Sorry ESPN, NIU still going Orange

  • Northern Illinois team members Sean Progar and Tyrone Clark congratulate new head coach Rod Carey after the Huskies learned they will play in the Orange Bowl.

    Northern Illinois team members Sean Progar and Tyrone Clark congratulate new head coach Rod Carey after the Huskies learned they will play in the Orange Bowl. Photo courtesy of NIU Media Services

Updated 12/4/2012 8:58 AM

It is not always easy to filter through the filth to find the good in college sports, not amid the corruption, the scandal and the NCAA, which makes billions off the backs of the kids who play the sports.

And then along comes Northern Illinois University, unknown to much of the nation before the Huskies busted the BCS and earned a spot in the Orange Bowl.


The odds were too ridiculous to calculate. It was unthinkable and impossible. No MAC team had ever done it. It was ludicrous to even ponder.

Fifty things had to happen the last two weeks for the conversation to take place, and even then there was no guarantee.

But Sunday night it happened, and the feel-good story of the year in college football wasn't 60 seconds old when ESPN dropped its pants and rained all over NIU's parade.

College football analyst David Pollack began the assault by saying, "I don't agree with it. I don't think that they should be there."

Jesse Palmer joined in with a laugh, declaring, "I don't think they should get to go."

Of course, the worst barrage emanated from Kirk Herbstreit, who insisted that, "The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS in 2012 is really a sad state for college football. They don't deserve to be in the BCS this year. Are you kidding me? No one even knew they were playing until the Toledo game two weeks ago."

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They made fun of NIU losing its coach, mocking them with a stunning disrespect.

Look, these guys are paid to have an opinion and to be honest, and they were doing their jobs. As someone who makes a living doing the same thing in print and on radio, I understand and don't begrudge them their beliefs.

It was the approach that was unfair, a mistake I have made many times.

Most of them later realized their error and finally said it wasn't NIU's fault, that they merely played by the rules and were granted entrance into one of college football's most fabled showcase events.

And that was their mistake. That is where they should have started. Rather than blaming NIU for being there, they should have first congratulated the Huskies, understood what a monumental achievement it was, and then gone on to blame the rules of the system and had their say about how many teams they believed were better.

They were also wrong in saying that NIU shouldn't get to go, or that the Huskies don't deserve it. As the late, great Will Munny said, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."


NIU is there because the Huskies went 12-1 and won their conference championship.

They are there because they finished 16th in the AP Poll, 16th in the Coaches Poll, 16th in the Harris Poll and the human voters placed them there.

They are there because they finished 15th in the BCS rankings, the very same BCS that the ESPN analysts hold so near and dear to their hearts, the same one that brings in so much cash to the network coffers.

They are there because the rules state if a school gets to No. 16 in the BCS, it gets an automatic at-large BCS bid if it has a higher ranking than the winner of an automatically qualifying conference.

NIU didn't cheat, steal or lie to get in. The Huskies got in because Nebraska was destroyed by 5-loss Wisconsin. They got in because the Big Ten and the Big East were horrendous this year.

They got in because they played by the same rules everyone else played by and they earned it. They had a tremendous season and if a college football expert like Herbstreit didn't know about NIU or Jordan Lynch until two weeks ago, shame on him for not doing his job.

That said, I may be an NIU alum but I'm not crazy. I'm overjoyed, but I'm not crazy.

The Huskies aren't better than Oklahoma and they're not the 16th-best team in college football, but they can only play the teams that will schedule them and they can only do their best against the teams they play. They don't vote and the polls don't consult them.

Maybe they don't belong on the field with Florida State, as so many analysts have already proclaimed. Maybe if they played that game 50 times, FSU would win 49, but the game is only played once and Florida State won't be any more motivated to play the Huskies than Oklahoma was to play Boise State when the Broncos beat the Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

The truth is I don't really care. I hope Lynch has a huge day and NIU wins the game, and if not I hope the Huskies keep it close. And if they lose by 50, I will still have a great time in Miami.

I will buy a hat and a T-shirt and I will be able to say that my Huskies played in the Orange Bowl.

I laugh with delight just saying those words out loud. My Huskies are in the Orange Bowl. Think about how absurd that is, how impossible the notion always was until Sunday night.

I'm proud of my university for so many reasons, many that I won't get into now, but if you went to NIU then you already know what I mean.

While some schools in the state look down their noses at NIU, we are grateful it was available to us and we do not think of ourselves the way we are viewed by those who feel entitled to a reputation.

Unwittingly, by jumping up and down on NIU Sunday, ESPN gave the school more publicity for a sports story than it's ever had, so rather than be angry at ESPN, enjoy the moment and be thankful they mentioned NIU so many times.

Besides, we're going to the flippin' Orange Bowl.

Go ahead and try to say it without laughing.

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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