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Forget 7-5: These Rules Would Make Bowl Season Better, And Way More Fun

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As you may have heard, there is a movement afoot to raise the standard for bowl qualification from 6-6 to 7-5.

While this is a step in the right direction, the 7-5 requirement doesn’t address what’s really wrong with bowl season. In an attempt to do that, I hereby submit for consideration the following list of rules for bowl eligibility.

You can go to a bowl game at 6-6 if you want. But you must also follow these rules:

  • If you fire your head coach, you are ineligible for a bowl game.
  • If you don't accept mediocrity, why are you playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl?

    Last season four teams fired their head coaches for poor performance, and then days later gushed as they accepted invitations to appear in ESPN filler programming. Come on: if your team sucks so bad you’re going to pay somebody $5 million plus to stop coaching it, and your fans stay away in tens of thousands, you should really have the good taste to skip bowl season. Since most schools don't, we're going to make them.

    This rule also ensures that no more faceless assistants will be promoted to head coach after a random bowl game victory as interim coach. Has that ever worked out? If all I do here is prevent any future Bill Stewart or Bobby Williams eras, the college football world will be a better place.

  • All bowl games must have a real name.
  • Isn't it sad that most new bowl games don't even bother thinking up a real name for themselves? Apparently a $400,000 sponsorship fee doesn't even give you something to sponsor. If your city isn't cool enough to have something positive uniquely associated with it, it's not cool enough to host a bowl game either.

    City nicknames like "Music City" or "Motor City" Bowl will be allowed, provided more than 50% of a random sample can identify which city you mean. And only Las Vegas is awesome enough to have a bowl simply called City Name Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl also meets, easily, the next requirement:

  • All cities wishing to host a bowl game must pass a test of their worthiness as a travel destination.
  • And here is that test: a random sample of adult males within five hours' drive of the bowl site must -- without mentioning the football game -- say to their friends/girlfriends/wives/children the following sentence:

    "Guess what! I'm taking you on a a trip to ___(bowl city name)___!"

    If more than 50% of friends, girlfriends, wives and children react negatively to this announcement, your certification to host a bowl game is revoked by the NCAA. Permanently. Are you listening, Jacksonville?

  • Every team, not just bowl teams, gets 15 extra practices.
  • One of the incentives of going to a bowl game is that you get 15 extra practices that non-bowl teams don't. In fact, this is often cited as a major benefit of going to a bowl game. One wonders how many athletic department meetings have been held to discuss the relative value of 15 extra football practices versus the $300,000 the department has to spend on unsellable tickets to the Texas Bowl. That amount of money could fund two or three minor sports for a year. Sports the school may need for Title IX compliance.

    Furthermore, the coaching profession attracts the sort of people who work 20-hour days out of fear that someone else might be working 21. This is the road to burnout. So let's eliminate the perceived competitive advantage of going to a bowl game versus not. Don't the wealthy programs have enough advantages without getting more practices too?

    All teams get 15 extra practices, to be used at their discretion, between the end of the regular season and the start of next season. Most bowl teams would use them for bowl preparation; non-bowl teams would be more inclined to save them for next season. Teams who have an unsuccessful season would have a little extra reason to be optimistic going into the next one. It's not a high first-round draft pick, but it's something -- more than they're getting now.

  • Every four years, you are bowl eligible, regardless of record.
  • The bowl pimps constantly tell us what a positive experience they are for student-athletes. And yet, every year, thousands of deserving student-athletes are denied this, simply because they play for a bad team. If it's such a great experience, let's let everybody have a turn.

    If your school fails to go to a bowl game in three consecutive years, they are automatically bowl-eligible for the fourth year. This ensures that every college football player will go to a bowl game at least once if they play a four-year career. And hey, why not? If ESPN just wants more football to broadcast, this gives it to them in spades. I doubt anyone who watched one of the last six Boise bowls could the difference between that game and a really hard-fought game between 5-7 teams. Could you?

    This rule can also be invoked by an eligible, but likely to be overlooked, team, to ensure themselves a bowl trip during a successful season. Like Western Kentucky last year. They played better against LSU than some SEC teams did.

    These automatic bids would be staggered over the first four years, so the same schools that haven’t been to a bowl game in ages aren’t all going the same fourth year. We don’t want to create a Bad Football Olympics here.

    Intrigued? After the jump, more rules just like these.

