So after the NCAA football regular season concluded a few weeks ago, I watched ESPN’s weekly “BCS Countdown.” I have no idea why I decided to watch it, as I already knew that Notre Dame would play Alabama in the national championship and that Wisconsin would be in the Rose Bowl (and didn’t care about anything else).
But for some reason, I subjected my self to ESPN’s 20th show in which two people talk at each other for half an hour or longer without doing anything my Boston University journalism professors would actually consider “reporting.” And in watching this talk show, I discovered the saga of Northern Illinois University.
For those unfamiliar, Northern Illinois went 12-1 and won the Mid-American Conference — a non-automatic qualifying conference with such illustrious teams as Bowling Green, UMass and both Eastern, Western and Central Michigan. Normally, teams like the Huskies wind up with at-large berths to bowl games nobody remembers — in part because the bowls’ names seem to change every two to three years.
But as with seemingly all this related to college athletics, the BCS uses a system of rules so complicated that it would easily baffle most tax lawyers or Talmudic scholars. Through a characteristically bizarre set of circumstances, 15th-ranked Northern Illinois earned a berth in the Discover Orange Bowl — one of the four big-money BCS bowls — against 12th-ranked Florida State on New Year’s Day.
And because Northern Illinois somehow squeaked into the Orange Bowl, four top-10 teams — Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina — were relegated to various iterations of the Not Important Bowl.
I didn’t really care about this story until one of ESPN’s analysts said the following: “No disrespect to [Huskies quarterback] Jordan Lynch. I love everything about his game.”
Nice thing to say, sure. But in the very next sentence, that same analyst said it was an absolute travesty that Northern Illinois would be in the Orange Bowl.
This analyst essentially said, “I love everything about Jordan Lynch’s game. But he isn’t nearly good enough to be worthy of this great honor.”
The on-air guys then cut away to Kirk Herbstreit, another ESPN college analyst, who said Northern Illinois making the Orange Bowl showed how flawed the BCS system is even beyond how it chooses who goes to the national championship.
Because of the blatant hypocrisy I witnessed on “BCS Countdown,” I want the Huskies to win. More, I want them to kick the Seminoles’ asses up and down Sun Life Stadium.
Yes, Herbstreet mocked the BCS system. But if ESPN truly had an issue with the BCS, why does it hype “BCS Countdown” as must-see TV? Why does it choose to profit off the BCS by selling ad revenue? Why does it discuss and debate and devote countless words online and minutes on-air to discussing the nuances of the BCS system?
I’ve often thought sports journalism has an unavoidable element of publicity to it. There are always more games and more seasons, so every article is about something happening, not somethingthat’s already happened.
People can’t help but read a work of sports journalism and want to check out the team or player in question. Hence, it’s an indirect form of publicity.
I don’t mind that, but ESPN sometimes takes it too far, crossing that thin line between publicizing news outlet and outright publicity firm. “BCS Countdown” is one such example, devoting so much press — whether positive or negative — to the BCS, that it gives the BCS validity.
ESPN’s profit off the BCS is one of the reasons NCAA Div-I football still hasn’t abandoned it for a fairer, playoff-based championship system. The playoffs may be coming soon, but they’re not here yet, and until then ESPN seems perfectly willing to give a so-called “flawed” system as much attention as possible.
So if ESPN’s gonna support the system, the least it can do is evaluate each team sent to a BCS bowl on something more tangible than the school’s pedrigree. Because as long as ESPN evaluates based on intangibles, schools like Northern Illinois will never get a fair shake.
What better way to give the middle finger to the entire BCS system than by actually going out and beating a team that only made it because the winner of the ACC — easily one of the weakest BCS conferences — automatically goes to the Orange Bowl? What better way to tell every on-air personality with the gall to simultaneously condone a flawed system and criticize those teams which take advantage of it to piss off?
I fully expect Florida State to win the Orange Bowl — the Seminoles are higher-ranked and have played better teams (the latter reason likely influenced the former in the polls). But I love it when corrupt systems get thoroughly embarrassed.
So until New Year’s Day, go Huskies!