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Something’s wrong when players are opting out of Rose Bowl

Expanding the playoff field would solve the problem by making more bowl games relevant

Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, right, celebrates his touchdown against Purdue with teammate Chris Olave, Nov. 13, 2021
Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, right, celebrates his touchdown against Purdue with teammate Chris Olave Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Earlier this week both players, and two other Buckeyes, announced they would be skipping the Rose Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.
Jay LaPrete, Associated Press

Whattya mean there are players who don’t want to play in the Rose Bowl?

This is not the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or the Cheez-It Bowl or some other silly thing drummed up by the local chamber of commerce or a company with an advertising budget to blow. This is the ROSE BOWL, the “Granddaddy of Them All.” This is more than 100 years of history and prestige. This is the game we watched on New Year’s Day with Keith Jackson reigning from the booth. It’s the game in which every player wanted to play.

Until now.

This week we learned that four of Ohio State’s best players — all perfectly healthy — have decided not to play against Utah in Saturday’s Rose Bowl — wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, defensive tackle Haskell Garrett and offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere. Instead, they have decided they’d rather skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft, rather than risk injury, even though they were fine with this when they thought they were headed to the College Football Playoff.

We’ve seen players opt out of bowl games increasingly in recent years. But the Rose Bowl?

The creation of the College Football Playoff was good news and bad news. Good news for those who wanted a more equitable way to decide a national champion instead of using rankings; bad news for the bowl system. It has rendered most bowl games meaningless, the equivalent of an NFL exhibition game (or, worse, an NBA regular-season game).

The field of bowl games has proliferated, from 11 in 1970 to 25 in 2000 to 40 this year, all of which has created bowl inflation. It has driven down their value. There are so many bowls that teams with losing records are being invited to participate — 80 of 130 schools — 62% — go bowling. The creation of the playoff rendered them even more meaningless.

But who thought the Rose Bowl would become a consolation prize?

In the days before the creation of a playoff and a close approximation of a playoff (the BCS bowls), there were actually fewer teams playing meaningful games, and nobody was bailing out of bowl games then.

“I just don’t buy into this narrative of meaningless bowl games,” says TV analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. “These teams have always had goals of getting to the championship and it doesn’t happen all that often, but you don’t throw in the towel and say, ‘Well, we didn’t accomplish our goals.’’’

Ohio State has participated in the last two national playoffs. The Rose Bowl was apparently too big of a step down for the Buckeyes. Their best players couldn’t be bothered with a New Year’s Six bowl — as they have been called for several years — considered to be the best of the best. (Note: several Utah players have NFL futures — a number of them have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to commit to the NFL draft — but they’re not opting out of the Rose Bowl.)

Wake up, college football. What are we doing here?

The 2022 Rose Bowl, between Ohio State and Utah, will be played Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.
Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

There’s a common-sense solution. Expand the playoffs. There’s a lot of talk about this, but nothing more. To borrow from “Seinfeld,” they know how to talk about the problem, but they don’t know what to do about it, and that’s the important part — doing something about it. Anyone can just talk about a problem.

There are glaciers that move faster than the people who run college football. It took them decades just to create a playoff, something every other sport had been doing forever.

Look, there are 350 college basketball teams. They take 68 of them to the NCAA Tournament. There are 128 teams in the FCS division of college football. They take 24 of them to the national championship tournament. There are 130 teams in the FBS division of college football. They take four of them to the national championship tournament.

Does this make sense?

The creation of a 16-team FBS tournament, beginning in early December, would instantly make 15 bowl games relevant and meaningful.

Something should be done. You know college football has a problem when players are dropping out of the Rose Bowl.