Gephart: In the Dawg House

As a new year begins, another exciting bowl season has concluded with Texas' stunning victory in the Rose Bowl over USC to win the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) championship game.

All the pulsating bowl action had me thinking of how the stars aligned perfectly for college football this year. All four BCS bowl games were thrilling, culminating with the last two undefeated teams fighting it out to the last minute for the national championship.

As I reveled in the excitement, it also had me thinking back to last year around this time as well. More specifically, I was thinking about a particular rule in the BCS format that became VERY big news after last year's bowl season finished. But oddly enough this same rule hasn't received as much attention this year, even though the rule still very much exists.

I'm pretty sure most college football fans will quickly remember what rule I'm alluding to if I mention it's informal, yet better known name: The Big East Rule.

Does that term ring a bell?

If not, the now infamous provision can be found right on page 4 of the 2005 BCS Media Guide. I'll spare you the task of looking it up yourself on the BCS website by quoting it right here. For those following at home, the rule is explicitly mentioned at the end of the section titled What Teams are Eligible.

The paragraph reads: "The conferences whose champions have a guaranteed annual berth in one of the BCS bowls are subject to review and possible loss of that guaranteed annual berth should the conference champion not have an average ranking of 12 or higher over a four year period."

The rule (it isn't officially known as the "Big East Rule" of course) became a huge national media story right around the time the BCS commissioners were attempting to cool down the enormous pressure they started to feel for the select nature of the BCS format. This criticism was levied against them mainly because bowl participation was limited almost entirely to the six conferences that help create the BCS: The SEC, Big 12, Big 10, ACC, Pac 10 and Big East. This criticism came from not only the other 1-A football conferences looking in from outside, but also from the national media and even from certain members of US Congress.

Most of the outcry had to do with the fact that six of the eight invitations available to the prestigious (and financially rewarding) BCS bowl games automatically went to the annual conference champion of each of the above conferences. Now for the first five years of the current BCS format, no one really seemed to have a problem with this. It only really started becoming an issue with the defection of three of the Big East's higher profile teams – Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami. Losing these three teams weakened the reputation of the once powerful conference to many of the most influential members of the national media.

Because of this, the main concern of college football fans (and congressmen) nationwide became the fear that if a team from outside the BCS collective (possibly a conference like the Mountain West, Conference USA, or even the WAC) went undefeated, they could be locked out by a "less impressive" champion from a "weakened" Big East. To ensure that this scenario did not become an annual occurrence, and to satisfy the criticism of being too exclusive, the BCS commissioners came up with the above stated rule.

This fear became reality when a gritty and determined Pitt football team became the Big East's 2004 BCS automatic selection due to an elaborate and complicated four-way tie-breaking process. Although the Panthers had beaten some solid teams and had some exciting wins down the stretch, there were indeed other teams with more impressive resumes (Louisville, California, and Boise State) who were not invited to a BCS bowl.

Of course previous champions from the other five BCS conference have had resumes similar to the 2004 Panthers. But oddly enough, it never became an issue nationwide until last year. Couple Pitt's 2004 Fiesta Bowl loss with the ACC defections and the media had a field day predicting that it wouldn't be long before the Big East lost its automatic selection.

While everyone in the media seemed poised for another Big East slip up in 2005, something funny happened on the way to the forum. West Virginia went 10-1. And although finding itself unfairly at #11 in the final BCS rankings, the Mountaineers proved their legitimacy by beating the mighty SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl.

The very next day, Florida State was NOT able to avoid its FIFTH defeat of the season, losing to Penn State in the Orange Bowl. Florida State had won the ACC championship game with a very ordinary (7-4) regular season record, including dropping their last three regular season games. But the Seminoles somehow were able to upset Virginia Tech in Jacksonville. The Seminoles finished #22 in the final BCS rankings.

Because of this turn of events from last year, I decided to check out the average ranking of the Big East champions (as well as some of other BCS conferences) over the last four years. What I came across was not only interesting but VERY surprising as well. There indeed was a conference that had a high enough four year average to warrant a review of its automatic bid…but it wasn't the Big East.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you read it here first: the "Big East Rule" from this point on will be known as the "ACC Rule." That's right, the SAME conference that many national writers have been proclaiming to be the new king of college football. By taking a closer look it becomes apparent that the ACC is not as strong as many pundits would like us all to believe. This is due to the Seminoles' less than overwhelming resume as conference champions in 2002 (#14) and 2005. Because of these two lackluster seasons, the ACC champions have averaged a surprisingly unimpressive 12.75 ranking over the last four years.

On the other hand, the Big East champion's average ranking (7.75) over the time period is considerably more remarkable. Even if you swap out Louisville's #10 ranking in 2004 (In that year only, the BCS commissioners allowed all schools leaving one conference to have their BCS rankings count for their new conference instead of the one they were leaving) and replace it with Pitt's #21, the Big East still comes in at an average ranking of 10.5, well under the average ranking required for a review of its automatic bid

So my question is this: Where is all the uproar for a review and possible revocation of the ACC's automatic bid for its champion in the BCS?

Sure, some might say that the official four year review period isn't supposed to end until 2007. But that's not what it says in the current BCS Media Guide. The rule specifically states a four year period. There is no mention of any specific or determined four year time frame. If 2005 is indeed only the second year of this review, fine. But the question still has to be asked: Why isn't it then made clear and specific on the BCS website and in BCS materials?

And shouldn't there at least be some sort of call for a review from the same national media that was so critical of the Big East? I'm not advocating that the ACC (or any conference) lose its current automatic bid. But how can the entire national media just flat out ignore something it definitely wouldn't have if it was the Big East that had such a meager four year average instead of the ACC?

This is a question that the Dawg doesn't expect to have answered soon. But I certainly felt it was worth asking, at least in this column. Hopefully the national media will consider asking these questions in the upcoming weeks as well. If anything, the Big East deserves an explanation of why it seems to be the only conference in major college football prone to unfair and unfounded criticism from the national media.

In the Dawg House: Nothing too major to irritate the Dawg this week. Sure, I was not real happy about the unbelievably poor job the referees did during the Pitt/Wisconsin game last week. It just seemed to the Dawg that every call went against the Panthers in the first half. And although Wisconsin played a much more physical game, the Dawg was perplexed to find that Pitt finished the game with more team personal fouls. Nonetheless, there is a culprit more worthy than the referee crew from that game, it's the Dawg himself.

Some of you might be thinking: "Why would the Dawg put HIMSELF in the DAWG House?!"

Hey, I'm a fair guy…and pretty accountable too. I offered my predictions of the last eight bowl games played this season in last week's column. I did the predictions straight up and even predicted most of the final scores would be close to insure myself against any criticism should some of my predications NOT come true. I did this because there were some very close and difficult match-ups this bowl season.

But if I'm not going to pick games against the spread, I should do better than having just a miserable three games (WVU, Alabama, and Penn State) correct. In fact, I told myself if I was going to pick games last week that I had to get AT LEAST half of them right. I didn't, and that means only one thing.

This week...Steve Gephart…you are IN the DAWG HOUSE!

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