After Saturday's 24-17 win over TCU, the Oklahoma Sooners appeared destined for the final BCS at-large spot. Most pundits were projecting the Sooners to take on Florida in the Sugar Bowl, a place the Sooners had not been since they lost the 2003 national title to LSU.
Yet, as is always the case this time of year, the BCS reared its ugly head and showed us once again why it is possibly the worst postseason format ever conceived.
Instead of travelling to the Big Easy and having the opportunity for a fat payday (the Sugar Bowl payout last season was $18 million) against a national power, the Sooners were replaced by Northern Illinois a team from the Mid-American conference whose ticket allotment of 17,500 for the Orange Bowl is larger than the average number of fans that attended Huskies home games this season.
Northern Illinois' shocking inclusion in the BCS comes as a result of finishing in the top 16 of the final BCS standings ahead of a conference champion from an automatic qualifying conference. Northern Illinois actually finished ahead of both the Big 10 champion (Wisconsin) and the Big East champion (Louisville).
It's an unbelievable rule for an unbelievable system, even more so than only allowing a maximum of two teams per conference participate in BCS bowls. Ultimately, it was added to prevent any sort of anti-trust lawsuit being filed against the BCS. We wouldn't want anyone to think this was a rigged system now would we?
To be clear, this is not a degradation of the season the Huskies have had this year. Northern Illinois has an excellent team, and a quarterback, Jordan Lynch, that is right behind Heisman frontrunner Johnny Manziel in total yards per game this season. If Lynch put up the numbers he has this season at any BCS conference school, he'd be right there with Johnny Football in the Heisman discussion.
No, this is an indictment of a system that has been plaguing college football for 14 years too many. It's a harsh reminder each year that while college football has the best regular season in sports, it also somehow managed to sign on to the worst postseason model in sports history.
The BCS is a system in which the rich get richer, and the poor stay that way. And the people who reap the most benefit from the BCS bowls (or any bowl for that matter) have nothing to do with college football. Those people would be the bowl executives, who travel around the country each season to "evaluate" possible bowl participants while being wined and dined and catching games at some of college football's most prestigious institutions for free, all while making at least six figures a year. Needless to say, it's a good job if you can get it.
Now that Northern Illinois has had their moment of unbridled joy for making it into the Orange Bowl, the sobering facts of reality can begin to set in. The Huskies will be on the hook for the aforementioned 17,500 ticket allotment, with tickets ranging from $75 to $225 dollars. Altogether, that's about $2.4 million in tickets NIU has to sell. Unfortunately for the school, the Huskies being in the Orange Bowl won't help outside ticket demand. Orange Bowl tickets on StubHub are going for as low as $7. What's more, the Huskies (as well as any other bowl-bound team) are assigned a number of hotel rooms to sell through the athletic department for traveling fans. And yes, the Huskies are on the hook for any unsold tickets and empty hotel rooms. When Connecticut played OU in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season, those Huskies lost close to $3 million after selling less than 4,000 of their 17,500 ticket allotment.
It's a criminally corrupt system that still exists thanks to athletic directors and administrators taking the stance of ‘It's all about the players and their experience, expenses be darned.' And it's not as if school administrators are unaware of how the system works. They're fully aware of it, mostly because they get wined and dined themselves by the bowl committees. Heaven forbid they cost themselves a chance at all that.
Sooners fans should be disappointed they won't be spending New Years in New Orleans, but don't get mad at Northern Illinois for that. Be angry with the system. Thank goodness it's gone in two short years.