The Rose Bowl has until the end of the week — at the latest — to relinquish its demand to continue playing in its traditional time slot in continued talks with the College Football Playoff, CBS Sports has learned. The bowl remains the lone holdout as the CFP seeks to expand to 12 teams in 2024, two years before its contract is set to expire.
If the Rose Bowl refuses to acquiesce, the CFP would not be able to expand until 2026, and the Rose Bowl could see itself left out of the selection process.
The Rose Bowl has doggedly held on to its demand of kicking off Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET. That time slot is considered one of the most valuable in sports television.
However, in an expanded playoff, all parties are beginning to realize the games themselves are more important than the bowls that host the contests.
The Rose Bowl had proposed hosting CFP quarterfinals in 2024 and 2025 — possibly without their traditional Big Ten and Pac-12 partners — in exchange for keeping its time slot as part of the CFP’s new media rights contract starting in 2026, a source close to the situation told CBS Sports.
Asked what leverage the Rose Bowl has in the process, a person involved in the CFP process simply replied, “They have none.”
An ESPN report stated the Rose Bowl had been given an “ultimatum” of Wednesday to make a decision.
Sources tell CBS Sports a deadline is nearing “where we have to fish or cut bait.” One CFP bowl official said early expansion would be impossible after this weekend’s conference championship games amid the rush of bowl and playoff season.
The CFP is in the ninth year of a 12-year deal with ESPN that expires after the 2025 season. Necessary parties have otherwise agreed to expand to 12 teams and are seeking to do so before the end of the current ESPN contract. However, the Rose Bowl is the lone party holding up the process, which would force expansion to wait until 2026 and therefore cost the CFP and its partners hundreds of millions of dollars.
All 10 FBS conferences, Notre Dame and the participating New Year’ Six bowls have already agreed on such issues as playing at campus sites, dates of games and revenue distribution for early expansion 2024 and 2025. However, agreement to expand early must be unanimous. If the Rose Bowl doesn’t agree, one source said, it will single-handledly have “killed” early expansion.
If the Rose Bowl is not part of the CFP after the 2025 season, there are several sites that would love to take its place. Destination cities such as Charlotte (Duke’s Mayo Bowl), San Antonio (Alamo Bowl), Tampa (Gasparilla Bowl), Las Vegas (Las Vegas Bowl) and Nashville (Music City Bowl) would be possibilities.
Over the years, every BCS/CFP scheduling decision — until now — has accommodated the Rose Bowl being able to broadcast its game at its preferred time slot. The game has traditionally been scheduled to follow the Tournament of Roses of Parade. The timing was such that the sun would always set in the West over the San Gabriel Mountains during the game, thus creating one of the most iconic settings in American sports.
Now that the CFP is ready to expand, its handlers are less tolerant of meeting the Rose Bowl’s demands. That 5 p.m. time slot will simply be too valuable in the future when — for the first time — the feeling is that the games are more important than the bowl sites.
“It’s the equivalent of Super Bowl Sunday,” said one industry source of the 5 p.m. time slot. “New Year’s Day is kind of like a Sunday, even if it’s not on a Sunday. Everybody is hung over from New Year’s Eve. They’re sitting back, it’s 5 o’clock. Everybody is done what they need to do. It is the best window that there is.”
The primary reasons to expand early are to provide more playoff access to teams and score an extra $450 million per year from rightsholder ESPN so it could air the additional games in 2024 and 2025. Whether the playoff expands early or not, a new media rights contract will be signed for 2026 and beyond. If the Rose Bowl costs the CFP and its partners half a million dollars, why would they be inclined to include it in the process going forward, especially given they would likely maintain their time slot demand?
It’s not clear what leverage the Rose Bowl believes it holds in the negotiations. That broadcast window is valuable, and CFP stakeholders seem fed up with accommodating the Rose Bowl in an arrangement that goes back almost a quarter century.
“It’s down to the Rose Bowl. That’s obvious,” one source with knowledge of the situation told CBS Sports.
There has been no indication how the Big Ten and Pac-12 feel about the situation, but perhaps it’s obvious given neither conference is aligned with the Rose Bowl in this matter.
The Rose Bowl began to give up its exclusivity in 1998, the first year of the BCS. Back then, it agreed to end a continuous run of featuring the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions that dated back to 1947. In the BCS agreement, the Rose Bowl surrendered its two spots once every four years in a rotation to host the BCS Championship Game. That first occurred after the 2001 season when Miami defeated Nebraska for its last national title. Both schools at the time mentioned how they were meant to feel like outsiders after 55 consecutive years of Big Ten vs. Pac-8/10 matchups.
When the CFP began in 2014, it was assured the Rose Bowl would never host a national championship. Los Angeles was building the new SoFi Stadium, and the city of Pasadena didn’t have the means to outbid the city of L.A. SoFi will host the 2023 CFP National Championship. Meanwhile, since 2014, the Rose Bowl has hosted CFP semifinals in 2015, 2018 and 2021.
“The luster of that game goes away [if the Rose doesn’t agree],” said one bowl executive outside the CFP system. Maybe the Rose Bowl just has to give in, suck it up.
“It’s just who blinks first.”