- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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If the BCS holds a 10-year anniversary celebration, the Big Ten Conference likely would be first in line for cake.
The league wouldn't leave any crumbs on its plate, either.
Arguably no conference has benefited more from the BCS than the Big Ten, which has sent the most teams (17) to BCS bowls and, for the most part, maintained its traditional bond with the Rose Bowl. Despite owning the fourth-best record (8-9) in BCS games out of the six power conferences, the Big Ten has sent two teams to BCS bowls in seven of the 10 seasons, including each of the past three.
So don't expect the Big Ten to be picketing for a playoff system anytime soon.
"We have the best of both worlds," said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers to Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000. "We have a chance to play for a championship and still have our ties to the Rose Bowl. We're in pretty good shape."
Preserving a link to the Rose Bowl has been the biggest priority and the biggest challenge for the Big Ten since the BCS was formed. It also has increased contempt for the league.
The Big Ten sent teams to Pasadena during the first three years of the BCS, but league champ Illinois was bumped to the Sugar Bowl in 2002 when the Rose Bowl hosted the national championship. It marked the first time since 1946 that the game didn't feature the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup.
The Rose Bowl once again didn't feature a Big Ten team in 2003, when league champ Ohio State played for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa faced Pac-10 runner-up USC in the Orange Bowl, while Pac-10 champion Washington State took on Big 12 champ Oklahoma in Pasadena.
Rose Bowl executive director Mitch Dorger wasn't thrilled with the matchups, saying at the time, "We learned a lot about the BCS this year and the way it operates."
"The first four years were tough," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "The last four years, we're working much better. We're leaving [the Rose Bowl] more often, but that means we have more opportunity.
"To the extent that there was damage the first four years, we've been able to largely get that back."
Making new inroads to other bowls has certainly helped.
In 2000, Michigan became the first Big Ten team to reach the Orange Bowl since 1977, and the league has more Orange Bowl appearances (three) during the BCS era than in the previous 65 editions of the game (two). Big Ten teams have reached the Sugar Bowl twice since 1999 after getting there just three times before.
"We lost regular access to the Rose Bowl, but we gained three opportunities to play for a national championship," Delany said. "We lost opportunities in the Rose Bowl, but we gained greater access to other major bowls."
The addition of a separate BCS national championship game also has helped the Big Ten, which sent its champion (Ohio State) to both title games and still had an entry in the Rose Bowl.
"We still have an avenue to get there," Alvarez said.
Some see it as a roadblock for the rest of college football.
The Rose Bowl's selection of a three-loss Illinois team in January sparked debate after Big 12 North champion Missouri, a team that had beaten the Illini in the season opener and held the No. 1 ranking at the end of November, was left out of the BCS. Many felt the Rose Bowl should have prioritized matchup over tradition and selected red-hot Georgia to face red-hot USC.
USC's lopsided win over Illinois furthered demand for the Rose Bowl to part with ritual. The Big Ten also has been singled out for its opposition to a plus-one playoff format or any change that would affect its relationship with the Rose Bowl.
Despite the growing clamor for change, the Big Ten doesn't plan to budge.
As a conference without a championship game, Delany and others trumpet the significance of the regular season. Evidence: the Ohio State-Michigan matchup in 2006, which paired the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in arguably the most-anticipated regular-season game in college football history.
"I'm anti-playoff, so the BCS as we see it today is best-case scenario," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "College football does have a playoff, and it occurs all year long. Every single game is significant. I like the format. It's not perfect, but in college football we don't need a playoff. We've got a very healthy game. It's been very good for the Big Ten."
For a league that has had its cake and eaten it throughout the past decade, the current setup is rather sweet.
Adam Rittenberg covers college football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com
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