Monday, November 13, 2006


Fact #1 - I watch "Survivor". This is a difficult thing to admit, but a fundamental truth that is inescapable.
Fact #2 - I root for a college football team that was once in the Big East and is now in the ACC.
Fact #3 - On Thursday night, the same night that "Survivor" comes on, the Big East had its biggest match of the year thus far, with Rutgers matching up with Louisville in New Brunswick. Rutgers emerged undefeated, and has been put forward as a serious national championship contender, an unthinkable development no more than 2 years ago.

I was struck by a similarity between last Thursday's episode of "Survivor" and the Big East showdown. Sorry to go all Bill Simmons on you, but it was too obvious to pass up.

First, a primer. For those who don't watch "Survivor" and don't know the strategic nuances of the show (if you're burdened with antiquated things like "self respect"), the show is essentially divided into two strategic sections, pre-merge and post-merge. In the pre-merge section, the players are divided into two opposing tribes that compete in challenges - the loser of the challenge each week has to vote a player out of the game. In this section of the game, the most important thing is to win those challenges, because the tribe that goes into the merge with greater numbers can, theoretically at least, take down the other tribe's members one at a time. Post-merge the game becomes an every-person-for-themself competition, but usually the members of the tribe with numbers realize to one degree or another that its in their best interest to stick with their tribe as long as possible (this process is known as "Pagonging", after the original tribe that got decimated by Richard Hatch and his army of darkness because they were too stupid to vote in any sort of bloc).

On Thursday's episode the two tribes were gathered together and every person was given a choice that they had to make in 10 seconds - stick with their current tribe, or "mutiny" and join the other. Two members of Aitu stepped off the mat and joined Raro, the first time anyone has actually done this on the show (a couple of previous seasons had given players the same choice, but no one ever actually did it). Pre-mutiny, the tribes were at 6-6, so post-mutiny Raro had a commanding 8-4 advantage. It was lousy strategy (the players who mutineed will forever be branded as traitors, and no matter how much other people in their new tribe like them, suspicion will linger over them) but good TV, because all of a sudden you had one tribe (Aitu) wearing white hats, and the other tribe getting a collective black hat for harboring the traitors. I confess I was rooting for Aitu anyway, because I have a crush that may not be entirely nonsexual on Yul, but now it borders on pathological - I desperately want Aitu to win, despite having no stake in the game, simply because I want to see the good guys win and the bad guys get what's coming to them.

You can probably see where this is going. A few years ago the ACC raided the Big East for 3 of its best football teams - Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. All three willingly left what was considered a sinking ship for what would inevitably become a new powerhouse conference. The Big East, left with little choice, raided Conference USA and landed Louisville, Cincinnati and USF (along with Marquette and DePaul, but only the former three play football) and were able to hold on to their BCS Bowl berth by the skin of their teeth.

Everything was going reasonably according to plan until this year. The Big East became a stronger basketball conference but in the sport where the big money is, football, they had become something of an embarrassment to the BCS, a conference of also-rans that was guaranteed an undeserved spot in a big-time January bowl. The ACC, meanwhile, had moved up to the big boy table with traditional powers like the SEC and the Big Ten.

In January, Big East champion West Virginia beat SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, a game which was essentially a home game for Georgia in that it was played in Atlanta.

The 2005 Hokies, an enigma all year, lost to the 8-4 Florida State Seminoles, an inferior team, in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles would lose to Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

Which brings us to this season, and Thursday night in particular. The ACC is a mess - a two-loss Georgia Tech team will most likely meet either Wake Forest or Maryland in the conference championship game. There is not a single team in the conference that has been a legitimate contender for the national title this year, the only major conference which can make that claim. Meanwhile the Big East has had, at various times, WVU, Louisville or Rutgers make a serious claim for national championship game respect.

There is no doubt in my mind that, at this moment, the Big East is better than the ACC. That is a fairly inescapable fact, and a remarkable turnaround for a conference left for dead after the defections. The mutineers, the black hats, are losing. The white hats are winning. The ACC got what bad guys deserve - a down year across the board for the big 3 (VT, FSU, Miami) and a conference title holder who will probably be a huge underdog in the Orange Bowl. And the Big East has gotten what the good guys deserve - a spot in the national championship debate, and three strong football teams who can easily rival the ACC's big 3. I might not be able to be all that happy about this, but it certainly makes for a good story.


Blogger bosstoonlou said...

Nice perspective. I always enjoy seeing someone bridge the analogical gap between two completely unrelated events.

And it's certainly a breath of fresh air from Chipper and kinslow debating whether the SEC or Pac-10 is the stronger conference.

Since I know the SEC is stronger, I've ceased to care.

Mon Nov 13, 11:38:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why am I not in the ACC "Big Three"?

Mon Nov 20, 01:48:00 PM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home