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KORCEK'S CORNER: So-called ‘experts’ show their ‘expertise’

You know, I always thought Bud Nangle was the greatest sports information director in Northern Illinois University history. Hands down. No contest.

Until last Sunday, that is. I must’ve been wrong all these years. Kirk Herbstreit must be the best Huskies SID ever.

Wait, doesn’t Mr. Herbstreit work for ESPN? What are you talking about, Mike?

Thanks to one rant-filled ESPN College Bowl Selection Show last Sunday, Herbstreit single-handedly has made Northern Illinois household words on every sports page, sports talk show and jock blog in America, and elsewhere.

I’m envious. In 34 years on the job, I didn’t come close. Gee thanks, Kirk. Just don’t expect a freebie invitation to the Huskies football banquet any time soon.

By now, you, the local community, and every one of the 225,000 living NIU alums must know that Herbstreit and his punky buddies Jesse Palmer and David Pollack unfairly ganged up on NIU for its historic Orange Bowl berth and the Mid-American Conference, in general, Sunday evening. Kirk, has any one counseled you on anger management? You were on national TV, you know.

Educated opinions and discourse are one thing. To be honest, I never have witnessed such hate, anger, venom, angst, etc., on a talking heads TV sports show before. I’m old enough to remember Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer ready to punch each other out on the Dick Cavett Show years ago.

Be thankful Huskie alums such as Ryan Diem, Doug Bartlett, Michael Turner or Brian Atkinson weren’t on that ESPN set Sunday. You wonder how ESPN could do such a hatchet job on one of the top five college football stories of the year.

When you hear first-hand such insults from Herbstreit and crew, such as “Northern Illinois is a joke” or “This is a sad state of affairs for college football. They (NIU) don’t deserve...” or “No one ever heard of Northern Illinois until the Toledo game...” or “What has NIU done?” or just “Are you kidding?” one would guess that objectivity went flying out the window Sunday in Bristol, Conn.

This is the Worldwide Leader in Sports? Or just bile?

“They (ESPN) belittled Northern from the word ‘Go,’ ” said former NIU football coach Joe Novak, who ultimately started this Orange Bowl run in 1996. “Of course, you can have an opinion, but they were so vicious, so negative. Why? It’s such a tremendous opportunity for NIU and the MAC, such an historic opportunity.”

Must anyone explain the “Suck our oranges, ESPN” sign at a DeKalb gas station?

All this commotion over a 12-1 Huskie team that crashed ESPN’s college football universe. I mean, the audacity of this little mid-major. How dare this MAC program dip its toes in the same seven-figure bowl payoff pond with Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and all the big boys? Go back to your cute Bowl.

We’re sorry, commissioner Herbstreit. Or is it commissar Herbstreit?

It’s not like NIU in the BCS top 16 was breaking news Sunday night. As a “civilian,” I heard our Orange Bowl rumor three hours before the “ESPN Bowl Selection Show” and saw confirmation online. All during “Championship Week” and Friday night’s NIU-Kent State MAC Championship game, ESPN’s “experts” discussed the possibility and ramifications of the mid-major BCS-busters. What eventually transpired is the current BCS system – flaws and all.

Wasn’t Herbstreit ranked the best college football analyst on TV by a recent readership survey in the Sports Business Journal, earning a 57 percent approval rating?

The tops in the business doesn’t know the Huskies have won 34 of their past 41 games, earned 82 triumphs and seven bowl appearances in the past decade, or produced NFL All-Pros such as “Turner the Burner?” It appears the initial four ESPN panelists Sunday only knew Jordan Lynch and Chandler Harnish. Impressive expertise, guys.

Where are the hordes of ESPN production assistants or interns to do some much-needed research? The audience didn’t even get the obligatory “good cop/bad cop” routine.

Other than host Rece Davis, it was Herbstreit, Palmer and Pollack dissing the Huskies for almost an hour before the next segment with Lou Holtz and Mark May, who offered only token support for NIU or any nonautomatic qualifier. Too bad ESPN couldn’t add Don Rickles to the panel.

At one point, Herbstreit retreated a bit, saying he wasn’t ripping the school, but, I paraphrase, the system instead. “Northern Illinois is the pawn of the system,” he commented.

Right, Kirk.

Then came the MAC suck-up attempt. “I’m a MAC guy” (notice Herbstreit didn’t use the trendier “MACtion” – loosing brownie points with league commish Jon Steinbrecher), then mentioning stellar Miami quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and ex-Bowling Green State coach Urban Meyer from that early 2000s era.

Nice try, Kirk. Next time, do your Huskie homework.

Just FYI, since Miami and Bowling Green were in the MAC East Division at the time, NIU only played both of those schools once and won both games. Turner and the Huskies outscored Roethlisberger and company, 48-41, in Oxford in 2002 and NIU sent the unbeaten, 20th-ranked Falcons back to Bowling Green on the wrong end of a 26-17 score the same season.

Obviously, you know my loyalties. I’ve always understood the NCAA pecking order.

For a mid-major, strength of schedule is always an issue. It’s a system developed by human beings who are fallible. Is it NIU or Kent State’s fault that both met the BCS criteria? Was the ESPN crew “acting” hostile Sunday just to manufacture controversy and create interest? After all, the Orange Bowl is an ESPN game on New Year’s Day.

To me, credible journalists see both sides of a story, different perspectives. Former NIU coach Jerry Pettibone played at Oklahoma and coached at his alma mater, plus Nebraska, SMU, Texas A&M and Oregon State. He worked the sidelines in the 1981 Orange Bowl and in the same facility when the Huskies played No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in 1986.

“It’s awesome,” Pettibone said. “How can you not be excited about being the first MAC team in the Orange Bowl? I’m happy for all the Huskies. Not only is it great for NIU and the MAC, it’s refreshing for college football. An up-and-coming mid-major versus the ACC champion. When we were here, we talked about the ceiling in the MAC. Back in 1985, there were obvious limitations. This is a quantum leap for Northern Illinois and the MAC.”

There’s no bigger MAC advocate than Hall of Fame NIU coach Bill Mallory, who led Colorado to the 1977 Orange Bowl.

“You know I always believed in the great potential of this program due to its location and other major factors,” Mallory said. “This Orange Bowl appearance is a tremendous challenge and opportunity to showcase your program on a national stage.”

Got that Kirk? By the way, I was only kidding. Bud Nangle still is the best. Anything for a good opening paragraph.

• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.

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