clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Motor City Bowl: why, Jim Delany?

Last night, Purdue, the Big Ten's eighth bowl team, blew a big lead but kicked a field goal as time expired to beat MAC Champion Central Michigan. I realize it's politically correct to claim to root for fellow Big Ten schools during bowl season, but I have to confess that I wasn't in the Boilers' corner last night. Still, I suppose Purdue's last-second win did save the Big Ten a black eye, even though a MAC champion defeating the #8 team in the Big Ten shouldn't be considered an earth-shattering upset. What I didn't get when this deal was announced years ago, and what I still don't get, is why the Big Ten agreed to this ridiculous arrangement in the first place. Let's run down the problems:
  • The location. I don't want to run down Detroit. I was born there and have many relatives in the area. I know it's not all bad and that downtown has improved in recent years. Still, a bowl game is supposed to be a reward, and a trip to Detroit, an unexciting city with bad weather, is a fairly lame reward. Of all of the cities that host bowls, Detroit is the coldest in the United States. Toronto is colder, but is a world class, destination city. Further, forcing a Big Ten team a bowl game right in the middle of Big Ten country doesn't make sense. Again, I live in the midwest and like many things about this place, but not December/January weather. Nearly every Big Ten team plays a game in Michigan every year. Where is the novelty?
  • The opponent. The MAC is a solid conference, and while the league lacks top-to-bottom strength, the MAC champion often is a legitimately good team. Nearly every Big Ten school plays one or more nonconference games against MAC schools each season, and the MAC occasionally gets a scalp. The MAC's footprint is similar to that of the Big Ten. The typical MAC school is a public university from a state with a more prestigious Big Ten school (indeed, every MAC school except Buffalo fits that description) and the typical MAC football roster is populated by players who wanted, but didn't get, recruiting attention from Big Ten schools. Combine the undesirable venue with a ho-hum opponent with a chip on its shoulder, and the powers-that-be have set up a mediocre Big Ten team for failure. A Big Ten team playing a MAC team at a midwestern venue isn't a bowl game; it's called "September."
  • The coverage. Joe Tiller has done a fine job at Purdue, but this wasn't one of his better teams. Purdue beat a I-AA team, two MAC teams, the worst Notre Dame team ever, and the Big Ten's three bowl-less teams (I know IU's resume wasn't any better--that's not the point). Yet, we are treated to breathless hysteria like this from the Detroit Free Press's Drew Sharp:
    They could have removed the schools' names and just put the score "Big Ten 41, Mid-American Conference 41" up there because that's what everybody really saw.
    He's probably right, but people shouldn't see that. They should see "MAC Champion playing its biggest game of the season and possibly ever 41, mediocre Big Ten team whose players would rather be playing XBox 41." I'm sure there is more of this all over the country. Because this game was close, everyone is talking about it. If Purdue had won 55-20, no one would care.

So, Commissioner Delany, why? There are minor bowls all over the country. Las Vegas, Birmingham, Toronto, San Francisco, Nashville...hell, Boise. I don't think it's beneath the Big Ten to play a non-BCS conference team. But why not the WAC, the Mountain West, or Conference USA instead of the conference that dominates the Big Ten's nonconference schedule? Not every bowl location is going to match Pasadena, but at the very least, a bowl game should involve a trip to another part of the country to play a team from another part of the country. The Big Ten school sentenced to the Motor City Bowl gets nothing out of it but a few extra weeks of practice and the opportunity to become a Sportscenter punchline. In the era of 12 game schedules and soft non-conference schedules, the Big Ten likely will send someone to Detroit most every year unless the Big Ten wisely gets out of this arrangement as soon as possible. It can't happen soon enough.