The Rose Bowl is on the clock.
The board of directors of the CFP does not plan to guarantee the Rose Bowl game its request for an exclusive Jan. 1 window in future iterations of an extended playoff, sources say, and they have given the sport’s oldest operational bowl a deadline.
The Rose Bowl and its officials, viewed as the final hurdle to an early playoff extension, had just days to make a potentially monumental decision for the future of college football’s postseason. The Rose Bowl can either agree to extend the playoffs as early as 2024 or delay the extension to ’26.
CFP officials need unanimous approval from the six CFP bowls to expand the playoffs to 12 teams before the contract with ESPN ends after the 2025 playoffs. The six bowls are Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Peach and Cotton.
Five of the six shells support contract adjustment and early expansion. The Rose Bowl has delayed its decision while making a request to CFP executives, which it announced publicly over ESPN in a published story last week.
The Rose intends to maintain its traditional date and time (2 p.m. PT on January 1) each year in future iterations of an extended playoff beginning in 2026 and beyond. In the expanded playoff format sanctioned by the Presidents on September 2, the six bowls would alternately host quarterfinals and semifinals. If the playoff game does not fall on New Year’s Day, the Rose plans to host a non-CFP game featuring teams from Pac-12 and Big Ten in an exclusive window at their traditional date and time.
At a meeting this week, the CFP Board of Directors, an 11-member group of FBS presidents, discussed the issue and agreed for now not to carve out an exclusive window for a game dubbed the “grandfather of them all.”
Given the circumstances, this is a somewhat to be expected move. Little if any guarantees can be given for the playoffs beyond 2025 due to the lack of a contract. No details have even remotely been finalized and few have even been explored, notably a timeline and a media rights deal.
The Rose Bowl situation, which has been smoldering for months, comes to a head more than two months after presidents unanimously approved a 12-team playoff expansion to begin no later than 2026, the first year of a new CFP contract with the six bowls and one or more broadcast partners. The 10 FBS commissioners, along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swabrick, have not focused on 2026 and beyond for the past few weeks, but rather on expanding in 2024 or 25.
At each meeting, the commissioners resolved a plethora of issues, most notably the scheduling of eight additional playoff games, the revenue distribution model, and the logistics of hosting the first round on campus grounds.
However, there is one issue that the commissioners do not control: the contracts attached to each of the six bowls.
Simply put, an extended playoff cannot happen until 2026 without the Rose Bowl agreeing. If it chooses not to expand, it would cost college football in more ways than one. An expanded CFP would generate a total of $450 million in additional revenue in 2024-25, along with 16 additional playoff spots overall. The bowl game could also cost itself a spot in a new iteration of the playoffs in 2026 and beyond.
“Everything else can be solved or has been solved,” says a senior source.
A Rose Bowl spokesman declined to comment when he arrived on Friday.
Described as hard-headed by some and traditionalists by others, the Rose Bowl’s position was long-awaited, previously described by some as “the biggest problem” and the “big problem” in expanding the playoffs before the current CFP contract after the Season 2025 ends.
In fact, in July 2021, senior conference leaders anonymously voiced their frustration sports illustrated about the game historically protected by longstanding relationships with Pac-12 and Big Ten.
If she doesn’t agree, the rose would cost her own partner. No Power 5 league needs playoff expansion more than the Pac-12. The Pac-12 and the Big 12 combined have qualified six teams for the eight playoffs – the same number as the Big Ten. The SEC qualified 10 and the ACC qualified eight.
At the SEC media days last July, when asked about the potential Rose Bowl issue, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was quick to quip, “We can stay with four (teams),” a phrase he’s repeated dozens over the last year once expressed.
A senior source told S.I last summer that the general mood among CFP officials with the Rose Bowl is “enough is enough” and predicted “a lot of drama” during the upcoming negotiations. “But at the end of the day,” the official said, “are these two conferences going to get out of the playoffs to protect the Rose Bowl?”
More than 15 months later, the CFP expansion is at the mercy of a 106-year-old game from Pasadena, California, married to a parade. The Rose has been played every year since 1916, a 10+ year run that has earned it the home of college football’s most elite event over the years.
The game is tied to the Rose Parade, and each year’s kickoff is deliberately timed – 2 p.m. local time in Pasadena – so that the sun sets in the fourth quarter in the San Gabriel Mountains in what many believe is the most picturesque scene in sports.
Times are changing, however, top officials say.
Under the proposed dates for the 2024 and 2025 extended playoffs, the six participating bowls would alternate hosting the quarterfinals on New Year’s Day and the semifinals scheduled later in January. The Rose have no problem with the schedule in ’24 and ’25 as it has already been set as a quarterfinal and would retain its traditional New Year’s Day kick-off.
However, in a new iteration of the playoffs, officials want to hold a traditional Rose Bowl in years when there is a semifinal or presumably quarterfinal that isn’t played on New Year’s Day. In a 12-team playoff, this could be a game pitting the team ranked fourth in the Big Ten against the team ranked third in the Pac-12. In addition to playing the game at its traditional time, The Rose also wants to have an exclusive window – roughly 2-5pm PT – when no playoff games will be played.
This window is a lucrative stretch of time during one of college football’s busiest days. To make matters worse, the playoff rounds can push the dates from 2026 and beyond. There is a lot of discussion about pushing the regular season up a week and moving the calendar to have the semi-finals played on New Year’s Day.
Some believe the Rose Bowl position is money-related. The game has a lucrative contract with both the Pac-12 and Big Ten that is integrated into the CFP but separate. A separate non-CFP Rose Bowl would theoretically generate revenue that would keep the game and two leagues.
The Rose Bowl issue is another obstacle in the 18th month of negotiations to expand the CFP. In June 2021, a subcommittee of commissioners proposed the 12-team model that Presidents adopted on September 2. Presidents intervened after commissioners failed to agree on a format, a process fraught with drama, pettiness and hostility over both the conference’s realignment and differing ideals.
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