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The Grand Baddy Of Them All

First off, that's a horrible pun up there and I should lose the right to my blog for a week because of it.

Anyway, the last few weeks have been filled with a myriad of discussions about the state of college football. Unless you're over the age of 60, host a sports radio talk show or write a sports column for a major newspaper, you probably don't feel like the current system is working for the sport, especially in the area of doing everything it can to determine it's true champion.

I spent this New Year's Day watching many of the games but it was the Rose Bowl that stuck with me more than anything. The Granddaddy of Them All. The oldest bowl game of the bunch. The pageantry. The history. The tradition. However, now that it's over, I think it's a fair statement to make that the 2008 Rose Bowl stands for everything that is wrong with college football.

As we all know, and God forbid you forget for a second, the Rose Bowl is traditionally a match-up between the winner of the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. For most years, a team from each conference participated regardless of their place in the national title picture and regardless of record, so long as they were conference champion. Many other bowls operated the same way and so college football went for a long time.
Then the BCS and it's many machinations came along and the game changed. Whereas many of the bowls still maintain loose affiliations (Orange Bowl - ACC, Sugar Bowl - SEC), they are not beholden to them contractually or traditionally. In fact, they alignments are really more related to ensuring attendance figures.

Only the Rose Bowl refuses to fully drop its affiliations as binding (except in the case they are hosting the national championship or the extreme case that there are no teams that qualify from either conference). The folks behind the Rose Bowl not only refuse to make these changes, they publicly defy anyone to call them on it and threaten to leave the BCS if they are forced to (which, admittedly, would probably throw the game into chaos and force a playoff).

This season, the Rose Bowl invited USC, the champ of the Pac-10. They were all set to host Ohio State from the Big Ten as well until Ohio State backed into the title game. Leaving a void, the Rose Bowl had options. They could invest in the integrity of college football and attempt to put together the most intriguing match-up possible. With LSU, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Georgia unavailable, the Rose Bowl could have invited any of these deserving and highly-ranked BCS teams:

#6 Missouri (2-losses)
#8 Kansas (1-loss)
#9 West Virginia (2-losses)

#10 Hawaii (0-losses)

#12 Florida (3-losses)

Instead of attempting to put together the best-possible match-up (which is a BCS-wide problem, not just the Rose Bowl's), the Rose Bowl decided to honor their tradition and select 3-loss Illinois, the #13-ranked team in the BCS. A team that no college football fan would have put in their top twelve was now taking one of those twelve elite slots.

Now, I have no problem with Illinois and good for them and their fans for playing the Rose Bowl. But this kinda reminded me of when I was in Little League tryouts and the left-handed kid automatically got to play first base regardless of how good he was. It might have been a technically sound decision but it certainly didn't seem fair to those who were better but were left out.

While USC wasn't playing for the title as they expected at the beginning of the year, they were probably the most dangerous two-loss team in the nation (and possibly THE most dangerous). So the worry all week would be that a young Illinois team would be no match for the Trojans. Those fears were realized on national TV today when USC absolutely
manhandled the Illini 49-17.

By the way, the #6 Missouri Tigers, who had one less loss than the Illini and were ranked waaaay higher, spent the morning blowing out Darren McFadden's Arkansas team
38-7 in the non-BCS Cotton Bowl.

Every time the Big East used to send a lowly-ranked 3 or 4 loss team to the Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl to get embarrassed, the college football community would cry foul. The Big East should be disbanded and sold for scrap! When the Big Ten and Rose Bowl do it, sorry, that's just tradition.

Perhaps a year from now, no one will remember this. I'm not saying blow up the Rose Bowl though, I'm just saying this year's Rose Bowl represented everything that's wrong with the BCS and college football. Honoring tradition over hard work and deserving teams. It comes from the same place that caused the Beano Cookes of the world to freak out earlier this year when teams like South Florida, Kansas and Missouri threatened to keep the likes of Ohio State and USC out of the title picture. I'm all for keeping up traditions in some form but not at the expense of those who truly deserve special honors.

The Rose Bowl keeps threatening to boycott future versions of the BCS, especially those that call for a "plus-1" playoff system. If I ran the BCS, I'd call the Rose Bowl's bluff. First of all, you'd see how quickly the conferences drop their allegiance to the game when they find out they can't tell recruits they have a shot to win the national title. Second, my guess is that the bowl would cave and/or the system would be forced to change into something a little closer to what we're all hoping for...a true and fair system for determining a national champion.

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)