Several sources, including conference commissioners, bowl officials and athletic directors, have told CBS Sports that there is growing support to increase the difficulty of becoming bowl eligible by requiring teams to have a minimum of seven victories, or a winning record.
Teams are currently required only to finish .500 (6-6) or better to become bowl eligible. Increasing the requirement to seven wins is expected to be a primary topic of discussion at the Football Bowl Association meetings in Miami in April.
If university presidents vote to make the change as part of NCAA legislation, the seven-win rule would not take effect until 2014. But when it did, several bowls would have to be discontinued because there would not be enough eligible teams to fill all of the current 70 bowl berths.
In the past two years, 27 teams with 6-6 records were needed to fill 140 bowl slots, meaning that nearly 20 percent of the 2010-11 bowl games featured teams without a winning record. Since 2006, 59 of the 404 bowl teams (14.6 percent) did not have a winning record, and eight bowl games featured two teams without winning records.
Four of those eight were this season, which “featured” a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl match-up of 6-6 Illinois vs. 6-7 UCLA, which needed a special waiver to play in the bowl with a losing record.
No school has benefited more from the 6-win eligibility rule than UCLA, which has earned three bids without a winning record. The Bruins went to bowls in 2007 and 2009 with 6-6 records and with a 6-7 mark in 2011.
Washington became bowl eligible in 2011 by defeating Arizona 42-31 on Oct. 29, its sixth win of the season. UW did not get its seventh until Nov. 26 when it beat Washington State 38-21 in the Apple Cup.
Between the Arizona and WSU games, the Huskies were throttled by Oregon 34-17, by USC, 40-17, and by Oregon State, 38-21. After beating the Cougars, the 7-5 Huskies were erased in the Alamo Bowl by Baylor, 67-56.
Had the seven-win rule been in effect in 2010, Washington (6-6) would not have been eligible for that year’s Holiday Bowl, and thus would not have played — much less defeated — Nebraska in one of the more memorable victories in recent program history.
Eliminating up to a dozen bowl games would, one bowl official told CBS Sports, make the overall bowl system more valuable by lopping many mediocre teams and by driving up the price of sponsorships and television ratings for the survivors.
Resistance to the seven-win requirement, which would eliminate several bowls, will come from conferences that have contracts with specific bowls, from coaches who have bowl bonuses built into their contracts, and from ESPN, which has created — and runs — seven bowl games, and televises nearly all of them.
ESPN, for example, created the New Mexico Bowl in 2006, and it has hosted six 6-6 teams since. But ESPN is not likely to agree to kill off any of its “franchises” no matter how mediocre they might be. To ESPN, it’s not so much the the quality of the game that counts, as it is the tonnage of programming.