The Rice Owls defeated Fresno State in the 2014 Hawaii Bowl to go 8-5 on the season. Fresno State's defeat dropped its record to 5-8. That same season saw 6-6 Texas face off against 6-6 Arkansas in the AdvoCare Texas Bowl in one of the most boring bowl games ever played. Fresno State should’ve been nowhere near a bowl game in 2014, and neither should Texas or Arkansas.
It's long past the time when college football bowl games were rewards for excellent seasons. But there are so many games now that going to a bowl game is the equivalent of getting a participation trophy. Instead it’s all about which team is less mediocre because there are so many bowl games to play that, as long as mediocrity can be achieved, then another game is only to be expected for sucking less than others.
There were 41 bowl games last season. And 80 teams out of 128 eligible schools played in those games. Three of those teams (Nebraska, Minnesota, and San Jose St.) had 5-7 records. There were multiple other 5-7 teams, like Rice and Texas, that were also in contention for bowl slots.
So the NCAA has finally realized that there might be a few too many bowl games. Thus it has put a three-year moratorium in place on establishing new bowl games. And it's quite possible that, come the end of that three-year stretch, some of the current bowl games will go by the wayside, leading, hopefully, to some more sanity to the bowl game process. But until that time, knowing that losing teams are still heading to bowl games, the NCAA has taken steps to address how those 5-7 teams are chosen.
The NCAA is now mandating that all teams with winning records and all teams with 6-6 records must first be selected for bowl games. If there are still available slots, then and only then can 5-7 teams be selected for bowls. Those teams will be chosen based on each school's most recent Academic Progress Rate report, and those teams will choose which of the bowl games that they will attend instead of the bowls choosing which of the 5-7 teams it wants — this would prevent a high-profile team with a down year from being selected over other schools, and it also sounds as if it means that bottom-rung bowls with guarantees for the eighth- or ninth-best team from a conference like the SEC might instead get stuck with a team from the Sun Belt Conference.
“It’s impossible to project how many eligible bowl teams we will have,” Bob Bowlsby, chair of the football oversight committee and commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said in a NCAA press release. “We think we have a selection process in the postseason that makes sense and is fair to the schools and the bowls.”
Rice fans would be forgiven for thinking that this could help the Owls earn a bowl berth in those years like last when the team finished 5-7. But the Owls APR last year was worse than that of all three 5-7 teams that went to the bowls — if it's any consolation, Rice's APR was better than UT's. This is because while APR looks at player grades, it doesn't factor in the difficulty of the classes, thus punishing high academic schools like Rice where it can take freshman players some time to adjust to classes.
This could, it seems, also impact a bowl game like the AdvoCare Texas Bowl which gets to make the fourth selection for teams from the Big 12, but finds itself fighting with five other bowls for a team from the SEC. Thus that battle of the 6-6 UT/Arkansas squads from several years ago could turn into 6-6 UT versus 5-7 Arkansas St. should the SEC have a down year while at the sam time the APRs of the SEC’s 5-7 teams are bad.
College bowl season has become a mess. Teams with losing records should not be playing in bowls. Neither should teams that are 6-6 or 7-5. But at least the NCAA is finally attempting to restore some semblance of order. The best thing it can do is chop about 10 games off of the bowl game schedule and start again making it a reward for good seasons. It's doubtful that will happen, and it shouldn't be a surprise if, after the moratorium on new bowl games is lifted, that another three or four games are added to the mix, which means that 4-8 and 3-7 teams will be hoping for the highest APR so as to go bowling.