  • Bowls are allowed a maximum of one conference tie-in. The other slot must be at-large.
  • This rule would fix so many things that are wrong with bowl season. Here's how it would work:

    Each conference would be assigned, by the NCAA, a maximum number of bowl slots they may pre-contract over a two-year period. This would be equivalent to the average number of bowl-eligible teams the conference has produced in the past four seasons, rounded up. For example, the SEC had a 9, 10, 10, and 8 bowl-eligible teams the last four seasons, for an average of 9.25: they would be allowed to contract 10 bowl slots over a two-year period, or five per year. (We use the traditional definition of 'bowl eligible' for this purpose.)

    This ensures that half the teams in every conference will be at-large, and half the bowl slots will also be at-large. More importantly, it creates available bowl slots and available bowl teams at all strata; they're not all either in the BCS bowls or the very bottom, like they are now. This produces much greater flexibility for all parties to produce better, and fairer, bowl matchups, while still allowing the bowls to reserve a lucrative regional tie-in.

    It would eliminate absurdities like San Diego State playing a bowl game in Louisiana while Louisiana Tech plays a bowl game in San Diego. It would eliminate the injustice of good non-AQ teams being relegated to a bottom-deck bowl if they lose one game -- or even if they don't. It would eliminate bad matchups like Boise State-Arizona State (who wouldn't be eligible for a bowl game anyway, having fired their coach).

    And you know what's really great about this system? You could replace the entire BCS with it. Use the current ranking system only to pick the two or four national championship contenders. The rest of the bowls, including the Fiesta/Orange/Sugar/Rose bowls, can sort out as explained herein. The BCS and all its affiliated evils will be left to gasp for air and then die, die, die as we gleefully watch it suffer. Then we throw a kegger on its grave.

  • There are now four levels of bowl qualification.
  • No longer is a team simply bowl-eligible or not. There are now four levels of post-season eligibility. The level you achieve dictates which bowls you may and may not go to:

    1. Teams chosen for the National Championship game/tournament (however many rounds of play it ends up being)
    2. Conference champions (regardless of which conference) and Top 25 teams
    3. "Fully qualified" teams, meaning teams who are 7-5 or better with six FBS wins
    4. 6-6 teams, and teams using their once-every-four-years waiver

    Again, this system is intended to replace the BCS, like Romania replaced Ceaucescu. I couldn't think of clever names for the four levels; suggestions are invited in the comments section.

    The bowl games themselves would also be assigned a level, based on how much money they're willing to pay the competing schools. That's right, bowl honchos: we're going to extort money from you for a change. It's about time the cash started flowing in the other direction, especially now that we've seen how you spend it. And speaking of which:

  • The NCAA will set reasonable maximums for the number of tickets a bowl game may require a school to purchase.
  • It's sickening that in these times of financial uncertainty, American universities have to buy thousands of unsellable and overpriced bowl game tickets, the proceeds of which seem to go to little more than huge salaries and pleasure junkets for their operators. But that's a rant for another day, so just read the San Diego paper's expose on the true cost of these mandatory ticket purchases, and the above-linked Phoenix paper's investigation into John Junker's discretionary spending.

    Getting back to the four-tier bowl model:

  • If you win your conference, you are guaranteed an opponent who is from a major conference, a champion of another conference, or a Top 25 team.
  • One of the intended effects of post season level two is to end one of the less-documented injustices of the current bowl system: how it forces deserving schools into unfair and unrewarding bowl situations.

    For example, Central Michigan won three MAC titles in four seasons, one of which ended in the Top 25. For bowl opponents they got Purdue (whom they'd already played that year), and two Sun Belt teams -- one of whom didn't even win the Sun Belt.

    Last season, Southern Miss won C-USA, and got exiled to Hawaii to play an also-ran from a conference whose champion they'd already beaten. Two years ago, FIU won the Sun Belt and only got to play Toledo (though that was a really good game). Boise State gets this end of the screw almost every year.

    So we're going to make things more fair, and make conference championships important again, by increasing champions' importance in the post-season sorting algorithm.

    Note that this doesn't guarantee you a good bowl game. The Sun Belt Conference, for example, could contract to send its champion to the New Orleans Bowl. That bowl would then have the right to select a major-conference team, Top 25 team, or at-large conference champion. (This is an exception to the bowl caste system above; we want to give incentives to bowls that commit themselves to champions of smaller leagues.)

