CHICAGO -- The Big Ten's relationship with the Rose Bowl is "critical." It's also "sensitive." It has "sticking points." It comes with "value."
As the college football world careens toward a playoff -- be it a three-plus one or a two-two, whatever form it takes -- the Big Ten's relationship with the Rose Bowl will exist, Big Ten athletics directors agreed in lockstep on Tuesday at the Big Ten spring meetings.
That relationship, however, is completely unformed. It's stated, but there aren't any guarantees going into the playoff age.
"I don't know, that's a good question," Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said when asked if a Big Ten semifinalist would be locked into the Rose Bowl as part of a playoff. "We haven't gotten into that. I think that having it in the [playoff] system allows the Rose Bowl to be in the rotation for a hosting situation.
"Off the cuff, if the Big Ten or Pac-12 team is in the top four, then you have to have some form on who goes where. We haven't discussed that. We're not that far."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has stated the conference's relationship with the Rose Bowl is hugely important. Tuesday, Big Ten athletics directors discussed yielding the "campus site" possibility in playoff scenarios to protect the Rose Bowl.
"Yeah, I think so," Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said when asked about the campus sites element. "For us, it's critical to keep the Rose Bowl in the equation. There's a lot of historical value and there's a lot of future value in having the Rose Bowl connected to Michigan State, Michigan, with the Big Ten conference. The 'home' takes that out."
Let's face facts, the Big Ten has pitted itself against the Southeastern Conference, which has won the last six national championships. Maybe the Big Ten evens the field with semifinals played at campus sites. Big Ten weather isn't SEC weather. Much of the national sentiment runs away from campus sites, and so maybe the Big Ten sees that as unwinnable.
Since 1990, the Big Ten and SEC are closer than you might think in head-to-head bowl matchup, with the SEC owning a 31-26 advantage. The numbers aren't as even recently. The SEC swept the Big Ten in its three 2011 bowl games, winning by a combined margin of 138-45. Last season, Michigan State tripped Georgia in double OT while Ohio State (Florida) and Nebraska (South Carolina) fell.
"Recent history might taint a lot of peoples' views and think that dominance will continue," Smith said, "and maybe it will, because of industry and population and things of that nature, but I don't think you can let that get into your minds."
Smith pointed to the importance of the Big Ten championship game and every Big Ten team striving to get better.
"I'm a huge believer in conference championships," he said. "At the end of the day, that's way we play. I think our industry has built up the national championship so much that we forget these young people win valuable conference championships that they will have for the rest of their lives."
So, basically, is the Rose Bowl a truly big deal or is it a big deal because the Big Ten says it is?
Nebraska is headed into its second year in the conference. The Huskers don't have the Rose Bowl history, but AD Tom Osborne said that's what the school bought into when it agreed to join.
"I do know that the Rose Bowl is very important to the Big Ten," Osborne said. "I think that’s why the Big Ten people would like to keep the playoff within the bowls to keep the Rose Bowl alive and viable.
"Whether the Rose Bowl would be one of the semifinal games, in some years it would and in some years it wouldn’t, but at least we’d still have a representative from the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 would always be in the Rose Bowl. I think that would be very important to this league, and we certainly accept that."
So, let's break it down this way: It sounds as though the Big Ten has given up the chance to play host to a Florida or Alabama or an LSU in, say, Columbus in December for the possibility of playing a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. If the Big Ten doesn't have a team in the semi and the Rose Bowl isn't in the semifinal rotation, then Big Ten/Pac-12 Rose Bowl like the good ol' days.
If the Rose Bowl is in the semi rotation and a Big Ten team isn't in the top four, then maybe the Big Ten gets tapped for another BCS bowl, a la Iowa's Orange Bowl seasons in '02 and '09. (At one point after the 2002 regular season ended, Iowa thought it was headed to the Rose Bowl.)
Tuesday afternoon, Delany listed the Big Ten's primary interests as 1) keeping the regular season as relevant as possible, 2) the bowl system and the Rose Bowl and 3) transparency, as in having the public understand the decisions on the mechanisms to choose a final four and what goes into those decisions.
Delany believes if the playoff is rooted in the bowl system, it won't grow from four to eight, 16, 24 or 32.
"We understand that the games on campus could benefit us competitively," he said, "and it's not like I don't like the competitive advantage imbued by a home field, but in a larger sense, we think the slope is far less slippery in a bowl system than outside of a bowl system."
Will the Big Ten have a guaranteed BCS bid? Will there still be BCS bowls? Or would the Capital One be the Big Ten's pinnacle during a down season with a 9-3 conference champion.
The Capital One as the Big Ten pinnacle, that can't happen. That doesn't make sense.Welcome to the age of the college football playoff, where fifth in the country is worth fourth in the Olympics.