Rarely have I been angered watching a sports show the way I was Sunday night when watching ESPN's BCS Selection Show. It was like I was trapped in a nightmare and everyone transformed to their alternate First Take selves. Kirk Herbstreit was yelling at me about the affront to humanity that was #15 Northern Illinois qualifying for the Orange Bowl to face Florida State. Jesse Palmer and David Pollack were feigning surprise and shock over the news of NIU's berth that was broken hours earlier in the day. The first ever BCS berth for the MAC was turned into a debate point and all of it was insulting and infuriating.
Maybe it just has something to do with ESPN analysts hating mid-major programs and teams from non-power conferences. Kirk Herbstreit's incredible tirade against Northern Illinois making the Orange Bowl conjured up memories of Jay Bilas deriding VCU making the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Of course, we all know how that ended with VCU making the Final Four.
The BCS and the bowl system sucks. It's always sucked and it always will suck until there's a true, expanded playoff where every FBS team has a chance to win a national championship. Right now there are 54 non-AQ teams (excluding Boise State) that know they have zero shot of winning a title every time they begin a season. That's the sad state of college football. At least in other sports you have the opportunity, however large or small, to win a championship on the field/court/pool/etc. Northern Kentucky University basketball knows they can win the NCAA Tournament if they win their conference and go through the tourney unbeaten. Northern Illinois football begins the season knowing no matter what they do, they won't make the BCS Championship Game. No other sport on the planet is as exclusionary as FBS college football and it has always sickened me. Heck, the only reason this non-AQ qualifying scenario that benefited NIU is in place is to protect the BCS from anti-trust lawsuits.
But until the day comes when the FBS has a true playoff (not this four team access/host bowl monstrosity that will have the same issues we're dealing with now), a token Orange Bowl appearance is the best a team from the MAC can ever hope for. That's their ceiling. That's their high point. That's the farthest they can get in college football until the powers that be stiff arm them back to reality.
And NIU and the MAC should be celebrating their accomplishment today. #MACtion in the BCS is a great story. Instead, we all have to deal with this drummed up, sensationalized debate of the scoundrels at Northern Illinois taking a BCS spot away from those poor disadvantaged people at Oklahoma and Georgia.
Watch the video, I need to take a lap around the block to calm down…
Palmer and Pollack diss Northern Illinois' resume like they're an at large team in consideration for selection in the NCAA basketball tournament. The entire debate about Northern Illinois "deserving" a BCS bowl berth is such a straw man argument it's offensive to men made of straw. Northern Illinois EARNED their BCS slot. There is no "deserving" or "undeserving" here. They won their conference, finished in the Top 16 of the BCS Standings, and finished with a higher ranking than an AQ conference champion. Northern Illinois AUTOMATICALLY QUALIFIED FOR A BCS BOWL.
That's it. There is no discussion of their resume. There is no "eye test." The biggest problem I have with this "debate" is there is no debate. It's completely fabricated.
For whatever reason, it wasn't Louisville and Wisconsin that drew ESPN's scorn, it was Northern Illinois crashing the monopoly that marauds over college football. I'm sure if the powers that be had their way, the SEC, Notre Dame, USC, and Texas would break off from the NCAA and then everybody would be happy.
But it's the vitriol from that video towards NIU that troubles me. As SI's Stewart Mandel observed, only in college football does there exist this bizarre hatred of the underdog. Perhaps it's because the protective power structures have been in place for so long. Who knows. Nevertheless, this is not a measured critique of what's wrong with the BCS. It's an attack against the Huskies. It's the dismissive attitude of what that team accomplished this year. It's the unadulterated elitism oozing from Kirk Herbstreit that bothers me more than anything. It's the way in which he berates NIU for earning something of value.
How dare Northern Illinois pick up one measly table scrap from the BCS party! Chain them up in the cellar and banish them back to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl where they belong! It was surreal to see the BCS Selection Show rant against NIU. It honestly felt like watching an NWO beatdown from back in the day.
What ESPN did Sunday night was turn the most notable accomplishment in the history of the MAC and the NIU football program into another tired debate point. Need proof?
"To put Northern Illinois in the BCS is a joke." – @kirkherbstreit… AGREE or DISAGREE?
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) December 3, 2012
As if all of that wasn't bad enough, Kirk Herbstreit ended his rant in the most wishy-washy manner possible:
"I love MAC football, don't get me wrong. But to put them in the BCS is an absolute joke to the rest of these teams that are more deserving."
Are you kidding me? Herbie loves MAC football??? What a ridiculous thing to say after completely burying the MAC's champion for five minutes. His whole argument against NIU is their week in and week out schedule!
ESPN can dump on the MAC all it wants, but do these people who cover college football for a living realize the MAC has more bowl eligible teams than the ACC and Big East this year? It's convenient for ESPN analysts to cherry pick Kent State's loss at Kentucky while choosing to ignore their victory at #15 Rutgers or Toledo's victory over Cincinnati or Ohio winning at Penn State. They want to ignore the MAC's 4-1 bowl record last season. They even want to forget the Boises and TCUs and Utahs of BCS games gone by because heaven forbid 7 SEC teams won't make BCS bowl games this year. (Here's where you can insert your own conspiracy theories on the money ESPN has invested in the power conferences and BCS bowls.)
In the second half hour, Herbstreit and the ESPN crew tried to walk back their criticism of Northern Illinois. Herbstreit even came back and attempted to make the point that NIU could rally against the negativity created on their program and help inspire them in the Orange Bowl! Seriously! That happened! But it was too late to save this farce. Credit NIU QB Jordan Lynch for somehow managing to stay civil while being interviewed by Rece Davis, although reports are already out there about the disrespect he rightfully feels.
When it comes to celebrating an opportunity for a conference like the MAC and a school like Northern Illinois versus protecting the interests of the powerful, I'm always going to choose the former. Herbstreit, Palmer, and Pollack took what should have been a feel-good moment for NIU, the MAC, and college football and desecrated it with power conference propaganda and grandstanding.
If Northern Illinois making one BCS appearance in 15 years at the expense of Oklahoma and Georgia is really the biggest thing wrong with college football, the sport is in more trouble than I ever imagined.