Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
The Big Ten champion used to be guaranteed a trip to Pasadena every Jan. 1, but things will change when a playoff comes to college football beginning with the 2014 season. The Rose Bowl will host national semifinals every three years, and if the Big Ten champion doesn't qualify for the playoff, it would head to another game like the Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl or even the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Rose Bowl also will be played on Dec. 31 in years where Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday (2016 and 2022). Today's Take Two topic is: How will these changes impact a league like the Big Ten that values tradition above all?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
I can't imagine fans of the Big Ten champion will be too fired up about a late December trip to Atlanta. Nothing beats the Rose Bowl and the atmosphere surrounding the game. It's where I want to be every Jan. 1. But as time goes along, fewer Big Ten fans will have such a strong pull to Pasadena. The reason? How often has the best Big Ten team actually played in the Rose Bowl the past decade? I bring up this statistic a lot but it's worth restating: the Ohio State Buckeyes have made just one Rose Bowl appearance in the past 15 seasons, despite dominating the Big Ten for most of that span. We've seen Rose Bowls not featuring Big Ten teams and many others not featuring the best Big Ten teams. This has devalued the game a bit.
More Big Ten fans understand that the league needs to win national titles to get any respect, and that means having at least one squad in the playoff mix. If the Big Ten champion qualifies for the playoff every year, the Rose Bowl issue shouldn't be anything to worry about. Big Ten teams certainly will be in the Rose Bowl in years where it's not a national semifinal. There will be some outcry and grumpiness the first time a Big Ten champion goes to the Fiesta, Cotton or Chick-fil-A, but as time goes on and more Big Ten fans become playoff-focused, which I think they will be, the sentiment will change.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
Every preseason, most Big Ten teams talk about making the Rose Bowl as their ultimate goal. I wonder how this new system changes things for teams like, say, Michigan State, which plasters the Rose Bowl logo throughout its football complex as a reminder of the program's ambition. As Adam points out, it's not at all unprecedented for the best team in the Big Ten to play somewhere other than Pasadena in recent years. But there's little doubt that a sea of change is coming.
Think about a few scenarios like these. In a year when the Rose Bowl is not a semifinal, would a Big Ten team with national championship ambitions a la Ohio State really be thrilled to go there instead of playing in the four-team playoff? Or let's say a Big Ten club does play in a Rose Bowl semifinal. Would that team and its fan base simply cherish the moment, or would it be disappointed with anything but a victory to advance into the national championship game? And guys, just try explaining to your wives/girlfriends why you're watching the Rose Bowl on New Year's Eve instead of taking them out to dinner, though that's another issue.
I didn't really get the obsession with the Rose Bowl until I attended my first one three years ago. Now I do. It's the most special setting in college football. I wasn't sure I'd ever see the day when the Big Ten voluntarily gave up its grip on that game, but give the league credit for doing so in the best interests of the sport. Once we get used to the playoff system, I believe most of the bowls will fade into the background as we singularly focus on the final four. That's just our culture. It's not a bad thing for the Big Ten to aim higher than just making it to Pasadena and for teams to reach for the league's first national title since the 2002 season. Some terrific tradition will unfortunately be lost. But that's what always happens in the name of progress.