The lack of bowl eligible teams has created a good bit of media and message board hand-wringing over the tragedy of permitting some 5-7 teams play in a bowl.
Is there a crisis now? I’ve seen the suggestion that two bowls should be forced to close.
How about we take a deep breath and look at some numbers?
In 2014 we had 81 eligible with three more with enough wins but because of a relatively new change in NCAA rules first year FBS teams couldn’t go to a bowl. I suppose there was some harm created by Nevada and Marshall making bowls their first season in FBS that needed to be addressed. If the rule had not changed 84 teams would have been eligible last year when there were 76 bowl spots and three teams finishing 7-5 would have stayed home.
In 2013 we had 79 eligible with three fewer teams in FBS than we have today.
So the past two seasons 80 slots would have been about right to address all the bowl eligible teams. Yet the past two seasons are apparently outweighed by this season.
2015 Historic Season
In the history of major college football this will be only the fourth season where every team with a winning (better than .500) record has made a bowl. The last time every winning team was placed was 2009. It also happened in 2008 and the first time it ever happened was 2006.
2015 will be the first season that every team reaching at least .500 will make a bowl game.
Bowls as Reward
The position is taken often that bowls are a reward for a successful season. The problem is it has been a conditional award. Not until 1982 did we have a season where every conference champion not on probation made a bowl game.
From Arkansas State’s 11-0 unbeaten, untied, uninvited season to Louisiana Tech’s 9-2 in 1997 to UCF’s 9-2 in 1998 to Northern Illinois’ 10-2 in 2003 to Sun Belt co-champion 8-3 Middle Tennessee to 2007 Sun Belt co-champ Troy at 8-4, teams clearly deserving to be rewarded failed to gain that reward.
If Kansas State, South Alabama, and Georgia State all fail to win this week there will be five losing teams in bowls, that will make eight over ten seasons (three were division champs at 6-6 losing conference title games). In that same span eight teams with winning records and another 35 finishing 6-6 missed playing in a bowl.
Bowls are a great reward, if deserving teams are able to gain that reward. We know from experience if the number of bowls is too low that some teams will get left out for having too small a fan base or too little name brand value.
Sanctity of the Game
It is argued that bowl games should be special and that is a good argument. Whether a game is special rides much more on the efforts of the local bowl committee and the volunteers than on the record of the participants.
A well run game is a special event for the players, coaches and their families. It provides opportunities for fans to do more than just buy a ticket and see a football game. A well run bowl with great volunteers will create that special event.
I’ve been in the French Quarter with many thousands of LSU and Ohio State fans, walked Beale Street with Tulane and BYU fans, been in downtown Mobile with thousands of Arkansas State fans, and visited Universal Studios with LSU and Iowa fans and players. All great experiences and those experiences were less dependent on the record of the team or how many Nielsen rating points they bring, or AP poll votes those teams had than they were on the hospitality of the host community.
The first bowl game was created to promote a local festival and encourage tourism. From that we have grown to a system that involves many communities hoping to show off what they have to the nation while schools participate to show off what they have to the nation as well. Pitting two good teams at a neutral site is good for all involved and the game in general.
2015 isn’t going to work out perfectly for the bowl communities and the participating schools but the problems this year shouldn’t be a mandate to adopt drastic change. One season of short supply shouldn’t trigger an over-reaction just 12 months after a season when 84 schools had enough wins. If no one else gets eligible the three year average is 79.3 eligible teams.
The best course of action right now is to impose a moratorium on new games for a short period and see how the future plays out. It would be a disservice to players and fans to adopt drastic change and find we are back in a situation where 8 or 9 wins fails to earn a team a post-season reward.