John E. Hoover: The new vision of a longstanding college football tradition
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, May 19, 2012
5/19/12 at 5:03 AM
Related story: Pact gets OU, OSU support.
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Original Print Headline: Out of the box vision bears new tradition
THIS IS why college football can be so magnificent and so maddening.
The game's keepers often use the idea of tradition as if it were shackles, so strong, so unbreakable that despite public outrage or common sense or simple fairness, things just can't be changed.
Playoff, they said? Sorry, our hands are tied. Bowl games? Tied. Rose Bowl? Can't change it.
Tradition, you know.
Then there are days like Friday, when the game's decision makers lay siege to the establishment and use the notion of tradition like an incendiary missile lobbed over the castle walls.
"A new January bowl tradition is born," Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive says.
"Our goal," adds Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, "is to provide the fans across the country with a New Year's Day prime-time tradition."
Friday's announcement that the Big 12 and the SEC have signed a five-year agreement for their champions to meet in a bowl game starting with the 2014 postseason is a brilliant move, good for the leagues and the schools and the television networks and the fans and everyone who's ever enjoyed the, uh, tradition of college football.
It's smart timing, piquing offseason interest in between Bowl Championship Series meetings and conference spring meetings. It's good business, with a lucrative bidding process sure to come (Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is an early betting favorite). It's great theater, the Big 12 champ and the SEC champ (or runner-up approximations) staging a showdown on New Year's Day.
But why aren't decisions like this made more often?
Why do college presidents and athletic directors go through the salesman spiel about the virtues of a hundred years of tradition and how they must protect the sanctity of their game at all costs, only to reveal the obvious truth - that more high-end college football is a good thing for everyone?
Not many other details came out Friday.
Neinas said Friday he suspected the game would be played at one permanent site instead of alternating between SEC country and Big 12 country.
Also, The Sporting News, citing unnamed sources, said the goal is for the game to have its own stand-alone television contract. Think of the money that would put in each school's athletic coffers. What recession?
Of course, the reality is that, attractive as it may be - we're talking a new-millennium Rose Bowl here, with a guaranteed matchup between two historically great conferences - it will be just another bowl game.
Remember that four-team playoff everyone thinks will replace the two-team BCS in 2014? This is a tangible step toward ensuring it happens.
But in the all-too-likely event the SEC champion or Big 12 champion (or both) qualify for a playoff, the new bowl game will collect runners-up from the respective leagues to play in its showcase.
Consider that in the 14-year history of the BCS, only twice has the championship game not featured a Big 12 team, an SEC team or both (1999, when Florida State beat Virginia Tech, and 2002, when Miami beat Ohio State).
The SEC has had a team in the BCS title game eight times (nine if you count two last season). The Big 12 ranks second with seven. And that was with only two spots available in the championship chase. How unlikely is it that a Big 12 or SEC champ won't be ranked in college football's final four?
"This is a landmark agreement between two of the most successful football conferences during the BCS era to stage a postseason event," Neinas said. "The creation of this game featuring the champions of the Big 12 and SEC will have tremendous resonance in college football."
Friday's news shows that when people like Slive and Neinas and the academicians they represent truly want to get something done, they get it done. No muss, no fuss. Everybody wins, so let's just do it and figure out the details later.
Maybe the rest of the college football world will follow that lead and realize that while tradition is worth being protected, so is the future.