It started as just a simple exhibition to accompany a large parade, but the Rose Bowl eventually grew into the country’s premier college football postseason game. By the 1990s it was pretty clear which bowl and which two conferences were the elite of college football. But eventually change in college football overtook the Granddaddy of Them All and soon America had to get used to a new kind of Rose Bowl that we now see today.
The development in college football that eventually forced the hand of the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl was the creation of the Bowl Coalition in 1992. While it was easy for the Rose Bowl and its affiliated conferences to turn down being a part of the coalition, none of them could stop the growth of the idea of a national championship game.
Thanks to the Bowl Coalition, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country would finally square off in a national championship game to end the season.
Fans loved it so much that even without two of its premier conference or its biggest bowl involved, the 1993 Sugar Bowl featuring No. 2 Alabama and No.1 Miami was a smashing success. The turning point in the Rose Bowl came following the 1994 season when an undefeated Penn State had to accept a Rose Bowl bid despite clearly being worthy of a title shot against No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Instead, No. 3 Miami played the Cornhuskers. Despite Penn State throttling Oregon in Pasadena, they weren’t even given a share of the Huskers’ national title.
The following year Ohio State would’ve been in the same position — turning down a shot at the title just to play in the Rose Bowl — had it not lost to Michigan at the end of the season. Both of these factors caused Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to go into action. He wanted the Big Ten to be involved in this coalition while still maintaining the Rose Bowl’s autonomy.
He got both.
In what eventually became the BCS, the Big 10 and Pac-10 decided to join the alliance that would try and determine a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game at the end of every season. The Rose Bowl would also be included in the rotation of bowls hosting a national championship meaning that the streak of Big 10 vs. Pac-10 would eventually end.
The 1998 Rose Bowl featuring Michigan and Washington was the last season of the Big Ten-Pac-10 exclusive agreement. The Rose Bowl didn’t see its first major change until it hosted the 2002 National Championship game between Miami and Nebraska. It twas the first time since 1918 that neither the Big Ten or the Pac-10 had a team in the game.
While it had to give up what was one of its most sacred traditions, the Rose Bowl still stands above the rest of the BCS bowls – the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta. For starters, it doesn’t have to make as many concessions as the other BCS bowls. The other bowls must pay $6 million a year to opt into the BCS system. The Rose Bowl doesn’t have to pay such a fee. The Rose Bowl is also the only BCS Bowl that is contractually locked into the same time and day. That’s because it’s the only BCS bowl with it’s own television deal (10 years, $300 million with ABC, although the game will now be shown on ESPN).
The Rose Bowl’s sponsorship is even different and in some ways better than the other bowls. Rather than having the game’s sponsor at the beginning of the bowl game — like the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl or Discover Orange Bowl —the “presenting” sponsor comes at the end of the name. This year it’s “The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.”
Why the special treatment?
As we’ve established, the Rose Bowl is very much the Granddaddy of Them All. Last season the Rose Bowl got a 13.2 Nielsen rating, far and away the highest rated bowl outside the national title game (the next highest got an 8.5 rating).
In the 2008-09 bowl season, the Rose Bowl was the only bowl other than the national title game to have at least 20 million viewers. The next highest-watched bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, had just 17 million viewers.
So even though it’s lost a major part of its identity (not totally since the game always tries to get the Big Ten and Pac-10 champion), the Rose Bowl is still the most popular bowl in the country outside the title game. And when TCU makes its first appearance in Pasadena, even the presence of a non-AQ school shouldn’t hurt the ratings of the Granddaddy of Them All.
It certainly won’t hurt the attendance numbers. The Horned Frogs sold out their 20,000 tickets by Dec. 9 and begged the Rose Bowl for more tickets to meet demand. In comparison, as of Dec. 13, Connecticut had only sold around 4,000 of its 17,500 ticket allotment for this year’s Fiesta Bowl.
No matter what school you go to or what conference you’re from, no one will turn down a shot at enjoying Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.