Playing the Game
BY DON CLEGG
While other leagues may play football better than the Big East, no one plays college football's boardroom game of power politics better than commissioner Mike Tranghese.
After a full season of listening to his football league being bashed by the national media on pretty much a daily basis as an example of what's wrong with the BCS, Tranghese let the cat out of the bag on another behind-the-scenes coup last week.
The national media pointed out several times during the latter stages of the season that the Big East's status as a BCS member could be in jeopardy.
The media was referring to a BCS rule that said a league's automatic bid could be stripped if the league champion didn't have an average finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings over any four consecutive seasons.
Some media members even called that the "Big East Rule" under the assumption that it had been targeted at Tranghese's league.
The media baying escalated when Pitt emerged from the wreckage of the 2004 Big East season as the league's standard-bearer with a No. 21 ranking in the final BCS standings.
But as Tranghese noted in interviews with several newspapers last week, that didn't really matter.
Tranghese revealed that a deal had been in place with the BCS since the first month of the season that would allow the Big East to count incoming schools such as Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida in this year's rankings.
After all, as Tranghese pointed out, the ACC had already received permission to count Boston College in their rankings for this season - even though the Eagles played a Big East schedule in their lame-duck season.
As a result, Louisville - which finished at No. 10 in the final BCS rankings - goes into the books as this year's Big East champion for BCS computational purposes.
Swofford's Ulterior Motive
That revelation set off the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth on the national scene, which only served to better illustrate the national media's ignorance and bias.
First of all, the current BCS agreement expires after the 2005 season and new guidelines will be in place for 2006.
If any team was to have its BCS bid stripped by this rule, it would have had to happen this year and it didn't.
Please note here:
The thing that caught my eye - but apparently flew under everybody else's radar - was that the ACC had opened the door for the Big East arrangement by asking to include Boston College in this year's rankings, if necessary.
Keep in mind that these conversations and arrangements were all being put in place during the first month of the season.
At the time, West Virginia was still ranked in the top 10, nobody had any idea Louisville was about to take off on the greatest football run in school history and Boston College had never finished higher than third in more than a decade of Big East play.
Why would the ACC think it was so important to have the right to count BC as an ACC team this fall?
Was there something there that everyone else had overlooked in the uproar over the Big East and the BCS?
As it turned out, there very well might have been - and it had a lot to do with that so-called Big East Rule.
I took the final BCS standings for the past four years (2001-04) and worked out the average finish for each of the six BCS conferences.
Here are the results, with the leagues ranked in descending order by their four-year average.
The final BCS rankings for each season are in parentheses, beginning with the 2001 season:
1. Pac 10 (3.0)
Oregon (4), Southern Cal (4), Southern Cal (3), Southern Cal (1)
2. Big 12 (3.3)
Nebraska (2), Oklahoma ( , Oklahoma (1), Oklahoma (2)
2. (tie) SEC (3.3)
Florida (5), Georgia (3), LSU (2), Auburn (3)
4. Big East (5.3)
Miami (1), Miami (1), Miami (9), Louisville (10)
5. Big Ten (6.5)
Illinois ( , Ohio State (2), Michigan (4), Iowa (12)
6. ACC (9.
Maryland (10), Florida State (14), Florida State (7), Virginia Tech (
Pretty obvious, isn't it?
Maybe they should have called it the ACC Rule.
According to these figures, if the ACC hadn't raided the Big East for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, commissioner John Swofford and his wild-eyed southern boys might have been the first league ever kicked out of the BCS club.
Florida State was 16th in this year's final BCS rankings. When you subtitute that number for Virginia Tech's No. 8 in the above listings, the best team in the ACC's average finish over the past four seasons works out to 11.8.
That's only a couple of places away from the magic number of 12.
That had to be what Swofford was looking at in Boston College's case. He figured that BC had a shot at going unbeaten in the Big East and finishing in the top 10 of the BCS standings.
Coming into the season, Swofford had worked the numbers and knew the ACC could be kicked out of the BCS mix if it didn't have at least one team finish No. 17 or higher in the final BCS standings.
Making the arrangement to include Boston College was just another way of hedging his bets.
I guess you have to give Swofford credit for seeing this coming a year ahead of everybody else and finding a proactive solution.
You also have to tip your hat to the guy for manipulating the national media into thinking the Big East - not the ACC - was the league in danger of having its BCS privileges revoked.