Growing belief seven wins should be magic number for bowl eligibility

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Illinois' victory over UCLA in the Kraft Hunger Bowl was not a Clash of the Titans. (Getty Images)  
Illinois' victory over UCLA in the Kraft Hunger Bowl was not a Clash of the Titans. (Getty Images)  

Second of two parts

There is "growing support" among conference commissioners, athletic directors and bowl officials to increase the difficulty of becoming bowl eligible by requiring teams to have seven victories, or a winning record, when the new BCS cycle begins in 2014, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com. The seven-win requirement would also mean a handful of bowls likely would be discontinued because there would not be enough eligible teams to fill all of the current 70 berths. In the past two years alone, 27 teams with 6-6 records were needed to fill all the bowl slots, meaning nearly 20 percent of the bowl field didn't have a winning record.

Yearly 6-6 bowl teams
Year Number
2006 7 of 64
2007 8 of 64
2008 9 of 68
2009 8 of 68
2010 14 of 70
2011 13 of 70

"The 7-5 discussion is percolating," a bowl official said. "I don't know of many athletic directors or conference commissioners who think a 6-6 team has earned a bowl berth." Teams are now only required to finish .500 (6-6) or better to be bowl eligible. Increasing the number is expected to be discussed at the Football Bowl Association meetings in Miami in April. The university presidents would have to vote for any change as part of NCAA legislation.

If the winning record requirement did pass, bowl sources estimated up to 12 of the current 35 bowls could be "lopped off." Which would go by the wayside? That would not be an easy decision, especially since a number of conferences initially created these bowls to guarantee their teams would have one to play in. ESPN also has created and runs seven bowls that the network utilizes as programming. Even though they have hosted a number of 6-6 teams, it's doubtful ESPN would willingly discontinue any of them.

"I think a lot of people would like to see the increase [in wins] to be bowl eligible, but conferences have contracts with the bowls, and if a bowl has to go dark, that conference gets embarrassed," a bowl official said.

Until 2006, teams had 11-game regular seasons, and schools needed to finish with a winning record (at least 6-5) to be bowl eligible. Before the 2006 season, a 12th regular-season game was added and minimum bowl eligibility was changed to 6-6. In the six years since, 22 of the current 35 bowls have had a team with that record.

Conference 6-6 bowl teams
(since 2006)
Conference No.
Big Ten 9
SEC 9
ACC 8
Big 12 7
C-USA 6
Pac-12 6
Mountain West 4
Sun Belt 3
Big East 2
Mid-American 2
Note: Army, Notre Dame and the WAC had 1.

Between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, four bowls were added to take advantage of the new 6-6 rule and bigger pool of teams. In the first season 6-6 teams were eligible, only seven went to bowl games. Four years later, despite adding only three more bowls, the number of 6-6 teams that went bowling doubled to 14.

In the past two seasons, 27 of the 140 bowl teams (19.2 percent of the bowl field) were 6-6. Overall since 2006, 59 of the 404 bowl teams (14.6 percent) did not have a winning record.

As I pointed out in Part 1 of my look at the bowl system, bowl attendance continues to decline for various reasons. Even Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson admitted earlier this month there are too many bowls. "You're asking people to come across the country to watch mediocre teams," a BCS bowl official said. "They're not going to do it."

A conference official suggested if you asked each of the 35 bowls if they favored increasing the bowl eligibility to seven wins, the "top 80 percent would say yes, the rest would say no."

The same official added that some of the low attendance numbers can be attributed to "fan travel fatigue."

"If a fan base is going to a bowl every year, it's a lot of money out of their pockets," he said. "They might not be thrilled going to a high level bowl one year and then going to a lesser bowl the next. For some fan bases, maybe a year off [not going to a bowl] isn't a bad thing. The fans might miss it and might be juiced for the next bowl trip."

Since 2006, there have been eight bowl games featuring teams without a winning record. Four of those 6-6 "classics" were this past season, including a historic Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between 6-6 Illinois and 6-7 UCLA, which needed a waiver to play in the game with a losing record. In the past six seasons, the mighty SEC has won a record six consecutive BCS national titles. But the SEC also is tied with the Big Ten as the conference with the most 6-6 bowl teams (nine each). The ACC is next with eight.

"Bowl games have lost the special feel with too many games," another conference official said. "It used to be a reward but now it feels like an obligation for the last 10 to 15 bowls.

"For some schools you have to have a pretty special or unexpected year for fans to embrace the bowl scenarios, because once you are eliminated from BCS bowl contention, then you've had a bad year." Besides rewarding undeserving teams, a number of athletic directors are not happy having to pay out hefty bowl bonuses for coaches that went 6-6 and underachieved. This past season, 11 coaches were fired or left for another job after their teams earned a bowl berth.

"The 7-5 proposal is getting serious support," a non-BCS bowl official said. "They're telling a coach [that] 6-6 doesn't cut it, but then the coach gets a $50,000 or $100,000 bonus for a bowl game that none of the fan base wants to see. Athletic directors feel like they're pouring money down a hole and they're getting frustrated with it. The only people making out on 6-6 bowl games are the coaches." The bowls that have relied on 6-6 teams the most have been the Independence and New Mexico bowls.

The Independence Bowl has had seven 6-6 teams in six years, including consecutive games in 2006 and 2007 featuring two of them. This past season ended a string of five consecutive years for the Independence Bowl with a 6-6 team playing in Shreveport, La. ESPN created the New Mexico Bowl in 2006 and has hosted six 6-6 teams. This past season was its first ever without one.

The Little Caesars, Music City, Insight and Kraft Fight Hunger bowls have each featured four 6-6 teams. The Texas, Liberty, Gator, Compass and Beef 'O Brady's bowls have each had three. ESPN owns the Texas, Compass and Beef 'O Brady's bowls.

Fewer bowls would actually benefit the overall bowl system, a non-BCS bowl official said. "It would make the existing bowls more valuable and drive up the sponsorships and television ratings for the survivors," the official said. UCLA has benefitted more than any other school by the 6-6 bowl eligibility rule, earning three bids without a winning record. The Bruins went to bowls in 2007 and 2009 at 6-6 and 2011 at 6-7. Nine other schools have played in two bowl games with 6-6 records: Alabama, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa State, Kentucky, Marshall, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

A potential drawback of the tougher bowl eligibility requirement is fewer teams would be able to take advantage of the additional practices allowed. These mostly benefit younger players and help schools prepare for next season. But a conference official said that could easily be solved by allowing every team to participate in the same number of December practices whether it goes to a bowl or not.

"The bowls use to be special," a BCS conference official said. "Increasing the bowl eligibility to seven wins would get the bowls back to being special. There's nothing special about being 6-6."

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