I used to joke that I wanted to be a bowl guy when I grew up. Travel to the best college football games every week, equipped with a funky blazer and an expense account the size of Pasadena. Everyone's glad to see you. What a gig.
There will come a day when the majority of bowl games, if not all of them, will be extinct. When? Maybe 20 years. The way the world spins at warp speed today, could be 10 years from now.
Is that evolution in the air? Or revolution? Maybe both.
Earlier this week, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and league officials were ripped from their head to their winged tips for backing off the idea of using campus sites for a proposed four-team playoff. And embracing old friend Rose Bowl as a playoff idea.
Critics from various media, talk-radio and internet corners howled that Delany and friends were surrendering a fight that could have helped the Big Ten, while sticking to an antiquated friend and concept.
It was the tone of the anti-bowl crowd that got my attention. There are barbarians at the Rose Bowl gate.
The point here is not Delany. He's a big boy commissioner. He puts himself out there. He can handle the heat.
From my perch, the critics had it wrong, anyway. This wasn't about backing off progress to save a dinosaur. This is about negotiations, plain and simple.
Delany is one of the smartest men in sports. His reputation is as a visionary, a pathfinder. He leads the way.
One way to do that is to float ideas and see what sticks, what doesn't. Delany has thrown out a lot of ideas about how a playoff would work. The crowd cheers or boos. You get an idea of what sells.
I love the idea of campus sites for a playoff. But it was never, ever, going to fly.
Everything I've read and heard about the campus sites idea — outside the Big Ten region — was vociferously negative. From the SEC to the Pac-12, it was seen as a Big Ten idea, designed specifically to benefit the Big Ten. Nobody wants to sign up for December trips into the frozen tundra.
The idea was doomed. And Delany and Co. knew it. So they hit the eject button. Back off one idea and maybe someone will buy another one.
On Wednesday, the Atlantic Coast Conference backed the idea of conference champions getting priority in the playoff, which was another concept Delany floated. That suddenly has a chance.
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Anyway, whatever plan is adopted, one thing was never going to change: the Big Ten's allegiance to the Rose Bowl.
Bravo. The Rose Bowl and Big Ten relationship is worth preserving. You can have both a playoff and a Rose Bowl, right?
That's what we're about to find out. And the bowls should be nervous. Very nervous.
The playoff is four teams. Everyone else, go to a bowl game. If the Big Ten champ is in the playoff, then the runner-up can go to the Rose Bowl. If the Rose Bowl wants to host the national title game or semifinal, the Big Ten and Pac-12 can skip that year — or play in that Rose Bowl semifinal if they make it.
The playoff relegates the bowls to exhibition status. Guess what? That's what they were always intended to be. Bowl games were invented by communities in the south and west to attract fans from the north to take a vacation from the snow and spend their money in their towns.
The bowls were never meant to decide championships. They gradually lost their way. They got tied in to the BCS. They lost control of selection. The BCS killed the Orange Bowl. There are too many bad matchups, too many bowls, period.
In the process, the bowls lost their favor with their biggest friends: coaches, fans and media.
It's what I heard this week, what I've been hearing for a while now. And why I think the bowls are in big trouble.
The reaction to the Big Ten's loyalty to the Rose Bowl was loud and predictable. The Rose Bowl is overrated. It's a meaningless game. It's an old, decaying stadium. What's the big deal? Who cares about the bowls anymore?
If they're trashing Granddaddy's good name, what are they saying about the other bowls?
This is where we are now in college football: The bowls are seen as obstacles. Things that stand in the way of progress, of the game. Bowls used to be the guardians of the game. Friends. Now they are the old playground that needs to be leveled to put up a strip mall.
Understand, this is not a universal theme. The bowls still have their allies, but they are mostly of an older set. This is a generational thing.
You either were there when Jan. 1 was a magical holiday or you weren't. The folks who associate college football with the flawed BCS, with its eight-game New Year's Day lineup, are growing by the year.
There's a generation who still see the bowls as these carnivals of football, the best part of the game. And another generation who never felt it and never will.
And that should scare the beejeebies out of the bowls.
Men like Delany, Tom Osborne and other athletic directors and coaches around the nation are in that older generation, the bowl generation. A lot of football writers from that era aren't around anymore. The bowls still have their friends. But one day that generation will be gone, from power, from office, from the game.
College football will be run by folks who don't have an affinity for bowl games. In other words, who's going to have the bowls' collective back in 20 years? Nobody.
Want an appropriate parallel? Try TD Ameritrade Park. The old guard of the NCAA loved Rosenblatt Stadium. The old guard went away. The new guard hinted at a new stadium. Voila.
The new guard demands a playoff. It's getting one. And you don't need to be a genius to figure out it's going to start at four teams, but it will multiply at least once in our lifetime. Maybe twice.
The controversy has only begun. Teams in the top 10 will all think they belong in the top four. Expand to eight, and teams in the top 20 will say they're No. 8. That's the way of the world.
It's no stretch to say this thing is going to 16. When it does, what sort of teams will the bowls get? How many will stick around? Will anyone even want them to stick around?
I like the four-team playoff idea. I like watching bowl games. Playoff and bowls? That's couch potato utopia.
But the bowls would have to accept their fate as the NIT, which was their intended purpose to begin with.
The idea of including the major bowls in the playoff is a way to keep them involved. But soon, free agents like Indianapolis and other cities will buy their way in.
And if the playoff gets to eight, the major bowls that aren't in the playoff would get slim pickings. The Rose Bowl might get the third-best Big Ten team. How that would fly with sponsors?
Delany and other commissioners mean well, and they may make the first four-team playoff a 10-year contract so it won't grow immediately. If the contract lasts that long, the playoff will be so popular in 10 years it will explode.
And you might be able to get a tacky blazer really cheap.
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