MAC commissioner, Central Michigan athletics director defend Northern Illinois' Orange Bowl bid



The selection of Northern Illinois to play in the Orange Bowl has prompted a bit of a firestorm in the last week over whether the Mid-American Conference champions belong in a BCS game.

The Huskies were immediately met with harsh criticism upon the announcement last Sunday that No. 12 Florida State, 11-2 and Atlantic Coast Conference champions, would play 15th-ranked NIU. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit went as far as to say NIU playing in the Jan. 1 game "is a joke" and "really sad state for college football and where we are in the current system," making the case for 2-loss programs such as Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M.

MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, in a telephone interview Wednesday with Central Michigan Life, fought back against the criticism, saying the BCS system put the Huskies in the game.

"I think it showed an absolute ..." Steinbrecher said, stopping to gather himself. "What it showed is that these people don't know the rules of the BCS and lack knowledge of our teams. The response from the general public, and large segment of the media, has been good ... there's been a nice boomarang effect."

Central Michigan athletics director Dave Heeke said Thursday the criticism shows a lack of respect for the league, which ranked eighth in ESPN.com's most recent power conference ranking -- only above the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA -- but finished the season with two schools ranked in the BCS.

NIU, ranked No. 21 at the time, beat then-No. 17 Kent State, 44-37, in a double-overtime thriller in the Dec. 5 MAC title game to finish 12-1 and 15th in the nation. The Huskies went undefeated in the MAC, with their one loss against Iowa, 18-17, in the first week of the season. The Hawkeyes finished 4-8.

"The criticism is unfounded," Heeke said. "We have the system that we have, and the system has produced the opportunity for non-AQ team to participate. I'm proud that we have a MAC team there, and they deserve to be there. The system put them in that, and fulfilled that.

"We tend to overreact to this, but while under-react to ... there's been many examples of automatic qualifying conference teams getting into games that have been less than attractive, but somehow those are accepted as OK."

Central Michigan University President George Ross said league presidents were on a conference call Monday with Steinbrecher to discuss revenue distribution from the Orange Bowl. NIU is the first school in league history to qualify for a BCS game, which means the conference will receive a larger share of BCS revenue.

Steinbrecher told ESPN.com earlier this week that $24 million is estimated to be split among the five non-AQ conferences: MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference. Of that $24 million, about $12 million will be split evenly among the five non-AQs, while the MAC is expected to receive about two-thirds, or $8 million, of the other $12 million. That could result in more than $10 million in revenue for the league, a significant boost for a conference that typically receives between $2 and $3 million per year in BCS revenue.

While Steinbrecher declined to comment Wednesday on exact numbers, he said league presidents have agreed to underwrite NIU's trip to Florida, including travel and ticket costs, to the tune of $4 million. All other money earned from the BCS bid, he said, will be split evenly among the 12 full-time league members and football-only member Massachusetts.

"That's what we do with our revenue distribution," Steinbrecher said. "We're very socialistic in those terms. It's very true that in the (idea) that success of one helps elevate everybody."

Ross declined to speculate how much CMU will receive, or how the money would be spent, but Heeke said he hopes "some of that would come back to the athletic department and athletic program, to help."

Heeke: CMU looking to 'break even' with Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

While many MAC schools are salivating at additional revenue from Northern Illinois' BCS bid, Heeke says CMU is looking to 'break even' on the trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Heeke said the bowl, to be played Dec. 26 at Ford Field in Detroit, does not offer a cash payout and revenue generated is directly dependent on the number of game tickets sold through each school's ticket office. CMU has been allocated approximately 12,000 tickets for the game, with the money raised going directly into travel costs for the team and athletics department.

Heeke could not provide estimates on travel costs Thursday, but said the MAC provides a "small" travel stipend to help offset some of those. CMU spent almost $190,000 on its trip to Mobile, Ala., for the 2010 GMAC Bowl, despite a $350,000 travel stipend from the league. Part of the reason? The university only generated $22,000 in ticket sales.

"Our hope is that we have a break-even proposition," Heeke said. "And we're just talking about athletic-related components to that. There's a number of things that happen around bowl games: travel your band, cheerleaders and dance squad, participation by administration, different things that go on around the bowl that add to those expenses.

"But to move a team and handle the athletic portion, we hope that we'll break even."

When you take out travel costs and lodging for the band and cheerleaders to Mobile, more than $210,000, CMU stayed under the league's travel stipend. The university will likely not receive the same stipend this time around, given its close proximity to the bowl site, and will have to rely on ticket sales to fill the void.

Tickets, priced at $25 for reserved seating and $10 for students, are now on-sale at Tickets Central, cmuchippewas.com or by calling 1-888-FIREUP2.


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