One thing about the Rose Bowl: It's never been for the little guy. Even since the Granddaddy relinquished its death grip on the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions to join the BCS, only five teams have won their way into Pasadena without a conference championship, and only one of those (No. 13 Illinois in 2007) came into the game ranked lower than No. 6. The Fiesta or Sugar bowls might be willing to descend to some mid-major upstart, but never the Rose. It's just not done, you see.
More accurately, it wasn't done, says Tony Barnhart today on his Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, until ESPN got its hands on the contract (emphasis added):
Utah, Boise State to the Rose Bowl? It could happen soon: Over the course of the week I found out that there is an interesting little nugget in the new BCS contract with ESPN, which will begin after the 2010 regular season.
In past contracts if the Rose Bowl lost one of its traditional partners, the Big Ten or Pac-10 champ, to the BCS championship game, it could simply fill with another Big Ten or Pac-10 team that qualified. That’s how a 9-3 Illinois team got to Pasadena two years ago.
But in the new contract, I’m told, there is an interesting clause: The first time in the deal that the Rose loses one of its champions to the BCS title game, that opening will be automatically filled by a Coalition (non-BCS conference) team if one has qualified.
Of course, the Worldwide Leader isn't throwing its weight around for the sake of the little guy: Barnhart suggests opening another avenue to a Mountain West or WAC upstart would be an effective counter to the "monopoly" charge if the Series gets hauled back in front of Congress. Personally, I think it's just as likely a barrier against another Illinois: The ratings for Illini's slaughter in 2007 were the lowest for a Rose Bowl in the BCS era. If the "BCS Buster" card makes people think of Utah and Boise State's triumphs over traditional behemoths -- and not, say, Hawaii's utter collapse against Georgia -- the underdog's pilgrimage to holy ground should be worth a few million more eyeballs than just another "Big Six" also-ran.
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Hat tip: Blutarsky.