Northern Illinois didn’t just boost the status of its football program when it ended the season ranked 15th in the BCS standings and received a bid to Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl game.
The Huskies helped out their entire conference.
How big a deal is it for the Mid-American Conference — the MAC — to have one of its teams playing in a BCS bowl for the first time?
So big, the school presidents within the conference quickly approved a plan to pay for the Huskies’ large ticket commitment so they wouldn’t take a financial bath by paying for thousands of tickets the school couldn’t possibly resell.
Northern Illinois had to purchase 17,500 tickets from the Orange Bowl — yet only averaged 15,670 fans at home games this season.
The school offered free tickets to students and sold some to fans and alumni. Yet NIU still had to return more than 7,000 unsold tickets.
Those tickets, ranging in prices from $75 to $200 that was paid to the Orange Bowl, will be distributed to charities throughout South Florida.
The MAC is expected to receive as much as $13 million in BCS revenue this season instead of its usual $2.5 million. That extra chunk comes for having a representative playing in a BCS game.
The MAC figures without Northern Illinois going, it wouldn’t have the bonus money. So, the league is helping out.
The Big East refused to increase UConn’s bowl share when it went to the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season. Those Huskies lost almost $2 million because they were stuck with close to 15,000 unsold tickets they were forced to buy from the Fiesta Bowl.
“Kids can come down here and play, the administrators can come down here and take care of the people they need to take care of,” MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said.
“There’s some pretty significant obligations. We wanted to make sure that the school was not under any kind of a financial hardship. Truly this is going to be a celebration for Northern Illinois; it’s going to be a celebration for the whole conference. So we’ve just ensured that that is the case.”
The MAC likely would have had a team in a BCS bowl even if it wasn’t the Huskies. In a rare abundance of conference riches, the MAC was set to have Kent State represent the league as the Golden Flashes went into the conference championship game in Detroit 11-1 and ranked 15th in the nation.
The Huskies (12-1) rallied to win 44-37 in double overtime. The Huskies have gone 23-4 over the past two seasons and won a pair of MAC championships by going 17-1 in conference play.
Kent State ended up going to Mobile, to play in its first bowl game since 1972 — one of seven MAC teams to go bowling.
Northern Illinois, however, is the MAC team everyone will be watching.
“Well, it’s big,” said Rod Carey, who makes his debut as NIU’s coach after Dave Doeren left for N.C. State a day after the win at Ford Field.
“[We’re representing] NIU, our university, and then the MAC conference. We’ll represent those guys and carry the burden from a big picture, and we’re willing to do it, and we’re excited about it. ... We’re excited for NIU and excited for the MAC.”
In Monday’s news conference in Fort Lauderdale, Carey was asked if he had any trick plays — like the Statue of Liberty play Boise State ran — ready for the Seminoles.
“We were talking about that in the staff room the other day, and our running back coach wanted to put it in,” Carey said. “I said, ‘No, we’re not doing that. They’ve seen it before.’ It was a funny discussion. ... We’re going to play this game to win. Are we all of a sudden going to become something we’re not? No.”
“There’s always pressure,” Fisher said. “Coach Bowden was a legend. Coach Bowden is a one-of-a-kind guy. You don’t replace Coach Bowden. I have to be Jimbo Fisher and move on and do the things we do. ... But our philosophies and beliefs are very similar, believe it or not. A lot of my core values came from Coach Bowden many years ago.”