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The Motor City Bowl: why, Jim Delany? (revisited).

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had forgotten about this old post, which I wrote in 2007, a few days before IU's most recent bowl appearance, the 2007 loss to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. While people fondly remember IU's last-minute win over Purdue to guarantee a winning record and a bowl bid (I remember it less fondly because we blew a 24-3 lead before the game-winning field goal), it's easy to forget the disappointment of blowing a win the week before at Northwestern. IU had guaranteed itself conditional bowl eligibility with 6 wins, but whether 6 or even 7 wins would get IU into a Big Ten bowl tie-in, or even worse, whether IU would end up in the Motor City Bowl, was in doubt before the Bucket game. Ultimately, the Purdue win combined with other fortuitous circumstances (Iowa dropping to 6-6 with a season-ending loss to Western Michigan, meaning the Hawkeyes couldn't be selected over IU; the Rose Bowl reaching deep into the pool of BCS-eligible teams to select Illinois to preserve the Big Ten-Pac 10 matchup) led IU to a warm-weather destination for its first bowl appearance in 14 seasons. Purdue ended up in Detroit playing Central Michigan in a rematch of a regular season game. Purdue won on a late field goal. The Motor City Bowl is now the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, but even Purdue doesn't deserve this fate. Here is a repost of my previous objections.

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 Conference 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.

Obviously, then as now, if the option for IU were Detroit or nothing, I would take Detroit. Given that Purdue hasn't played in a bowl game since the aforementioned trip to the Motor City, I'm sure that Purdue players and coaches are happy to be there. Obviously, Purdue's situation has changed. In 2007, Purdue was in a down year under a coach who had won quite a bit there. In 2011, Purdue is led by Danny Hope, who hasn't live up to post-Tiller expectations and isn't popular with Purdue fans. If anything, Purdue's current predicament is further ammunition for my argument above. Although Hope recently was given a two-year extension, if Purdue plays poorly in the bowl game, then the calls for his head will increase. I think a loss to a MAC team, even a good MAC team like Western Michigan, would be much less palatable than a loss to, say, a middling Big 12 team.

This post has no point, but seemed worth revisiting on a slow news day. Sometimes, it's worthwhile to remind ourselves what the Big Ten higher-ups really think about the non-elite football programs in this conference. That's not to say that I'll be rooting for Purdue tomorrow night--my sympathy has its limits--but the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl is a no win proposition for whatever Big Ten program lands there.