There’s no entity in college sports that mixes unbridled arrogance with a lack of self-awareness more consistently and persistently than the Rose Bowl. For decades, the Rose Bowl’s addiction to tradition has proudly impeded the progress of the sport’s postseason by blocking a playoff.
In most corners of the sports world, a parade and a sunset packaged with a bowl game slowing the entire enterprise’s progress would be mocked. In college football, it provided a point of pride.
The Rose Bowl is accustomed to getting in the way and not realizing it, long comfortable with a smokescreen of tradition providing cover for its greed and collective ego. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging in Southern California, playing the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Jan. 1 looms as an affront to common sense and geographic realities.
The Rose Bowl shouldn’t be played in the stadium that bears its name in 2020. The players who will likely play in it don’t want to go there, in part because their parents won’t be allowed to attend. Also, they are smart enough to realize that flying 2,000 miles to play in a COVID hot zone isn’t very smart. Three athletic directors with schools likely to play in what’s expected to be the No. 2 vs. No. 3 College Football Playoff semifinal – Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson – are also cold to the idea of playing without families in the stands.
“If it can’t be the Rose Bowl we all grew up with, does it make sense to continue to have the game in Pasadena [this year]?” asked Clemson’s Dan Radakovich. “That’s really what it boils down to.”
The reasons to not play the Rose Bowl are simple. The teams don’t want go that far. The players want their families at the game, which is prohibited by government restrictions. And most important, it’s not safe to go. Southern California is under a stay-at-home order through Christmas and hospitals are jammed.
The only point in traversing the country to play in California, where the other three bowl games have been canceled, is because the Rose Bowl overvalues its own role in the sporting landscape. This a toxic mix of greed, risk and lack of empathy. All for a sunset and a century-long streak.
“Let me get this straight,” said Jessica Moorman, the mother of Ohio Senior defensive lineman Jonathon Cooper. “We’re able to attend games in certain states, but they’re saying that for the safety of players, the parents shouldn’t be able to go. But it’s safe for the players to be out there? Is it really about keeping the players safe? The logic doesn’t make sense.”
The Rose Bowl’s fate lies mostly with the state of California. While there’s hope among the families and CFP officials that the state allows a small group of families in, it’s unlikely. It’s more likely state officials would boot the game elsewhere. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that there’s “zero percent” of intensive care beds available in Southern California, and things are so grim that there are temporary field hospitals around the area. Not exactly brochure conditions.
Two experts told Yahoo Sports that it didn’t appear safe to hold the game. “Probably not!” said Dr. Yvonne A. Maldonado, a Stanford expert on infectious diseases. “But if they want to, they would have to build a big testing bubble.”
Added Dr. Michael Dube of USC and the Pac-12 medical advisory committee: “It would be safer to not engage in any dangerous activities that could result in serious injury in order to let the hospitals concentrate on other emergencies.”
The athletic directors most likely to be involved in the game all expressed reservations to Yahoo Sports, as the geography, logistics and inability for parents to attend makes no sense.
“I believe it’s important for families to have the opportunity to see their sons compete,” said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. “However we can create an environment where parents have an opportunity to see their sons, that should be done.”
Added Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick: “This ought to be a constant for us – what’s in the best interest of the student-athlete? Under these circumstances we all recognize that some compromises need to be made, but when those compromises adversely impact the student experience, the bar for implementing them should be very high.”
If the players’ families can attend the game, they still could not see their sons up close. For Candace Wilson, the mother of Ohio State star Garrett Wilson, it has been so long since she hugged her son that she couldn’t remember the month.
Candace Wilson understands the complications of COVID-19 and stresses she isn’t complaining, but just wishes there’d be compromise. “I’d be ecstatic,” she said of a potential move of the game. “I’m sure the kids would like to be able to look up into the stands and see their parents as well.”
There’s enough animosity brewing on campuses toward the Rose Bowl that the game is faced with two options. They can cling to their game and watch players revolt on-line soon after the game is announced, calling out the game for not being empathetic to their desires to have their parents attend. Unpaid athletes complaining in unison about flying 2,000-plus miles into a COVID-19 hot zone to play in an empty stadium would go viral faster than you can say San Gabriels.
“Parents fly all over the place to support their families,” Moorman said. “You guys can make money off the kids, but we’re not making any money. The boys aren’t making any money. But we can’t come? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
There’s thorny contractual complications with ESPN, and it would take some compromise. But the game could move to the Dallas area or elsewhere and still be called the Rose Bowl. They moved it to North Carolina in 1942 after World War II began, and they can move it again for a pandemic. (It ends up being Ohio State and Notre Dame, Indianapolis is just about equidistant.)
Executive director David Eads gave Yahoo Sports a gem of a quote recently which accidentally summed up the Rose Bowl’s arrogance. He described how the Rose Bowl being played in the familiar setting will “go a long way toward helping the American psyche at a very dark time.”
It’s time for the Rose Bowl to worry about the psyche of the players who’ll be on the field. If not, here’s hoping the players speak out about and embarrass the Rose Bowl into the doing the right thing. Considering the game’s collective ego and misread of the room in this situation, they’re going to need to speak loudly.
For the Rose Bowl, the sun set on hoping they’d do the right thing for players and the sport a long time ago.
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