On New Year's Day, Michigan played Alabama in the Rose Bowl, this year part of the College Football Playoff as a semifinal matchup. The game kicked off at 2pm local time in a stadium packed in Michigan maize and blue and Alabama crimson, and at some point about midway through the second half, the sun set over the San Gabriel Mountains - some would say, just as the Good Lord intended.
The Rose Bowl's idyllic scenery lies in contrast to much of the rest of the major bowl venues. As both a game and a stadium, it's one of college football's cathedrals, while much of the rest of the sport has shifted to NFL stadiums with upgraded amenities but nowhere near the nostalgia. The sentiment is floated each year, but this year, perhaps with eyes turned backwards as the sport enters great change in the coming season, the drumbeat seems louder than ever: Why not make the Rose Bowl the permanent home of the College Football Playoff Championship?
The groundswell to make the Rose Bowl the championship's forever home illuminates the faction of college football devotees - numerous, to be sure, but also vocal and powerful, that hold the Rose Bowl in high regard. So powerful is this faction that it has, throughout many steps in the sport's change, stood in the way of progress, as its historic conference partners, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have made decisions about playoff expansion and format based near-solely upon preserving the Granddaddy of 'em All.
In many respects, I am among those who hold the Tournament of Roses in such reverence. But my point of entry was the Rose Parade - which predates the Rose Bowl game - and that's one of the places where a Rose Bowl championship game, at least signed as the Rose Bowl , breaks down.
If it were to become the championship game, the Rose Bowl would already have to make one concession: To move off of New Year's Day. The 12 team playoff will push the championship out to MLK weekend, and barring a specific, say, Saturday placement that they'd have to fight the NFL Playoffs for, its solo 2pm local kickoff is already unlikely. For most, that's already a dealbreaker. But if you're still on board at that point, the game would be uncoupled from the parade, which will surely still step off eight hours into the Pasadena new year.
There's one way to preserve the relationship. It's a wild one, but not much wilder than what's proposed with a Rose Bowl move. Consider this: in the 12 team format, the field narrows from eight to four on New Year's Day in quarterfinal games played in existing bowl games, at least through the 2026 championship game. Want New Year's Day and the Rose Parade to be a celebration of the sport? Fly all of the remaining bands out to march down Colorado Blvd. Playoff games would have to move off of January 1 (or perhaps solo-site them in, say, SoFi Stadium?) but the Rose Parade could showcase not just the two bands playing in the game, but the eight that remain after the playoffs' opening round on campuses. It's a wild proposition, with a ton of moving parts in a very short timeframe, but then, so is the playoff itself. If this thing is truly going to be as outsized as the sport wants, this is one way to own the day.