Zemek: Louisville Deserves Not To Be Hated

Posted Oct 14, 2013

Matt Zemek Thought: Louisville Deserves Not To Be Hated

By Matt Zemek
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As the college football season hits the midway point and teams begin to build (or tear down) their résumés, one very simple point needs to be advanced: When you rip a team such as Louisville, you're not ripping the team. You're ripping the schedule it has to play.

The Cardinals did not look great on Thursday night against Rutgers – not even close to great. Yet, they didn't lose to Utah the way Stanford did.

Louisville didn't gack away a late 10-point lead the way Michigan did against Penn State. Moreover, it's not as though Rutgers is a rubbish team at the bottom of the college football pecking order. The Scarlet Knights almost topped Louisville for the Big East championship last season and have been a bowl team more often than not over the past seven years.

This season, Rutgers nearly defeated Fresno State on the road. Yet, Louisville never came particularly close to losing to the Scarlet Knights, even on a night when it played at an average level (below-average on offense, above-average on defense). It's not as though Louisville is an example of a team that's failing to do what it's supposed to. Plenty of other teams should stand in the front of the line if that's the discussion you want to have.

No, what you're choosing to be upset about (and rightly so) when you criticize Louisville is not the team, but the schedule. You're upset that Ohio, Florida International, and an FCS team populate the non-conference slate, and you're upset that The American – bereft of quality and depth – is Louisville's conference playground. You're upset that Louisville isn't being tested at the highest levels of competition.

Is this Louisville's fault?

Non-conference scheduling is discretionary, and to that extent, the Cardinals should be blamed. However, the conference portion of UL's season is not something the school controlled. Conference realignment was and is a theater of events in which schools were forced to reconsider their options (or lack thereof) due to circumstances they generally didn't create or even want. Conference realignment did not serve as a stage for primary movers; it was a realm of activity in which schools reacted to other developments in an attempt to protect their own skin. Louisville didn't arrange for The American to be this way. Heck, the school didn't intend for The American to even exist.

Do you want to channel your (legitimate) anger about teams such as Louisville, Fresno State, and Northern Illinois in a meaningful direction? Don't buy tickets for cupcake games if that's something you're able to do. Don't watch games if they fail to meet standards.

On a purely argument-based level, don't criticize Louisville/Fresno/NIU as much as a system that doesn't play enough TV-friendly non-conference games. Blame a system that doesn't enable the Louisvilles and Fresno States of the world to play each other in a bowl game or in an eight-team playoff. Blame a regular season that – while indeed better than the regular season in any other team sport – still falls far short of giving the public a much more extensive offering of high-level games between teams that deserve to test their skills against each other.

College football faces schedule-based problems more than school-based problems. The sport needs to find better ways of arranging its regular season, so that one year's unplayed matchups can, in future years, become reality on the gridiron.

You really don't dislike Louisville – unless you're a Kentucky partisan. What you don't like is Louisville's soft schedule. You really don't hate Northern Illinois, unless you're a Toledo fan. What you hate is the fact that Northern Illinois can go through a regular season without playing Texas A&M or UCLA or Clemson.

When people say that they hate someone like Tim Tebow or Brett Favre, they're often not hating Tebow or Favre. They're hating the way the mainstream media – especially ESPN – covers those personalities. People often root against teams or athletes not because they find those athletes or teams offensive, but because they perceive a bias in favor of those teams (from the media or some other systemic source) that isn't deserved at all.

Louisville, Fresno State, Northern Illinois – these teams deserve admiration for what they're doing. You can appreciate their efforts and direct your displeasure to the system that enables them to go through the regular season without being tested as much as they should be. Hate the system, appreciate the football program.