As I watched Ohio State lose to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, putting the finishing touches on the Big Ten’s current six-game BCS Bowl losing streak, I got to thinking. And when I get to thinking, that’s never a good thing.
One of the favorite semi-annual topics of conversation in the college football world is whether or not Notre Dame “deserves” its bowl bid. Oh sure, I could be a realist. I could point out to the armchair pundits that the college football post-season is little more than one game that matters plus 33 exhibition games. I could point out that this reality merits bowl organizers think about the economics of their bowl picks and thus they don’t take the Notre Dame brand lightly. I could point out that Notre Dame’s appearance in this season’s Hawaii Bowl garnered a 104% jump in television ratings and a 46% jump in attendance—the largest year-to-year increase of any 2008-09 post-season bowl and a Nielsen share and attendance figure exceeding this year’s ACC Championship game. Then again, I could just point to the Hawaii Bowl box score and ask if anyone still thinks Notre Dame didn’t deserve to be in that game.
What’s that? You’re talking about the larger bowl picture? About Notre Dame’s preferential treatment when it comes to the BCS Bowls? Okay then, I’ll bite on that conspiratorial load of bull as well.
The BCS bylaws state, and I quote,
Notre Dame will be guaranteed one of the at-large slots in a BCS bowl if it is ranked No. 8 or better in the final BCS standings.
This lone “Notre Dame clause” is usually what gets all the Irish haters’ panties in a bunch. Mark May, Michael Wilbon, Jason Whitlock, John Saunders, Jay Mariotti, any and all residents of the greater Ann Arbor area—they collude to weave this vast hypocritical tapestry that paints Notre Dame football as overrated and coddled by the BCS.
I’m not going to dispute the overrated part. The reality is that any ounce of Irish success on the gridiron gets bowl organizers’ mouths frothing. ND rarely has the luxury of being Boston College or Purdue and always getting invited to crappy bowls versus crappy opponents because nobody wants to see us play. Let’s be honest, Notre Dame hasn’t been above a Gator Bowl-quality team for the last 15 years, and yet there we’ve been, time and again—overmatched in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl versus Oregon State, overmatched in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl versus Ohio State, and overmatched in the 2007 Sugar Bowl versus LSU. What would you have ND do in these situations? Turn down the bowl invite? Turn down the money? Accept yet another invite to yet another obscure December bowl game like BC does and whine for the next eight months about how we get no respect while bragging about how we hung 51 points on the mighty Toledo Rockets in a Motor City Bowl nobody watched?
Like I said, overrated—guilty as charged. But coddled? Give me a freaking break.
These are the facts, and they are indisputable:
FACT #1 — In the 11-season history of the BCS, 10 teams with three or more losses have played in BCS bowls.
FACT #2 — Since 1996, Notre Dame has never been extended an invitation to the Rose, Fiesta, Orange or Sugar Bowls after three or more regular season losses.
FACT #3 — Not including Notre Dame, in the 11-season history of the BCS 19 teams ranked outside the Top 8—the minimum threshold ND is now required to meet for any automatic BCS bid—have played in BCS bowls.
FACT #4 — Of these 19 BCS bowl teams ranked outside the Top 8, 13 were ranked outside the Top 10, four were ranked outside the Top 20, two were unranked, and 12 were ranked lower than any of the three ND teams that have accepted a BCS bowl bid.
FACT #5 — Notre Dame’s BCS rankings prior to its three BCS bowls were, respectively, #11 for the 2000-01 season, #6 for the 2005-06 season, and #11 for the 2006-07 season. While the media cried “foul” in both 2000-01 and 2006-07, they never bothered to vet the actual BCS bowl rules, which not only extended automatic invites to BCS conference champs, regardless of record, but capped BCS bowl participation at two teams per BCS conference. In lieu of pulling their heads out of their asses and holding the real culprits accountable–i.e. the BCS conference commissioners–the media took the predictable route and just blamed Notre Dame. Never mind a lower-ranked 3-loss Purdue had backed its way into the 2001 Rose Bowl after being handed a Big Ten title by default, never mind that according to the BCS rules there were only two other eligible teams besides ND, the Irish were somehow magically shafting everyone.
Simply put, one or two conference champions EVERY YEAR have not met the standard applied to Notre Dame by the BCS rules, and yet the media is strangely compliant. Don’t believe me? Again, these are the facts, and they are indisputable:
2008-09 — Cincinnati (BCS ranking #12), Virginia Tech (#19)
2007-08 — West Virginia (#9), Hawaii (#10), Illinois (#13)
2006-07 — Oklahoma (#10), Wake Forest (#14)
2005-06 — West Virginia (#11), Florida State (#22)
2004-05 — Michigan (#13), Pitt (#21)
2003-04 — Miami (#9), Kansas State (#10)
2002-03 — Florida State (#14)
2001-02 — Maryland (#10), LSU (#13)
2000-01 — Purdue (unranked)
1999-00 — Stanford (unranked)
1998-99 — Wisconsin (#9), Syracuse (#15)
Striking, isn’t it? And yet, when an 8-4 Florida State goes to the Sugar Bowl, the media says, “Sorry folks, those are the rules.” When an 8-3 Stanford loses to Texas by 62 points and to San Jose State (at home) but still manages to coast through a weak Pac Ten, they can’t see past the coach’s skin color to acknowledge his team as an undeserving paper tiger. When an 8-3 Purdue gets rewarded a Rose Bowl for essentially sucking the least in the Big Ten, they pat the conference commissioners on the back and say, “It could be worse.” And then, in the 2008-09 BCS bowl season, it IS worse, as college football fans watch a half-empty Orange Bowl pair two teams, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, whose collective BCS rankings are lower than the TCU-Boise State matchup in the oh-so-storied San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
Is it too much to ask for an ounce of journalistic integrity? How is that a 9-4 Virginia Tech is merely “adhering to the BCS guideliness” when they accept their bogus 2009 Orange Bowl invite, while in back-to-back seasons a two-loss Notre Dame is the subject of every conceivable are-they-deserving and ND-doesn’t-matter editorial hatchet job for doing nothing more than adhering to these same exact guidelines? Just a suggestion, but perhaps the ESPN-fueled peanut gallery needs to first get off its high horse before telling the ND faithful to get off ours.
I’m not asking you guys to like Notre Dame—that’s never going to happen. But it would be nice to see a modicum of acknowledgment that you’re as full of crap as we are. It would be nice on just one Saturday evening to turn on ESPN College Gameday and not have the urge to send my fist through Mark May’s chest cavity.
Happy New Year…and Go Irish!