Don’t blame Northern Illinois for its invitation to the BCS and Orange Bowl. The MAC champion Huskies followed the rules of the game and busted a flawed system, disgraceful as Kirk Herbstreit and others might believe it to be.
The media representative manning the Orange Bowl’s official Twitter account was tasked with deflecting similar criticism, though surely less eloquently stated (via @KevinDeShazo).
I get the outrage. Oklahoma is a great team, co-champion of the Big 12 Conference with its only two losses coming against the No. 1 and 5 ranked squads. The rules Northern Illinois exploited unfairly penalize the Sooners. The irony is that the rulebook was written to make the game unwinnable for the Northern Illinoises around the table.
The BCS asks the non-automatic qualifiers to roll a 12, then hands them five-sided dice. The game being played is Monopoly, and the power conferences own the railroads, the utilities, Broadway and Park Place. Outsiders are left Oriental Avenue and the pittance of passing Go vis a vis their GoDaddy.com, Famous Idaho Potato and Little Caesar Bowl tie-ins.
Non-automatic qualifiers like Northern Illinois can build up their property, sure. But they lack access to the big money opportunities that make those dreams a reality. TCU is an outlier that overcame the impossibly long odds, reaching two BCS bowls in 2009 and 2010. The more-than $12 million dollars TCU earned with those appearances is helping to pay for expansion to Amon G. Carter Stadium; as is the money TCU earned moving to the Big 12 Conference after drawing the conference’s attention. Being able to reinvest in the program promises TCU can continue its success.
Northern Illinois may not be TCU, but it didn’t just now sit at the table, either. Huskie (note: not a typo, singular references on NIUHuskies.com are spelled this way) football has steadily grown in the past decade. This season is NIU’s third straight winning 11 games or more, with its second different coach. A third coach will take over the Dog piece on this game board next season with Dave Doeren headed to NC State — and therein is another reason this is such a huge victory for the program.
Non-AQ jobs are stepping stones to bigger and better things. These universities struggle to maintain success with revolving doors in the coaches offices. There are exceptions: Boise State, Utah and TCU. The three monopoly busters have held onto Chris Petersen, Kyle Whittingham and Gary Patterson far past the typical non-BCS expiration date.
The BCS paycheck is more than a reward for a great season, but stock in a program’s long term future. NIU earned an estimated $750,000 for playing in the GoDaddy.com Bowl a season ago per the MAC’s contract to send its champion. The Orange Bowl should pay more than eight times that figure. A BCS berth doles out about 10 September sacrifice trips to power programs’ stadiums.
Money hardly makes a football team an impact player. Were the equation as simple as “make the BCS, sustain your program,” Hawai’i wouldn’t have immediately lost June Jones or be floundering as it is currently. Capitalizing on the opportunity is critical to score in the ways Boise State, TCU and Utah have since they rolled the dice.
The exposure of a BCS bowl is invaluable. Statue of Liberty was vital to Boise State establishing its brand, much like Utah’s dominant effort against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl piqued the Pac’s interest. A BCS invitation isn’t the culmination of a non-AQ’s efforts, but rather a Get Out of Jail Free card, if you will.
Northern Illinois lucked out with its draw of Florida State. A preseason favorite to contend for the BCS championship and a name synonymous with college football, giving the Seminoles a game spells huge potential for future recruiting. It’s also an unparalleled marketing tool. A memorable performance etches the name Northern Illinois into the public consciousness.
Drawing FSU was another fortuitous turn for Northern Illinois. The BCS made clear that it serves the power brokers in 2009 when it paired TCU and Boise State, eliminating some of that important exposure bonus. Because of guaranteed tie-ins, a Northern Illinois-Louisville match-up simply couldn’t happen. The rules the BCS wrote again hoisted it on its own petard.
Northern Illinois needed a lot of other teams to falter for this opportunity to present itself. Other BCS busters haven’t had the breaks this NIU received. The No. 16 access is its own roadblock that requires some luck to hurdle. The power conference players have to really struggle in order to fall below that milestone. Louisville won 10 games, but the Cardinals’ three non-conference wins were against teams with a combined five wins. Wisconsin finished third in its division and advanced to the Rose Bowl as the only five-game loser in BCS history.
It’s easy to direct ire at Northern Illinois. And maybe the naysayers will be vindicated on New Year’s — Florida State is a talented team afforded the advantages customary of a power broker. NIU might require lucky breaks to beat the Seminoles, but fortune has smiled on this program to guide it through a game designed for it to lose. If you’re dead-set on being angry at something, blame luck. Blame the rules. Just don’t blame Northern Illinois.