A Response to Brian Bennett's "Dear Sparty: SOS"

This is a response to a "letter" posted by the ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett concerning Michigan State's September 6th bout against Oregon. (


Dear Brian and other esteemed members of the internet opinion providers,

How are you? I hope you are well. I have a problem with a letter that was posted at ESPN dot com this week and I'd like to address that letter and a general problem I see with college football coverage as a whole across the internet.

I am a fan of Nebraska, a school currently serving as a member of the Big Ten Conference. As I hope you know, this conference has fourteen members who has a reputation of old fashioned teams that like to lose in big games. Sort of like the South-Eastern Conference, though that conference has a reputation for having very talented teams who win big games.

In your letter, you suggested that a Big Ten team, Michigan State, could help "fix" that reputation by winning. Actually, you sort of begged them to win, speaking on the behalf of the rest of the conference. There's a small problem with this, however.

Unlike SEC fans, where there is this weird "conference loyalty" thing (which honestly comes off as coat-tail riding), I do not "want" Michigan State to win this weekend. My fandom of Nebraska does not depend on the outcome in Autzen. My faith in the Cornhuskers does not follow whether or not Michigan State can find a way to stop Mariota. And while we're on this topic, I'd like to state that I was not "jumping around" when Wisconsin had a lead against LSU and I'm perfectly okay with Ohio State losing to Beamer Ball this weekend. In fact, really, if the rest of the Big Ten wants to go out and lose their games, they can go right ahead. That's their problem, not mine.

It won't actually change anything about my team. Because here's the thing - conference loyalty is, pardon my French, horse manure. While yes, the "brand" of the Big Ten Conference may be affected by the outcome, it actually doesn't change a thing about Nebraska's team. Michigan State getting pantsed by Oregon doesn't actually cause our punt return team to let the returner get slammed to the turf half a second after receiving a punt (that's just how we game-plan). Michigan State winning doesn't make Tommy Armstrong into a 21st Century version of Tommie Frazier.

It actually does very, very little for Nebraska. Recruits won't want to come to Nebraska because MSU beat Oregon. They'll want to go to MSU. Nebraska can't claim MSU's W on their record, after all. We're not the SEC.

If the majority of SEC fans want to claim Alabama or LSU's dominance, that's fine. It's a shame their own teams lack similar accomplishments, but hey, sometimes people are comfortable with being the little brother, the second son, the less accomplished child. I'm not okay with Nebraska or its fans adopting that notion, and I don't think any fans at Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Penn State are going to adopt that notion either. (If the Big Ten Network has to stop claiming Tom Osborne was a Big Ten legend in order to avoid this notion of "conference loyalty", I'd be okay with that.)

If you're going to try and make this about the Big Ten's national perception, we need to address two issues right off the bat.

First, let's stop deluding ourselves into thinking the so-called "College Football Playoff" is a playoff. Let's look at the actual setup: we have a thirteen member committee made up of random persons of various notoriety. In essence, we have downsized the BCS system to 13 votes instead of the sum of the voters in the Coaches' Poll, the Harris Poll, and the BEST OF THE COMPUTERS poll. (On the plus side, I guess that reduces the number of pitchforks we're going to need.)

Those thirteen people will be using as of yet unclear standards to invite four teams to play in two games for the chance to play for a trophy. As far as we can tell, all thirteen members will be allowed to make whatever judgments they'd like in this matter. And when you have committee members suggesting they'll be making "strength of schedule" arguments based on the eye test, well, there's a problem inherent in the system. Let's be honest: those four teams will undoubtedly come from the Power Five conferences. Everyone else can just go to the Popeye's Bowl in the Bahamas.

Is that really a playoff? Is that really going to pick a mythical "national champion"? I don't think so. In the professional leagues that the NCAA is clearly slowly trying to emulate (despite the fact that the NFL plays about 40% of the league while FBS teams play, maybe, 1% of the league), the competitors are selected based on clear metrics such as "win division" or "best record". But the college football "playoff" is sounding a lot like "let's shove a bunch of fans in an office, give them a water cooler, and let's see who they think the best four teams are!".

Without a clear metric to decide who plays, this series of a games is, at best, an invitational. Which is fine. But let's stop calling it a playoff.

(We can take solace in the fact that the new era favors better games between teams of privilege. Which is certainly in the fan's favor.)

Second, if the committee cannot look past Michigan State's or Purdue's failures to judge the conference as a whole when considering teams for inclusion, I should reasonably expect them to hammer the eventual SEC champion for Vanderbilt's struggles or the Pac-12 champion for Colorado or the Big 12 for Iowa State. Because that's the objective judgment, no?

Yet we all know that won't be the case.

Similarly, is anyone really going to ever try to make an argument that a Purdue or Wake Forest or Iowa State belongs in the invitational? No. We internet opinion makers are going to do everything in our power to nuke their respective conferences and to find a better option, even if those teams are undefeated.

But if Georgia is sitting with one loss looking at the invitation? The scramble for a rationale will be furious and if they get left out, well, just grab a bag of ice for the #hotsportstakes that will follow!

If Michigan State wins on Saturday (or really, any Big Ten team beats any Power Five team with a shot at a mythical national title), there will be excuses made for Oregon. The internet's hype machine will find a way to rationalize it away and maintain Oregon as a favorite to get an invite. Oh, and a one-loss Oregon team would be picked over, say, a one loss Ohio State team, even if Ohio State had beaten MSU. Why? No Braxton Miller so obviously everyone in the Big Ten that loses to them sucks! Oh, and don't forget about Marcus Mariota! (He's so dreamy, or something.)

Let's ignore the fact that for all the hype around Oregon, their national title trophy case is a tad bit bare. (Maybe the Pac-12 needs this win more than Michigan State? What's the phrase, always the bridesmaid, never the bride?)

Let's be frank: The Big Ten's perception won't be fixed or even assisted by just one game in Autzen. With over a decade since their last national championship and a host of embarrassing showings in big non-conference games, there's just too much history riding against the Big Ten. Even a weekend in which the Big Ten sweeps Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Oregon won't save anything. It won't even matter come December. Because the goal posts will be moved. Oregon will be "overrated" or Notre Dame will end up with a poor record or Virginia Tech will end up losing to UVA.

There will always be a reason why the Big Ten isn't as good as the rest of college football's elite powers on the coasts. So, please, let's stop pretending that the Big Ten can fix itself or that any one game has any national meaning. No matter what the conference does, someone will find a way to attack it. That's the Big Ten's place in college football. Respected yet ridiculed.

The only fix is getting the media to let go of their old prejudices and to look upon the new Big Ten as potentially good instead of perennially disappointing. To stop believing that playing Kentucky and Vanderbilt annually is a challenge. To stop trying to crown a national champion in August.

But we all know that'll never happen.

Perhaps this is why so many fans of old Big Ten teams only care about the Rose Bowl and winning the Big Ten - it's the only destination their team can control.

Not even ESPN or thirteen people around a water cooler can change that.

Or even a game in Autzen.


Salt Creek and Stadium

Internet Opinion Provider

This FanPost created by a registered user of Corn Nation.