Northwestern Jumps Wisconsin in Bowl Hierarchy

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By Paul M. Banks

You could certainly call this year’s bowl destination for Northwestern a step up from last season’s, and you can say that the selection process gave NU more respect this year than they did last year. In ’08 a 8-4 Iowa team jumped a 9-3 NU squad (which beat Iowa) for the Outback Bowl slot. Unless there’s a two game gap between teams in the standings (head-to-head is not a tie-breaker), the bowl has the right to select whichever team they want. And NU’s poor home attendance was cited as one of the main reasons for the snub.

Northwestern instead went into the Alamo Bowl as the biggest underdogs of the bowl season and lost to Missouri in OT due to a missed extra point. Purple Pride showed it could travel well, and now…DSC03028

An 8-4 NU team managed to jump the 9-3 Wisconsin Badgers. (Although it’s meaningless to the bowls, NU did again win the head-to-head here) Still the Badgers are a bigger national brand and have been a power for most of the last couple decades. But Bucky’s dominion had a couple things going against them. Being to so many Florida bowl games lately, the bowl committee worried their fans wouldn’t travel for this game. And a game out in Hawaii yesterday only heightened those fears.

Of course, when you consider the concept of “bowl-weariness” being a factor in the selection process, it reminds me you that most of these games are truly glorified exhibitions, as long as we don’t have a playoff system. Seriously “bowl-weary” isn’t that the best endorsement for a playoff system? well, that’s another topic for another time.

Back to today, where you can say that Dr. Jim Phillips just out-worked Wisconsin’s Athletic Director Barry Alvarez for it.

Northwestern blog Lake the Posts agrees with me:

“A win on New Year’s Day over an SEC team is about as much of a dream scenario as we could expect when you consider where we were on November 1 of this year. Congratulations to Jim Phillips who must have put on some convincing lobbying presentations for NU to get the nod over 9-3 Wisconsin who throttled Hawaii last night.”

And regarding Phillips’ lobbying, our friends at Spread Far the Fame describe that in detail.

“I give all the credit in the world to NU Athletic Director Dr. Jim Phillips. Bowls are VERY political, and he did an incredible job convincing the Outback Bowl that NU was the right team for them. I’ve spoken to Dr. Phillips a few times since the Outback snubbed NU last year. He told me that he actually met with their representatives soon after the bowl season ended last year and discussed with them why they chose Iowa over NU.

Then the campaign continued every single month. He would host bowl reps. at his house nearly every Friday night, and in the end all his work paid-off BIG TIME for the program.

Obviously, all his campaigning would have been for naught if the football team hadn’t stepped up and played their best football of the year in November. Pat Fitzgerald’s ‘Cats were able to win their final three games, including an upset of a top 5 team in Iowa, and a victory over the Badgers as well.”

Tonight at the bowl game press conference, I asked Dr. Phillips about how much of the selection process is about money and business, instead of football, or how much is about football and business at the same time.

“One affects the other and as we all know well, the economy is a factor as we try to live through it. And as a program there’s great excitement over the destination and the opportunity. But the economics are important, and it’s going to be important for us to travel well and demonstrate like we have in years past that we are eager to come back to the Alamo Bowl, and we are eager to come back to Florida for the first time in 13 years.

The one thing I will say from my two experiences here, the Big Ten conference does it as well as anyone in the country, there are no back room negotiations financially that we’ll commit to another two thousand, three thousand tickets, you take what the bowl asks you to take that’s agreed upon when the contracts are put together. And so there really is a clean slate relative as to who’s the best team to take, and who would be the most excited or whatever the bowl criteria is, you’ll have to ask them, but I think that helps all the schools in the Big Ten, especially during an economy like what we have right now,” he responded.


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