Big 12 coaches’ voting fails smell test

Collusion is a dangerous word, especially without proof. Cheating isn’t always easy to prove, either. So it might just be coincidence that Big 12 football coaches seemed to vote roughly the same way in the coaches’ poll.

A way that no other coaches did. A way that potentially could have screwed the little guy, Northern Illinois, out of a big BCS payday.

And given the $17 million Orange Bowl check to Oklahoma.

To share with … the other Big 12 teams.

I am calling BS on the Big 12 coaches for their votes, and also on the coaches poll in general. The poll, which is one-third responsible for choosing which teams play in the national championship game, is made up of guys voting for their buddies, voting for their self-interest, voting for the thing that matters most in college football:

A money grab.

You think the BCS has done a bad job over the years? These guys are a built-in conflict of interest. The coaches poll is a joke. And as college football goes mad over the escalating and insane money, over TV rights in the billions and conference-hopping, the power conferences are trying to hold on tight to their control, and grab more of it by expanding.

Yes, rules were changed to give smaller conferences, such as Northern Illinois’ Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West, an outside chance to get into the BCS. That’s how Northern Illinois got in this time.

But the rule changes came only under threats of lawsuits, not to mention government threats during Congressional hearings. This is too big of commerce, after all, to trust in the hands of the old-boys network.

Basically, Congress threatened that it was time to play fair, and the bowl and big-dollar conference officials buckled to make sure they were the ones who could re-draw the landscape. Now, they are trying to slip around the rules.

Or, maybe it was just a coincidence?

It came down to this: If Northern Illinois were ranked in the top 16 in the BCS poll, then it would get to go to the Orange Bowl. If not, then Oklahoma would get in. Northern Illinois ended up ranked No. 15.

But five Big 12 coaches voted in the poll, and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville was the one coach whose votes passed the smell test.

The other four Big 12 coaches? Well, just three coaches in the country voted Oklahoma as high as No. 6. They were all in the Big 12 (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Baylor’s Art Briles, Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads.) Stoops and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen voted Northern Illinois No. 24. Only one coach outside the Big 12 voted the Huskies that low.

On average, the Big 12 coaches, not counting Tuberville, voted Northern Illinois nearly seven spots lower than where it actually ended up in the overall coaches’ poll, which was 16th.

In the end, Northern Illinois, from the farming community of DeKalb, Ill., is the feel-good story of the BCS. At least, they are to most people.

"The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS in 2012 is really a sad state for college football and where we are with our current system,” said ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit. “Are you kidding me with Northern Illinois playing in the BCS?”

I am not as outraged by Herbstreit’s opinion as Northern Illinois people are. If you think of the BCS as the place where top teams go, then you would think it’s wrong for the No. 15 team to get in instead of the No. 11 team.

But we all bring our biases into any conversation, and when a former big-time Ohio State quarterback says that little Northern Illinois doesn’t belong at the cool-kids party, well, that’s not going to come across right.

This is about fairness. Honestly, there has always been an issue about the MAC. The conference wants to belong, but even everyone in it knows that it’s not as good as the power conferences.

But if they’re going to be considered a major conference, then they need to have a path to the major bowls. The MAC champ still does not get an automatic bid into a BCS game, as the bigger conferences do. But Northern Illinois, under the rules put in for fairness, got the Orange Bowl bid because it won its conference and is ranked in the top 16, above champs that qualified automatically.

So this isn’t to say that Northern Illinois is better than Oklahoma. Under the rules, it doesn’t have to be.

The rules are about fairness. Attempting to get around them? That’s about greed and bullying and cheating.

Just curious: Which one do you think represents college football best?