Among the many questions Greg Schiano and the Rutgers football program have to answer this season - the season after the season that was - is whether a college team can really win national attention without forfeiting its soul.
The Bowl Championship Series, that Ponzi scheme perpetrated by the royal families of Division I football, isn't designed to foster sportsmanship or values that might exist outside the cold calculus of its computer rankings. It is designed, essentially, to protect the franchise of the six conferences that dominate the postseason bowls and are always assured of having the national champion emerge from their ranks.
There are occasional ladders being hoisted on the castle walls these days. Boise State came frighteningly close to scaling the parapet last season, and Michigan's loss to Appalachian State wasn't a ringing endorsement for the sanctity of big-time football, either.
If this keeps up, all those jackals calling for a playoff system might actually get it, and what then?
Probably things wouldn't be much different from now, although a few more small fry might grab crumbs from the table, a prospect that would be good for the overall health of the college game, but one that displeases the greedy grumps of the big conferences.
They don't share well, and, judging by what Rutgers did to Norfolk State recently, they don't play well with others, either.
Not that the Scarlet Knights were out of line by the standards of the BCS. The system might stink, but Rutgers didn't invent it.
Still, when a ranked team leading a Division I-AA opponent by 45-0 calls all three of its time-outs near the end of the first half to get the ball back and score again, that seems a touch over the top.
Schiano did exactly that against Norfolk State in Rutgers' most recent game. The Knights had already scored 42 points in the second period against the overmatched Spartans, who were only there for the $275,000 guarantee. The six touchdowns were accomplished in just 11 plays and a total of 91 seconds. So it's fair to say that Norfolk State didn't have many answers for Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel or tailback Ray Rice, a Heisman Trophy candidate.
That didn't stop Schiano from using his time-outs on Norfolk's final possession of the half, trying to squeeze in one more possession of his own.
"If your starters are in there, you play the game the way you coach it," Schiano said afterward, as if someone else had decided that the starters were still in. "I'm comfortable, very comfortable, with the way we went about it."
Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian, whose head was so spun around that he didn't even get the score right, wasn't as sure as Schiano.
"Forty-eight-zip and you're calling three time-outs at the end?" Adrian said. "Hey, if that turns you on, it's fine."
In some ways, this was just a normal outgrowth of the mating dance that occurs between big programs that need guaranteed victories and smaller programs that need cash to support themselves. The Norfolk State athletic department knew exactly what it was getting into against Rutgers, although that doesn't mean its football players deserved to be intentionally embarrassed. For the record, Schiano didn't play Rice or Teel in the second half of what became a 59-0 final score. What a guy.
No bad deed goes entirely unrewarded in the BCS, and Rutgers has climbed to No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. What is ironic is that Rutgers was the feel-good story of 2006, the gutty little team that finally got its act together after decades of underachieving. (The feel-good story of 2007 is, of course, Notre Dame, doing its best to make a prophet out of Charlie Weis, who promised to turn the program around and appears to be doing so. Too bad he's only under contract through 2015.)
When Rutgers rose to No. 7 in the polls after winning its first nine games last season, that was great. When the Knights lost that incredible three-overtime game against West Virginia with an Orange Bowl invitation on the line, that was heartbreaking. And when Rutgers romped past Kansas State in the Texas Bowl for its first bowl win, that was a kiss and a promise for the 2007 season.
Now that the little guy is a big guy, though, he isn't quite as cute. Rutgers fans had to be chastised after yelling obscenities at Navy players earlier in the season. Then there was the handling of the Norfolk State game.
But apparently what matters is that Rutgers is up where it wants to be, playing the same crooked game as the big boys. Sure hope it's worth it in the end.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.