Monday, November 27, 2006

An Ethical Dilemma?

Is West Virginia about to get screwed?

No, this isn't a setup for an inbreeding joke, but rather a question whether or not the Big East is willing to prostitute itself for $4 million.

Right now, Louisville sits at #6 in the BCS standings. Depending on how things shake out, they're likely to receive a bid no matter what happens this weekend. A Florida loss in the SEC Championship would only help them. They're unlikely to lose to Connecticut on Saturday, so I don't see that affecting the calculus.

Rutgers and West Virginia, who play this Saturday in Morgantown, are also contending for bids, sitting at #13 and #15, respectively. The results of that game will decide the Big East champion and the automatic BCS bid, and here's where the chicanery can come in.

If West Virginia wins, Louisville will win the title outright being the only one-loss team, meaning they won't be eligible for a BCS at-large bid. Both Rutgers and West Virginia will have two losses. Rutgers likely will drop out of the BCS top 14 altogether with the loss, meaning they wouldn't be eligible for the BCS at all. It's also not guaranteed the Mountaineers would move into the top 14 with a win, since Wake Forest -- which will play in the ACC title game that day as well -- could move up significantly with a win there. Even if WVU does inch into the top 14, there are other teams ranked ahead of them (e.g. Notre Dame) much more likely to be picked. So a West Virginia win most likely limits the Big East to one bid.

If Rutgers wins, OTOH, both they and Louisville will finish with one loss. Rutgers will win the conference thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning they get the automatic BCS bid. Louisville, however, still sits high in the BCS rankings, so it's possible they may receive an at-large bid. At the very least, they are more of a logical pick than West Virginia given their ranking.

No matter how you slice it, the Big East's chances are better with a Rutgers win. They don't want to "blow" the automatic selection on Louisville, since the Cardinals already have a strong chance for a bid without it. They'd love for Rutgers to pick up the auto bid, leaving Louisville eligible for an at-large and the extra $4 million for the conference that comes with it.

Notre Dame fans have seen this kind of thing up close when Pittsburgh came to town during Tyrone Willingham's last season. The Panthers were looking to become bowl-eligible at 5-3. However, ND had an in for the Big East bowl selections, and an out-of-conference victory over Pitt could have locked up the Gator Bowl for ND.

The Big East provided the officiating crew that day, and any ND fan who watched that game can tell you, we saw some of the most head-scratching calls in recent memory, rivaling that of some of the Pac10 crews encountered by Notre Dame in Los Angeles over the years. Pitt ended up with four penalties for 39 yards, while the Irish were flagged 10 times for a whopping 119 yards. Result? A 41-38 Panther win.

Now the Big East is faced with a similar dilemma. If Rutgers wins the game, the BE might get that second BCS bid. Sure, they might win it anyway, but WVU has an excellent ground game and a decent defense.

My suggestion to Mountaineer fans? Watch the refs very very closely, and remember it's not what the flag is thrown for as much as it's when the flag is thrown. Look for those holding calls that wipe out first downs and set up second- or third-and-long. See how closely they call the pass interference situations. Make sure the focus on one end of the field matches that of the other.

ND fans have been there, and the results weren't pretty.



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