The college football regular season is coming down the home stretch.
This upcoming weekend, the slate of games consists predominantly of conference championship games, seven to be exact. The Sun Belt conference and Big XII conference are also in action, finishing out their regular season slate. There is just one game the following weekend on Dec. 12 – the 116th edition of the Army-Navy game. The bowl season gets underway on the 19th.
There were two new bowl games added for the 2015-’16 bowl season, bringing the total to a resounding 40 games, 41 if you count the National Championship Game. That means theoretically, 80 of the 128 FBS teams will go bowling this holiday season.
The problem? There are only 75 bowl-eligible teams as of today. The BIGGER problem? There will not be enough bowl-eligible teams to fill out all 80 bids.
Yes, while four of the Power 5 conferences will have conference championships, there will be games sprinkled in between involving teams that are still fighting for bowl eligibility. There will be at least two and as many as five schools with records of 5-7 that will be playing in bowl games.
So, who are the culprits? Last weekend there were 13 games involving a 5-6 team that needed to win their final game to become bowl eligible. Of those 13, only four were able to get to the .500 eligibility mark (Tulsa, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Washington). Among those to lose and fall to 5-7 were Big Ten teams like Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota, all of them losing at home.
There are three games this upcoming weekend with teams having one last chance to clinch a bowl berth – Kansas State (5-7) is at home vs. already bowl-eligible West Virginia, Georgia State (5-6) plays on the road at 8-3 Georgia Southern, and South Alabama (5-7) is at home vs. a 9-2 Appalachian State. Even if all three come away with victories, there will still be openings for teams under the .500 mark.
This dilemma is also affecting multiple conferences in terms of the affiliations with bowl games. The Big Ten and Conference USA each are two spots short now, so thanks a bunch to Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota for screwing things up. The ACC, Big XII, and Sun Belt all are one spot short, but if Kansas State and either Georgia State or South Alabama were to win, that would fix that little problem.
Meanwhile, the SEC and Pac-12, probably the two best and deepest conferences in football, are all set. The SEC is 10 for 10 in bowl eligible teams and their affiliations. The Pac-12 actually exceeded their bids with nine teams becoming bowl-eligible, two more than they have affiliations with.
As if having an unthinkable 40 bowl games wasn’t enough, now we will have undeserving teams participating in some December football. How is this all going to be determined? Whether it is two or five, the 5-7 teams will be prioritized based on APR, or Academic Progress Rate. We also have the issue of conferences that are one or two bids short wanting to work with their bowl affiliates to work out a deal to allow their underachieving schools.
Geography and general approval from fans (in-person and TV viewers) are going to factor into this as well. Are these teams going to want to potentially travel across the country to play a bowl game they don’t deserve to be in? Are those in control of the bowl games themselves going to offer an invitation to those teams in question with the possible consequence of fans not being interested in seeing a 5-7 team?
The NCAA had its heart in the right place with bowl season, because Americans love college football and it is an easy money-maker for them. However, this bowl season, they will realize that 40 bowls are too many for a number of reasons. We are now presented with the possibility of teams not deserving of a bowl game potentially being put in a December bowl game, and outside of those who are fans, students, or alum of the school, fans are not going to want to watch a pair of mediocre, under-.500 teams duke it out in some ridiculously-named bowl game that is not geographically-friendly to either school.