According to a very interesting report by Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com yesterday, there is “growing support” among college football’s power brokers to raise from six to seven the number of wins necessary for bowl eligibility. Obviously, nixing all six-win teams from the postseason mix would mean a culling of the bowl herd, too.
McMurphy states that “conference commissioners, athletic directors and bowl officials” are looking at instituting the change when the new BCS cycle begins in 2014.
“The 7-5 discussion is percolating” one bowl official told the website. “I don’t know of many athletic directors or conference commissioners who think a 6-6 team has earned a bowl berth.”
Probably not. But it’s hard to imagine many bowl officials who would want to see their bowls (and their jobs) vanish. It’s hard to imagine athletic directors who would want to give up the opportunity — even at 6-6 — to schmooze their boosters with a bowl trip. And it’s equally hard to imagine conference commissioners who would want to cut down on the amount of revenue and exposure the bowls provide for their leagues.
Currently there are many, many bowls that hold no interest for traveling fans or television viewers. Whacking a few and getting back to the 25-30 range for bowls would be viewed as a positive step by most fans. (This writer as well, on the surface.) But after arguing for decades about “the sanctity of the bowl system,” wouldn’t it be an about-face for college football’s powers-that-be to suddenly tell team after team and student-athlete after student-athlete that there’s no reward for them? Not sure that lives up to the oft-repeated line: “The bowls are for the kids.”
From an SEC standpoint, moving to a seven-win eligibility standard would have a number of impacts:
1. Though coaches and athletic directors do not want a nine-game league schedule, we have stated repeatedly that eventually a nine-game slate would be viewed as a necessity if the SEC wants to maintain its close-knit, rivalry-rich feel.
But if seven becomes the new magic number, forget the nine-game league schedule. Forever. If coaches are squawking now that a tough SEC slate might knock them out of bowls, imagine how much they would yelp — and rightfully so — if six-win teams could no longer earn bids.
2. If the requirement moves to seven wins, expect to see more cupcakes, do-nothings and pipsqueaks rolling into your favorite team’s stadium. For example, look at this year’s Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs finished just 2-6 in the SEC but won their four non-conference games to achieve the six wins necessary for bowl eligibility. Their non-conference games included: Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin. That’s the type of schedule many more SEC schools would begin playing.
Vanderbilt was also 2-6 in the SEC last season, but the Commodores achieved bowl eligibility with a non-con docket that included Elon, UConn, Army and Wake Forest. Would Vandy schedule BCS-level UConn and Wake Forest in the future if the bowl cut-off were seven instead of six? Would Auburn schedule Clemson?
The guess here is no, and there’s evidence to back up that guess. Tennessee was scared that it wouldn’t reach bowl eligibility in Derek Dooley’s second year so the Vols bought out a road game to North Carolina and replaced the Tar Heels with a home date featuring Buffalo. UT’s 2011 non-conference slate consisted of the aforementioned Bulls, Cincinnati, MTSU and Montana. Not reaching bowl eligibility anyway, the Vols might want to buy out a team like Cincinnati, too, in the future… just to make that non-conference schedule even easier.
Here’s another nugget — while several schools would have the ability to schedule four non-con games against non-BCS foes, schools like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have built-in rivalry games with BCS-level competition every year (Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson, respectively). If everyone else takes an easier path, UF, UGA and USC will be at a bit of a disadvantage.
3. Guess which leagues have sent the most 6-6 teams to bowl games over the past few years. Yep, the BCS leagues. The SEC and Big Ten have each sent nine six-win teams to bowls since 2006. The ACC has sent eight. The Big 12 has sent seven.
If the standard for bowl eligibility is raised, it will cost the big conferences the most. That’s less bowl revenue, less bowl practice (15 sessions for each team going bowling), and less bowl bids for league schools to tout to prospects and recruits.
In terms of bowl revenue, there’s no question schools going to smaller-end bowls lose money on the actual trip. They have to buy tickets that go unsold. They have to pay for the school band and the official travel party. It’s expensive. But those official travel parties include big boosters who are expected to pony up more cash in the future if they feel the program is achieving something. So while straight revenue from the bowls might not amount to much, there’s a reason the boosters are wined and dined in cities from Shreveport to Boise. There’s big picture revenue that can come as a result of bowl trips.
In the end, it will be interesting to see how much traction the move to seven-win eligibility gains… and who is actually for it. If it’s the BCS leagues who are in favor of it, they will be cutting down on their own schools’ opportunities and they will be limiting the “rewards” for a large number of student-athletes who they’ve always claimed to hold in high regard.
And if this idea does become a reality it will have a hefty impact on your very own SEC from in-conference schedules to non-conference schedules, from recruiting pitches to practice sessions, and from revenue to exposure.
Need to keep an eye on this one, folks.