Back in 1890, the Valley Hunt Club, in
Pasadena, CA, held the first Tournament of Roses. The group included
members from the East and Midwest who wanted to showcase the area's mild
expanded in its early years to include marching bands and motorized
floats and outgrew the hunt club's management. A Tournament of Roses
association formed to direct the various activities, which included
ostrich races, rodeo demonstrations and, once upon a time, a race
between a camel and an elephant.
According to the Tournament of Roses
website, the elephant won.
In 1902, the Tournament of Roses
decided to enhance its various attractions with a football game. It
would be the first postseason college football game ever. Stanford
agreed to play Michigan.
The Wolverines rolled to a 49-0 lead in
the third quarter in a game played at Tournament Park, when Stanford had
apparently had enough — and quit. Tournament of Roses history tells us
that because of that mismatch, festival leaders decided to give up on
football games in favor of Roman-style chariot races.
Had the chariot races continued,
perhaps Division I-A college football wouldn't be the only NCAA sport
that doesn't determine a true champion on the playing field.
In 1916, football returned as a
Tournament of Roses activity and Washington State beat Brown, 14-0.
Brown hung in for the duration of the game.
Football became increasingly popular as
a festival event and in 1920, Tournament of Roses president William L.
Leishman pushed for the construction of a new stadium to handle the
growing crowds. A 57,000-seat horseshoe was constructed at a cost of
It was similar in design to the Yale
Bowl. Local reporter Dusty Hall dubbed the structure "the Rose Bowl."
In the mid-1930's, the Orange, Sugar
and Cotton "bowls" were all up and running with the postseason game
In the meantime, civilization has
progressed with the widespread proliferation of television and
computers, space exploration and organ transplants while big time
college football's postseason format has remained mired in its
Every chamber of commerce with access
to a football facility in its jurisdiction has probably tinkered with
the notion of a bowl game. The Dixie Bowl, the Copper Bowl, the
Blockbuster Bowl and many more have come and gone.
A core of bowls have achieved tradition
and stability, and those could be incorporated into a much-needed and
much fairer playoff system in Division I-A.
The polls and the computer rankings
just aren't getting it done in the Bowl Championship Series. This year,
its index presented Ohio State as the top-rated team. The polls narrowly
avoided a rematch of the Buckeyes and another Big Ten paper tiger,
Michigan, in the premier matchup.
Once-beaten Florida approached a level
of domination of that inaugural 1902 Rose Bowl in humbling the Buckeyes,
41-14. The BCS proclaimed the Gators national champions. Michigan, the
third-rated team in the BCS index, got waylaid 32-18 by Southern Cal in
the Rose Bowl and dropped to ninth in the final coaches poll.
The point is that the BCS index doesn't
provide an accurate indication of the best teams and the bowl results of
the present system are primary evidence.
Boise State, of course, finished
unbeaten, earned its invitation to a BCS bowl from outside the power
conference structure and magically overcame Oklahoma in overtime. The
Broncos were road-blocked from national championship consideration
because they started too low in the polls at the outset of the season.
That's the nature of the current
In years past, there have been other
unbeaten teams denied a shot at No. 1. There have been shared national
championships since the BCS regime began. Further tweaking of the
formula of polls and computer input won't get it done.
A playoff system is needed. It would be
bigger than the current bowl system can ever be and revenues would
increase as well. ESPN created a workable model that included conference
champions and a couple of at-large teams into a playoff system that
retained many existing bowls.
East Carolina athletic director Terry
Holland is among a multitude favoring change.
"A playoff could make every bowl game
assume real significance, generate much needed revenue for programs that
can not generate revenue for themselves, and be inclusive rather than
exclusive in that everyone would have a chance to prove whether or not
they are good enough on the field," Holland said.
The ECU AD said a playoff would not
only be good for the Pirates but for everyone else as well.
"There is no one that it would be bad
for," he said. "It would be good for every single school in the country
since the best team in any given year may have lost some games early in
the year with no chance to prove themselves by what they did in their
last eight or nine games."
In the current Division I-A football
format, there will never be an improbable late season run to a national
title such as the one made by N.C. State in the NCAA basketball
tournament in 1983. There will be no Cinderella contenders such as
George Mason last season.
But playoffs don't just work in hoops,
according to Holland.
"It is a tried and true formula that
works in every sport, not just the visible NCAA men's basketball
tournament," Holland said. "It even works for Division I-AA, Division II
and Division III football. Anyone who says it would not work for
Division I-A football is truly kidding themselves or has some personal
ECU coach Skip Holtz has experienced
playoff football — and liked it — when he coached at Connecticut.
"I can tell you that the playoff system
that I had the opportunity to play in I-AA was an awesome experience,"
Holtz said. "It was done on the field. Really, I'm a big fan of the
Holtz's reservations are that the
number of teams involved in postseason play might be reduced with a
Playoffs don't necessarily preclude
bowl games outside the tournament bracket. The NIT has survived for
years despite the expansion of the NCAA basketball tournament.
The lesser bowls could continue and
that would likely provide an opportunity for ECU in some seasons. But
suppose the Pirates could move into the national championship playoff by
winning Conference USA. That would really be exciting, fun, fair — and
Until then the elephant is still
winning — the white elephant that is the bowl system.