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Hard to Believe It’s Actually Over for 2011

No bowl for the Cards, but still a highly successful premier for Pete Lembo in Muncie

I know it’s been a couple of weeks since OTP has had anything Cardinal related. After a whirlwind of Thanksgiving travel, a trip to Muncie for the season finale, and then catching up on the actual job that pays for the bloggy goodness around here I think it’s time to finally come out of our shell and admit that yes, the season is officially over. And more importantly, the Cardinals are not going bowling despite their eligibility and 6-6 record, one of only two teams to reach eligibility and be left home. It’s a sinking feeling that these players and coaches aren’t rewarded for their work, it’s a punch in the stomach to see the program and institution that you love be left out and deemed not worthy compared to others, but to say that I’m not aflutter with optimism about the Ball State football program would be ignoring the overwhelming positive horizon for the short-term sting of bumpy seas.

When Pete Lembo was hired, both Edge and myself opined that 6-6 would be a banner first year. While I can’t speak for Edge, that prediction was far more optimism than reality. Realistically, after the last few years, there was no rational reason why .500 should be expected. 4-8 was far more reality, and with a few breaks, perhaps 5-7. But amazingly enough, the Cards ended 6-6, with 7-5 entirely in reach considering how close the NIU contest was. It’s amazing to me that despite the chaos and turmoil around Muncie the last few seasons in which the only consistency was the inconsistency from the top to the bottom, as of two weekends to play in the regular season the Cardinals were still in the hunt for the MAC West and the trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship that would deliver. Let’s not forget that this time last year people were ready to collectively freak right out that Tom Collins had been unable to hire a new head coach after giving Stanimal the old pink slip. The Cards were 4-8, the fans were in a tizzy, an FCS coach gets hired, OTP breaks the story, we get linked to by everyone from Fox 59 in Indy to the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel to ESPN, BSU’s hand gets forced and they confirm the story. Suffice to say, it was strange days around Muncie, OTPManor, and really the entire Cardinal football nation.

That was roughly one year ago. And now, Cardinals fans, myself included, are grumbling about being excluded from the bowl festivities and the players being robbed of whatever goody bags sponsors are giving away. (Ed. Note: One year participants in one bowl got a recliner. How friggin’ cool is that?!) But can any substantive argument really be made for the Cardinals to extend their season? Has this BSU team done what needed to be done for a MAC team to be selected? Aside from my impassioned argument which would sound something like, “But I really love this team!!! And clearly that’s important you bowl-running money-hungry douchenozzles!” there isn’t an argument based in any semblance of reality that counters the real reality of the bowl season. It’s about money. It’s about fans. It’s about marketability. And frankly, unless a MAC school is required to be chosen, they won’t be. A 6-7 UCLA team is unfortunately a better selection in the dollars and cents of bowl season than a 6-6 Ball State club. Aside from the morality and principle of a sub-.500 team making a bowl, those 6-7 fans will still buy tickets, fill restaurants, sell merchandise, and book hotels at a greater clip than that .500 team fighting the good fight based not only in justice but also in high passion but low volume fandom. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but that’s a pill that by this point should go down smoother and smoother each time it’s forced down your gullet as the fan of a non-automatic qualifying conference team.

So what now for the Cardinals? It’s on to things like our annual senior send off, a glimpse of the ever evolving landscape of recruiting, and taking an extremely early look at next year’s depth chart. Maybe if I can persuade Edge to take a break from rocking facials in the East Central Indiana region we’ll have a podcast for your enjoyment before we officially close the books on the ’11 season. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I hope you enjoy the next few weeks between now and the national championship. It’s all we have between our current situation and the long cold offseason of college football.

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