Bowl Bull: The Myth of Notre Dame’s Preferential Treatment

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!


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  1. fastfinger 10 years ago

    Notre Dame is a quasi-member of the Big East (they belong for all other sports), and my impression was that they were entitled to take any of the Big East’s bowls. I think this has been a subject of controversy for Big East fans for quite some time, allowing ND the benefits of Big East affiliations without actually having to commit to joining the conference for football. LMake ND join a football conference and play by the rules like every other school has to, or else be totally ineligible for post season bowl games.

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  2. C-Dog 11 years ago

    Latina has resigned. Frank Verducci is hired. Frank start the blog post so we can get this going.

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  3. C-Dog 11 years ago

    The founding dates of the conferences are meaningless. Many of the teams currently in them were not in them before the mid 90s. The Big 10 and the Pac-10 are the only ones mostly in tact. The SEC has a bunch of SWAC teams in it. Remember that old conference that had Texas, Arkansas, SMU, A&M, etc. No one lost sleep over it’s break up. And let’s not forget those traditional ACC powers, Miami FSU, BC, and VTech. OH,yeah they were independents in the 80s. And the WAC has been a conference of great history and lore. Are you kidding? Look the folks down south would cheer, scream, and brawl if you told them 15 minutes before the game that you were replacing the football game with a tractor pull or a nascar race. They just want to get drunk and get nuts. Out West, there is no sense of tradition. They’ll be happy and peaceful with anything. the upper East coast is more about basketball. And that leaves the midwest. Well our dreary winters will leave us desparate for anything. No, there’s no argument that will convince me you couldn’t change the whole system and still have highly loyal rabid fans.
    Otherwise, MAC, your argument would force all teams back to the state they were in in the 80s and we’d go back soley to polls. I’m OK with that, but it seems less likely than moving forward to an equal opportunity playoff system. Only way to do that is to re-align all conferences to have the same number of teams and every conference winner gets a shot at the title.

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  4. C-Dog 11 years ago

    I like your reply to MAC. Ohio State fans do not have class. I know they have threatened clerics. Sorry, but football is great fun, nothing more. It like any sport can be used to build character, but physically threatening other fans over a game shows warped priorities. OSU belongs with the southern schools that allow beer bottles to be thrown during drunken brawls INSIDE their stadiums. I may rag on the PAC-10, but at least their fans have enough of that ZEN surfer attitude to be pleasant about it. I’d like to see ND fans get a little more chippy, but sttll keep the class. Once all the AARP aged fans turn their tickets over, I think that will happen.

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  5. C-Dog 11 years ago

    I agreed with Irisheye62, although I’m always a bit skeptical on lavishing the “good” term on football coaches in the modern era. but among the bunch, Urban seems like he tries to do the right thing. Doing the right thing is a lot easier at ND.
    But my comments about his probability of coming to ND being low, speak to the chances of the necessary sequence of events. 1. Weis has to leave at the same time Urban is looking to move on. 2. ND has to forget that Urban spurned them before. ND does not want a second public turn down. 3. Urban needs to feel the time is right. And he needs to feel that coming to ND is a better move from building an unparalleled legacy at Florida. 4. ND has to feel that Urban won’t be oversatisfied with his Florida legacy. I’d hope he’d be as hungry for National Championships at ND. It can’t be a job of, “Oh well we won at Florida and bent a few rules. Can’t do that here at ND, but 9 or 10 wins most years and talking about how wonderful the ethics and morals are, is good enough” No we need a fanatic who will run a VERY clean program but is highly committed to win for the Lady on Top of the Dome. I’d support Urban if he was as committed to the idea of Notre Dame as Holtz, Parseghian, Leahy, and Rockne were.

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  6. JC 11 years ago


    Irisheye62, is correct about Urban being a good man. Look for Urban to be here after this upcoming season. Tebow is back for a third Championship drive if he rehabs the shoulder well.

    And of course that is contigent upon how CW’s season goes. But, 2010 not that far off.

    I think if Urban wins a 3rd, he’ll make the jump to ND if the job is available.

    Considering his wife’s comments on ND, he’s good to go whenever.

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  7. JC 11 years ago


    What’s all this sanctimonious sensationalism over conferences? Speaking of any arbitrary litmus test? You must mean your personal ambiguous litmus test.

    Ok, strap this on, if it isn’t about the money as C-Dog so accurately stated; then why is the so-called special fabric Big Ten in reality the Big 11? Oh and don’t tell me they were worried about trademark infringement, too close to 12? LOL, it is all about lining their pockets period. So take the money and run under the disguise of misnomenclature, yeah right, impeccable heritage, LOL.
    Sorry, that BS Diatribe does not fly.

    Further, you may think you have a logically deceptive argument for passionately being in Ohio State’s Stadium
    to chastise our fans, I’ve been there and I’ll pass on those passionate pigs, not the place to take your childern or grandchildern. I’ll take ND stadium everyday of the
    week! One would only have to seek these realities from an experienced psychologist.

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  8. C-Dog 11 years ago

    I understand the Ohio State thing. I still can’t understand why they have to call it, “The Ohio State”. Do people down there get confused? Really it’s the same everywhere you go. The locals talk about their team………..AND NOTRE DAME.
    Your man Urban may truly be an upstanding guy, even if his chances of the right timing to come to ND are slim to none. His statement about ND being what college football is all about is so true. If ND ever really does become irrelevant, than college football will be irrelevant.

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