A DeKalb sports pundit suggests the little tin box has been unlocked a few too many times.

The problem: five years of underachieving football, where achieving means winning bowl games.
After a terrible fake punt call and another postseason blowout, this time a 36-14 loss to Duke on Tuesday in the Quick Lane Bowl, new leadership would help. If this were the Bears, I’d urge George McCaskey to immediately fire the head coach – the way Hub Arkush has been doing.

But the Huskies play for a public university that already has spent its buyout budget this year. Even if NIU has the cash to make a coaching change, it lacks the political capital.

Earlier this year, the board of trustees had to vote – twice – to pay former Mismanager-in-Chief Doug Baker a severance worth $600,000. They took heat for that golden parachute from politicians, the public and the news media.

Baker’s $450,000 salary was nowhere near the $623,000 Carey will earn in 2017. It would cost the school about $950,000 to buy out Carey’s contract, according to USA Today.

If NIU spends more than $1.5 million on buyouts in a year, it’ll be clobbered with that fact any time financial issues arise – and rightly so.

Maybe NIU officials should just do what they’re doing with the president’s job – say they’re not going to hire or sign anyone until 2019, when Carey’s contract will expire.

Then, if Carey leads the Huskies through the gauntlet of nonconference foes scheduled for 2018 – at Iowa, Florida State and BYU, plus a home date with Utah – and comes out with even two wins, maybe he stays.
That's right, Northern Illinois continue to schedule highly regarded teams, and they have enough of a history winning such games, including at least one at Iowa in the past few years, and they earn bowl games with opponents you might have heard of, when it comes to the bowl games themselves, it's not so pretty.

Start with the Orange Bowl.

Yes, that selection outraged the sports pundits of the day, and there was even a "Hitler reacts" Ausfall moment.  The team learned a lot from Florida State, and hung around for three quarters, enough to induce some charity from the punditry.

The next year, Northern Illinois, with Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch finishing his quarterbacking career, drew Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl, losing a close one, and your correspondent saw other ominous signs.  "No doubt, the national sports pundits will once again note the record (no wins, thus far) of Mid-American teams in Festive Season bowl games as a reflection, generally, on the weakness of the conference."  That's with the Mid-American relying heavily on student fees and weeknight football to make good the operating losses.

But without Jordan Lynch, the team continued to play in the Mid-American title game, earning a trip to the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl (a kind of participation trophy for strong mid-major teams?) to play Marshall, sometime Mid-American member and sometime poster child for expanding the college football universe.  Two conference champions.  Marshall prevails, relatively easily.

It was becoming routine, at least in those years, for Northern Illinois to play in the Mid-American title game, and after winning the conference championship, they earned another trip to the Poinsettia Bowl, this time to face Boise State (and how many times, as faculty or after, did I hear the spin about becoming "the next Boise State", referring to football but not necessarily to the academics) and to be treated like a pretender.

Most recently, the opponent was Duke, in Detroit, but the game is no longer the Motor City Bowl.  Early in the second quarter, Northern Illinois showed a little of their point-a-minute Huskies style to tie the game at fourteen, but otherwise it was all Duke.

Moreover, despite the surfeit of bowls, this year there were enough eligible teams that two Mid-American representatives, Western Michigan and Buffalo, stayed home.  Perhaps, argues Mid-American maven James Snyder, it's time for the Mid-American to excuse itself from the NCAA.
The NCAA’s biggest transgression, however, is their treatment of the smaller schools. They have systematically colluded with the bigger schools to push the little guy down the line so he can’t compete, either for recruits or money. The end game appears to be, at least to this guy, to move to a couple of super conferences comprising the biggest names. However, the writing is on the wall, and those very same cash cows will eventually get rid of the NCAA first, and make their own rules and keep more of the money. In either scenario, the MAC and her teams will almost certainly be relegated even lower on the totem pole.

The MAC should strike first, and here is how they can do it.

Reach out to the other G5’s and form their own league. Make it neat and orderly with clearly defined rules for a playoff, with the spots settled on the field. The two main problems with a league like this is talent level compared to the other schools, and lack of fans.
So you start a bidding war for players.

There might be a parting of the ways between the Mid-American and the NCAA, but it's more likely that four basketball power conferences will emerge, and that will make a national tournament-sanctioning association irrelevant.

But the same Mr Snyder suggests it's time for Kent State to "mercy kill" its football program.  Northern Illinois's athletics programs did not grade out well in a recent program prioritization exercise, and no matter what comes of conference realignments or television guarantees, the people who seed bowl games are going to think of Mid-American programs as crash test dummies.

This only five years after that Mid-American title game between Kent State and Northern Illinois went to overtime, with the Orange Bowl on the line.  Had Kent State won, it would be Kirk Herbstreit and Hitler lamenting a different wrong seeding.  And both Kent and Northern played their bowl games with interim coaches, the Kent coach having decamped to Purdue (he's out) and the Northern Illinois coach, Dave Doeren, to North Carolina State, with a team that figured in the national playoff talk for a while, and a bowl victory to end the past season.  So life goes in the Mid-American.

No comments: