Jimmystats: A New Bowl Eligibility Plan

Submitted by Seth on December 10th, 2015 at 12:21 PM


The 2013 Motor City Bowl between Pitt and Bowling Green, via StadiumJourney blog.

In our roundtable yesterday I suggested a new way of calculating bowl eligibility. It struck a chord, and it's offseason, so I thought I'd do a follow-up.

The Problem: With 40 (plus the NC) bowls, the bowl field has now expanded to 80 teams, or 62.5% of what's currently 128 FBS schools. However the old six-win provision for bowl eligibility remains mostly intact, disqualifying mostly mediocre schools who played much harder schedules in favor of bad, barely eligible, barely FBS teams.

This system doesn't just create less watchable bowls. It incentivizes schools to pad their non-conference schedules with noncompetitive opponents and FCS programs, and incentivizes conferences to play fewer conference games lest they disqualify more of their teams from bowl play. The result is a less competitive, and thus less interesting, football season.

My Proposal: A simple points system:

  • 3 points for a win over any team in the final CFP Top 25
  • 2 points for a win over any Power 5 school not included above
  • 1 point for a win over any FBS school
  • -1 points for a loss to any FCS school

I initially proposed 7 points as the cutoff for eligibility, but as one reader correctly predicted, this is still too exclusive. So I amend that to the highest bowl points level you need to fill the available bowl games is your bubble region.

[After the jump: I try this out with the 2015-'16  bowl field]

Foreseeable problems:

1. Wins are not equal and not counting losses and score and stuff removes useful data. That's true, but as I outlined in yesterday's thread I don't want advanced stats to play into this. The point of football is to win, not to look like you would win. Just counting wins is too problematic for the reasons I outlined above, but wins should still be heavily favored. Late-season rivalry games with a bowl game on the line are fun and cool.

2. Sometimes Power 5 schools—ahem Kansas—are worse than most mid-majors. It depends on the mid-major—some are worth 3 points because they're Top 25. This is admittedly unfair, but it's crucial for providing the right scheduling incentives.

Power 5 schools are for the most part those with larger stadiums, bigger followings, and greater histories, i.e. more interesting matchups for fans. There should be extra incentive to play them and play each other. That means scheduling each other in the non-conference season, and increasing the number of conference games, two actions which under the current system lead to a lot of halfway decent Power 5 teams getting disqualified.

3. The Top 25 isn't a great measure. Nick Jervey noted the fickle nature of the Top 25 might cause some controversy. I could see this happening where a team on the bubble beat a mid-major just outside the Top 25—for example Indiana's win over Western Kentucky is worth just 1 point, not 3, because the Hilltoppers barely missed being ranked in the CFP Top 25.

I'd argue that you have to make the cutoff somewhere, and a bubble team with an upset over a top 10 team won't worry about this, while beating a team that's ultimately ranked between 20 and 30 shouldn't be a sure bet. Plus for the first time in college football history the Top 25 will mean something.

Let's try it out

Here are the non-bowl teams who would have qualified under a 7-point threshold:

  • 5-7 Texas (11 points)

Derf. Texas had wins over Oklahoma (3 points), Baylor (3), KSU (2), Kansas (2) and Rice (1). They're also a massive, rich, well-traveling fanbase that almost any bowl would want even on a down year. They're a case example of a 5-7 team not going to a bowl this year who would have been a better selection than the bottom eighth of bowl teams.

Oh, and they're just one team, which probably isn't going to be enough to offset bowl-bound teams who fell below 7 points. Here are those "bad" bowl teams that wouldn't have qualified under a 7-point threshold:

  • 7-5 Central Michigan (6 points)
  • 7-5 Middle Tennessee State (6)
  • 7-5 New Mexico (6)
  • 7-5 Colorado State (6)
  • 7-5 Western Michigan (6)
  • 7-5 Akron (6)
  • 6-6 Tulsa (6)
  • 6-6 Georgia State (5)
  • 6-6 Nevada (5)
  • 6-6 Utah State (5)
  • 5-7 San Jose State (4)

If you're looking for a "drop those guys!" team, San Jose State beat only New Mexico, New Hampshire (FCS), UNLV, Hawaii and Fresno State, and got in because they were 3rd in APR (you can't make this stuff up!).

Replacing the obviously best 5-7 team for the obviously worst doesn't require a whole system. However I've created a problem by having a cutoff that's 10 spots short of filling the bowl lineup.

So let's look at all the teams with six points:

Currently in: CMU, MTSU, UNM, CSU, WMU, Akron, Tulsa

Currently out: Illinois (5-7), Mizzou (5-7), Kentucky (5-7) and Virginia (4-8)

We are left with 10 spots to fill, and a field of 11 teams:

Team Rec Poss FBS Wins Losses
Illinois 5-7 24 Neb*, Pur, MTSU*, KentSt OSU*, NW*, UNC*, Iowa*, Minn*, Wis*, PSU*
Kentucky 5-7 22 S Car, Mizzou, La-Laf, Charlotte Fla*, Tenn*, Ga*, Lville*, Auburn*, Vandy, Miss St*
Missouri 5-7 22 S Car, BYU*, UConn*, Ark St* Fla*, Tenn*, Ga*, Arkansas*, Kentucky, Vandy, Miss St*
MTSU* 7-5 15 UTSA, N Texas, Marshall*, FIU, FAU, Charlotte *Bama, Vandy, Illini, WKU*, LaTech*
CMU* 7-5 16 NIU*, Kent St, EMU, Buffalo, Ball St, Akron* MSU*, OklaSt*, Cuse, Toledo*, WMU*
WMU* 7-5 15 Toledo*, OHIO!*, CMU*, EMU, Miami(NTM), Ball St OSU*, MSU*, NIU*, Ga South*, BGSU*
Akron* 7-5 14 Miami(NTM), UMass, La-Laf, Kent St, EMU, Buffalo Okla*, Pitt*, OHIO!*, CMU*, BGSU*
Tulsa* 6-6 18 UNM, SMU, Tulane, La-Monroe, FAU, UCF Okla*, Navy*, Houston*, Memphis*, Cincy*, ECU
Colorado St* 7-5 13 AF*, UNM*, UTSA, UNLV, Fresno, Wyo Minn*, Colo, Boise*, SDState*, Utah St*
New Mexico* 7-5 12 AF*, Boise*, Wyo, UtahSt*, NMSt, Hawaii ASU, Colo St*, Nevada*, SJSU*, Tulsa*
No Bowl
Virginia 4-8 23 Syracuse, GT, Duke* ND*, UNC*, VT*, UCLA*, Pitt*, Miami(YTM)*, Lville*, Boise*

* = currently attending a bowl   //  bold = head-to-head

Virginia played a tough schedule but has just three wins over FBS teams, only one of which—Duke—over a team that's bowl-bound. They're an obvious choice to be left out.

So how'd it go?

Ultimately I replaced Georgia State (6-6 with a loss to an FCS school), Nevada (6-6), Utah State (6-6) and San Jose State (5-7) with four Power 5 teams that went 5-7: Texas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. None of the teams left on the bubble had much of a case to be a bowl team, and none of those who got in were awful.

I tried it again for last year, when there were 38 bowl games, and it ended right at 7 points so the field was clear. In: Northwestern (5-7), Cal (5-7), Georgia Southern (9-3), Michigan (5-7), Virginia (5-7), and Oregon State (5-7). Out: Fresno State (6-7), South Alabama (6-6), SD State (7-5), Navy (7-5), Houston (7-5), and Arkansas State (7-5).


Not too long ago there was only room for about the top third of FBS teams, so the arbitrary line of "need six wins" was close enough to "should be among the better half of teams in the country" for its purpose. Now that the field has expanded to the top 62.5% of the league, having a cut-off that's conceptually equivalent to 50% is creating an unnecessary crunch.

The teams disproportionately affected by that are mediocre Power 5 programs with tougher schedules. It has created a situation where mid-major teams are systematically favored for bowl eligibility, and programs are rewarded for not scheduling interesting games during the season.

It's also forced bowls to scrape the bottom of the barrel of what constitutes "eligible." Even before they acquiesced to Nebraska and let SJ State in, Georgia State was in the bowl field. Georgia State lost to an FCS team, beat just one team (Ball State) that's been FBS more than a few years, and maxed out home attendance at 11,500. But they're technically 6-6. Meanwhile Texas, at 5-7 with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma, is staying home because they opened the season at Notre Dame rather than an FCS snack.

A common response to this is hurr durr "losing season don't deserve." That comes from growing up thinking bowls are only for good teams. Two thirds of a massively bloated FBS go to bowl games now.

An arbitrary distinction that consistently disqualifies mediocre Power 5 schools and those extra practices and recruiting trips to barely-out-of-the-FCS Sun Belt teams doesn't serve college football. It doesn't serve the bowls who miss out on Texas money, or the fans who want to see better football over Christmas Break, or the Sun Belt schools who can barely afford the bowl swindle. If the NCAA would cap the bowl games at 30, or better yet fix the dang economics of them by forcing the bowl organizers to cover their own overhead, "hurr durr win at least half your games" at least would make some sense. Until they get rid of eight or ten bowl games, this response should get an eye roll.

My solution is far from perfect, but it can be calculated simply, and emphasizes the two things football teams should be doing: scheduling interesting matchups, and winning football games.



December 10th, 2015 at 12:39 PM ^

I initially proposed 7 points as the cutoff for eligibility, but as one reader correctly predicted, this is still too exclusive.

Oh, is that a problem?  I'm sorry, it's not to me.

Raise the requirement to 8 points and have the non-NYD bowls bid for participants.  And if any of those sham bowls that exist to just force two 5-7 programs to buy wholesale ticket blocks that won't get sold can't book two qualifying programs, they can crawl back to their moldy caves, hang up their overpriced suits and pound some goddamn sand.


December 10th, 2015 at 4:52 PM ^

NCAA must get a cut or benefit somewhere somehow. It's inconceiveable that they NCAA would allow such bowls to exist even after knowing how they operate. Any well meaning group/team/authority would do something to rectify the situation. As NCAA have not shown any such inclination, it seems to me that something must be in the works, somewhere. Yes, even after accounting for possible incompetency from NCAA office bearers. 


December 10th, 2015 at 12:49 PM ^

"We have to make a cutoff somewhere" - for a integer-based point system, yeah we do, but why do we have to go there?  If we are sacrificing accuracy for simplicity, we may as well stick to wins.


December 10th, 2015 at 12:53 PM ^

Bowl Eligibility Plan:

Get rid of about 10 Bowl games at least and go from there.


Also, Texas isnt staying home because they lost to Notre Dame. They are staying at home because they lost 24-0 to a 3-9 Iowa State team,. 


December 10th, 2015 at 12:59 PM ^

Allow all teams to practice the same amount after the regular season, and schedule a scrimmage against another non-bowling team if they want to. Or maybe just a New Year's trip to the Bahamas for the football team. Much cheaper than the forced ticket allocation. I reckon the sham bowls would dissipate pretty quickly.


December 10th, 2015 at 1:00 PM ^

The honest reason most teams want to go to bad bowls is the extra weeks of practice. Let ever program have those practices, make teams be 7-5 or better to go bowling, and let some of these awful bowls die.  Your suggestion of eliminating guarantee ticket buys would aid in the process.

Or adopt a rule if you go bowling at 6-6 and lose then you are ineligible to go bowling next year.



December 10th, 2015 at 1:14 PM ^

Maybe consider increasing point totals and then having the whole of FBS ranked and having ranges with different amounts of points. Say have the top 25 be worth 50 points, 26-50 be worth 40 points, 51-75 be worth 30 points, 76-100 be worth 20, and 101-128 10. FCS would be worth zero and a lose would subtract 20 points.


December 10th, 2015 at 1:23 PM ^

How about we just let every team play an end-of season exhibition, with practices? You can use the point system to work out interesting matchups. Home fields or local NFL venues. If someone wants to televise it, great. Use these to replace the crappy bowls - none of the weird blazer guys getting paydays at the cost of the teams. More football is good.

More football does not detract from football. Everyone knows that the Rose Bowl is a big prize and the podunk.com bowl is not. Doesn't take away from the Rose.


December 10th, 2015 at 1:26 PM ^

I love some variation of this plan because the current one promotes scheduling garbage.

