose Bowl chief administration officer Kevin Ash told me. "[The teams] don't come in on the heels of the other game, and you're kicking a team out and bringing a team in.

"You want them both to feel separate and important."

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