  • If you go 6-6, and accept a bowl invitation, it should suck as much as possible. And the bigger you are, the more it should suck.
  • It's bad enough that teams are going to bowl games with .500 records. But when you consider that some of these 6-6 teams are incredibly wealthy programs who play two or more home games a year against teams with a tenth of their resources, it's downright disgusting.

    The 2012 Gator Bowl is symbolic of the "rich get richer" situation in this country that so many people are fighting against. Two of the most powerful programs in college football go a combined 7-12 against equitable competition, and are rewarded with a New Year's Day game, a $2.5 million payout, and the dignity of a glamorous opponent. The college football equivalent of a golden parachute from Lehman Brothers.

    That ends now. You want to take your 6-6 team to a bowl game? Okay, but if you want to play, we're going to give you something to lose.

    First of all, Florida: I've got good news and bad news. First, the good news: you still get to go to the Gator Bowl. Now, the bad news: remember when I said that Southern Mississippi was unfairly exiled to Hawaii? Can you guess why I'm bringing this up?

    Florida-Southern Miss would have been a fantastic Gator Bowl. An 11-2 and ranked USM team with a rare opportunity to beat a program that normally writes them a check to be one of the aforementioned home opponents with a tenth of their resources. You don't think USM would be fired up for that? You don't think the risk of embarrassment would make Florida a little more peppy than they were in that boring Gator Bowl? And to boot, it's at the site of what is probably Southern Miss' greatest victory: a 1989 win over Florida State, led by one Brett Favre.

    As for you, Ohio State: remember when I said that teams can to go a bowl game every four years, regardless of record? Can you guess why I'm bringing this up? You're off to the Motor City Bowl (all bowl games have to have a real name, remember) to play... Eastern Michigan!

    Eastern Michigan went 6-6 in 2011, but played two I-AA FCS teams, so they weren't bowl eligible. Not that they would have gone anyway, since Western Kentucky and Ball State were left out with better resumes. But 6-6 is EMU's best mark since 1995, and they showed major improvement under Ron English, losing their finale by only 6 to conference champion Northern Illinois.

    Not only is this bowl game convenient to both fan bases, but an Ohio State-Eastern Michigan game in Detroit might draw out a few, shall we say, interested neutral fans. Some of whom might remember the sudden spike in demand for Appalachian State t-shirts in Columbus four season ago. Instant karma's gonna getcha.

    Yes, I know Ohio State and Florida would be favored in these games. But the minute they start struggling, you'd see a whole lot more TV sets tuning in to these bowl games than are watching them now. And even when the upset doesn't happen, the mere possibility of it generates a lot more interest and pre-game ticket sales than low-risk, low-reward bowl games do now.

    And why? Because Americans love underdogs. Just look at the NCAA basketball tournament. The Final Fours with Butler, VCU, and George Mason generated more fan interest than the Michigan State-North Carolina or Florida-Ohio State finals of recent years. Too often, the current bowl system prevents underdogs from even having a chance, much less winning. Let's change that.

    One more:

  • If there are excess teams who are bowl-eligible, or just want to play in a bowl, on-campus games may be added to accomodate them.
  • No sooner did I write this than Brett McMurphy -- who's been on top of these things lately -- reported that an athletic director suggested that minor bowl games be played on campus sites.

    Again, ESPN just wants more football to broadcast, so why not? How hard would it have been to arrange a Western Kentucky-Ball State game (the two bowl eligible teams that didn't go last season) and add it to the worldwide leader's family of networks?

    And if the season ends with one bowl-eligible team not having an opponent, we'll just give them a home game and grant a waiver to whatever 5-7 team wants to play them there. The best minor bowl games are between teams that really want to be there. You know what would have been a great bowl game? 6-6 Ball State, versus a 5-7 Kentucky team fresh off the thrill of beating Tennessee for the first time in a generation. That game, at Lucas Oil Stadium, would have been a winner for all parties. And Lord knows the stadium was available for use after the Colts regular season ended.

    You could have made it a doubleheader bowl day with a Western Kentucky-East Carolina game in Nashville. East Carolina, you may recall, didn't qualify for a bowl game but sold virtual bowl tickets. Imagine that: teams going to bowl games that can't give tickets away, but a school that didn't go to a bowl game selling them. Can't we make this all work better?

    Well, that's it. Thanks for reading all this, I do tend to ramble on this subject. I'm sure there are a lot of loopholes that have to be closed with some of these propositions, and a lot of details to work out. But as an outline for bowl reform, I think it's a strong, if whimsical, proposal.