Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ballad of the Self-Hating Nerd

Once upon a time, there were two nerds who kind of hung around on the fringes of the cool kid crowd. At some point, one of the nerds (we'll call him ACC football) decided that the best way to get the cool kids to really like him was to beat the crap out of the other nerd (we'll call that one Big East football), take his lunch money, and then brag about it. The cool kids (we'll call them - oh, for God's sake, you get the metaphor already, do I really have to spell it out) encouraged the ACC to do this. Meanwhile, the Big East did the equivalent of turning around and beating up some second graders (see: Conference USA, the MAC, etc) to prove that it could be cool, too, not that anyone believed him.
But when the first nerd went to the cool kids to show off what he had done and to ask to be allowed to do cool kid stuff, the four cool kids laughed at him and set up a 4 team football championship that was held in a secret clubhouse marked "NO NERDS ALLOWED".
Because, really, for all the chest-thumping about the any-day-now renaissance in ACC football on local sports talk radio here in Raleigh, the ACC has done a remarkable job of screwing itself by raiding the Big East. By kicking the pins out from under the other "lesser" AQ (Automatic Qualifier) league, the ACC made it easier for the whole thing to be scrapped in a way that will leave them out in the cold. That's why we're getting a four team playoff, and that's why every year, those four teams will be from the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12.
You want evidence? The Big 12-SEC bowl game that just got announced, also known as the "I'm Taking My Toys And Going Home Bowl" is proof that the sport's rich kids do not intend to share, now or ever, with the kids on the outside. I mean, sure, they made a handwave gesture at it when they expanded the BCS, so that one non-AQ team per year could be invited to a not-anywhere-near-the-established-power-structure game (usually against Pittsburgh),  but that was mainly to shut the critics up. Yeah, Boise State finally got to play in a BCS game, but the there was no way, ever, the BCS formula would let them get close to the championship.
And now even the pretense of fairness is going away, and it's the ACC - not the Pac-10's raid on the Big 12, or the Big 10's swipe of Nebraska, or anything else that did it. Because as rotten and unfair as the BCS was, it at least paid lip service to the idea that maybe somebody outside the biggest of the big conferences could get a seat at the table. And now that's gone. By pantsing the Big East, the ACC demonstrated convincingly that the entire notion of "an AQ conference" was non-viable. And if the Big East wasn't good enough to be invited to the party, then what about the guys who kept trying to improve their football by raiding the Big East? When Wake Forest wins your league championship in recent memory, you're not seen as a serious football conference, no matter how many Syracuses and Virginia Techs you gulp down. And if you're not seen as a serious football conference, you're not going to get your champion into that lucrative new playoff. Four teams, remember. Not six, for the AQ conferences. Not 8, including a few non-conf champs or non-"AQ" conferences. Four.
Let's do the math and run down the theoretical "powers" of ACC football. FSU is looking for the exits, Miami is waiting for the NCAA hammer, VT traditionally spits the bit on the big stage, and Clemson got thoroughly spanked when it got up in front of an audience last year. Adding perennial Big East underachievers Pitt and Syracuse isn't going to help the Strength of Schedule of anyone else in the league1. And that's going to kill anyone whom the league tries to spit out as a playoff contender end of season; the polls are going to look at a schedule full of conference roadkill and say they fail the sniff test; the computer formulae are going to notice the marshmallow-soft seasons, and as a result, the ACC champ is going to be sitting home pretty much every damn year, while the Kirk Herbstreits of the world just nod and shake their heads and talk about how the numbers prove impartially that they just weren't good enough.
Just like the Big East champ.
So congratulations, self-hating nerd. You screwed yourself. The four cool kids don't want to share. And thanks to you, they don't have to.

1Indeed, it can be argued that one of the main reasons Big East football turned into a punchline was Pittsburgh - between tripping up an unbeaten West Virginia team that was championship-game bound as the finale of an otherwise mediocre season and completely crapping the bed every time they were talked about as a national contender, they did more to lower the profile of Big East football than any other single school.
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