- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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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."
1dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell