By CLAY HORNING
Partisans will always expose themselves.
They’ll either tell you what their bias is in a direct way — like me when it comes to Class 6A football — making no bones about it, or they’ll say something like ESPN golden boy and college football guru Kirk Herbstreit said Sunday night in response to learning Northern Illinois would be playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
“I love MAC football. Don’t get me wrong,” Herbstreit said. “But to put them in the BCS is an absolute joke.”
Uh, Earth to Kirk? I don’t think you love MAC football.
But that was the chorus on ESPN Sunday night, and certainly in some quarters of the Sooner Nation. NIU kept Oklahoma out of the BCS and it’s an outrage, a miscarriage of justice, a black eye for Uncle Sam, etc, etc.
Did NIU keep OU out of the BCS? Well, sort of.
Lets review the rules. Bowl champions of the Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big East receive automatic bids. Also, no conference may be represented by more than two teams in the BCS. Also, any non-major conference champion that finishes as high as No. 16 in the final BCS standings receives an automatic bid. The Huskies topped Kent State — who everybody thought was the only threat to get into the top 16 — at the MAC championship game and came in No. 15.
For starters, Sooner fans should have no quarrel with NIU or even that part of the system that placed NIU in the BCS.
OU might have an issue with that part of the system that brought the Huskies in if it didn’t also allow bring in Big East champ Louisville and Big Ten champ Wisconsin, but the system allowed for the No. 21 Cardinals and the Badgers, who are not even in the BCS standings because it stops at 25 teams.
Consider the system.
There is a threshold that any non-major conference participant must reach. To play in any of four BCS bowls (the Fiesta, Sugar, Rose and Orange), the mid-major program must reach No. 16. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how bad you are if you luck into a major conference crown, you’re anyway.
On the one hand, NIU (or Kent, Boise State, Air Force, Tulsa, et al) must play up to the standard. But Wisconsin must meet no standard. What’s fair about that?
You say a major conference champ will always be one of the nation’s best teams? No it won’t.
Realignment has crushed he Big East, making it an also-ran conference. But the rules have not caught up to the reality, thus somebody among Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Pitt, Temple, UConn and South Florida — an eight-team league, can you imagine? — was going to the BCS no matter what. Alas, at least Louisville beat a reasonably good Rutgers team to get there and finished the regular season 10-2.
Not so the Badgers, who actually finished third in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division behind Ohio State and Penn State, going 7-5 and 4-4 in the conference. But because ex-Buckeye coach Jim Tressel turned out to be a liar and fraud and Penn State turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children, Wisconsin played Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 entering the game) in the conference title game and somehow crushed the Huskers 70-31.
Want to be mad?
Be mad at a system that should have found a way to tell the Big 10 it better hope the Huskers win the title game or the conference won’t get an appointment (of course, do that and Wisconsin has reason to throw the game, thereby not risking taking money out of the conference’s pocket; it is a conundrum).
Still, better than playing the game of what’s-the-worst-part-of-the-system is to recognize the need for the allowance that allowed NIU to make it. Because the bigger-injustice argument — NIU, Wisconsin or Louisville — is a false one. NIU making it is right, not wrong.
How many times was Boise State left out before it beat OU at the Fiesta Bowl? How often was it made clear that the national champ wasn’t really the champion of all hundred-some-odd FBS programs, but simply the champion of the combined rosters of the six major conferences?
The mid-majors were completely shut out. An avenue getting them into the system has to be in place. It legitimizes the entirety of the FBS and, more than that, it makes it fun.
I’ll probably watch the title game. I’ll probably watch the Fiesta Bowl, Kansas State and Oregon. I’ll skip the Rose. I might skip the Sugar. But I’ll sure as heck watch NIU meet Florida State at the Orange.
And when you think about it, just how exactly did OU get the short end of anything?
The BCS bowls are supposed to be the most important games of all, but they’re still a function of who’s playing in those games.
Well, to use Herbstreit’s word, it’s the Rose that’s the “joke.” Meanwhile, the Cotton will be played in front of almost 100,000 people in the nation’s best stadium, with OU facing a Texas A&M team that would be a sleeper pick to win it all if there was a playoff this season and the Aggies were in it.
The Sooners may not be the favorite at Jerry’s World, but the matchup is classic.
Win, and it matters.
That’s what’s important.