But the tradeoff is that it will replace teams who did decently well in small conferences with teams with underachieving big teams (who have more chances to get quality wins). That increases the level of football, but to some extent maybe bowls should reward those who do well by their own reasonable standards. A Georgia State who had to overcome its inherent Georgia Stateness to get to mediocre deserves some affirmative action as against a Texas team who had to blow every institutional advantage imaginable to get to mediocre. Maybe require a a .500 conference record?


December 10th, 2015 at 1:42 PM ^

I hate bowl tie-ins. I say, after the CFP/NYD 6 bowls, throw every bowl in a hat, draw for 'draft' position, and let each bowl draft two teams.

I like this ranking system, and I'd use it for the draft. You can't take a team with a lower ranking than any available team. It'd keep bowls from picking just the biggest fanbases to guarantee ticket sales, and give fans/schools the chance to visit more than just a handful of locations.

Also get rid of requiring schools to sell tickets.

Also let non-bowl teams practice if they want, with any players who have exhausted eligibility or submitted their name for the NFL draft allowed to decline participation.


December 10th, 2015 at 2:10 PM ^

Why would a non-Power 5 school go for this?

I know many people associated with the Power 5 schools say, "well, screw them!"  

Which is fine, but until the moment comes that the Power 5 schools break-away, there are 128 FBS schools.  IMO, wins over some subset of that 128 should not "count more" than any others when it comes to Bowl eligibility.  They're all FBS.  

But it would be fair, IMO, to count FCS wins "less."

Wolverine 98284

December 10th, 2015 at 1:54 PM ^

I've seen some great ideas on this blog, this one and Brian's hockey idea for the state of Michigan/non-conference/GLI are but two.

The question is:  How can they become reality?  Petition?  Social media?  Does anyone have a connection to the Athletic Department?  Need for point papers and presentations?  Gathering of state of Michigan or B1G Athletic Directors to start?

Or do we just sit back and hope?  What can I do?

Toasted Yosties

December 10th, 2015 at 2:02 PM ^

Play it at one of the team's home stadium to bring in some extra cash. Winners go to the bowl game. Doing this you could cut down on the number of actual bowls, and the opponents will have an extra win under their belts that will hopefully out them at least to 6-wins.

CRISPed in the DIAG

December 10th, 2015 at 2:18 PM ^

Are bad or "unwatchable" bowls a problem?  Who are they harming?  

For example: I didn't want to watch the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie "Gigli" when it was released in 2003 because it appeared (and probably was) "unwatchable."  So I didn't go see it. In the same way, if I don't want to watch the Brand X Bowl, I won't.  

Otherwise, I appreciate the analysis. 


December 10th, 2015 at 2:17 PM ^

every other bowl is just another chance to watch your team play, glorified practice, measuring stick, meaningless. The problem is adding another four teams making an eight team playoff would be a 16 game season, apparently too many for college kids. Only way I can see that expanding is too take away a early season non-conference game. Possibly lose the bye week?

I don't know about anyone else but I only watch a handful of bowl games anyway.


December 10th, 2015 at 2:25 PM ^

What's everyone think off Harbaugh doing the "dab" at Kingston Davis' house just after walker sets commitment date? Trying to make sure he knows he's still wanted I'm hoping...


December 10th, 2015 at 4:59 PM ^

We are all assuming that the Bowl system has a good purpose for the student-athletes. In reality, as someone mentioned, these are fund raising events for the local organizers. They are not going to be interested in providing the viewer with a quality product unless the viewer rejects the product currently on the table. The Bowls have tie-in with most conferences and/or schools or NCAA using a structure that is financially beneficial to them. Why would they change it voluntarily? The only way to get anything changed is to show that the new method/approach would provide more economic benefits to the Bowl organizers. After that, everything else will work out.


December 11th, 2015 at 2:51 PM ^

It puts integrity into the measurement that, in the current system, isn't reflected by the WIN column.  Then, we take the "hurr-durr guys" and get them on our side by re-explaining that this IS a meritocratic system, not a beauty contest.

Secondly, why have a cutoff at all?  It is a ranking system and the number of bowls can continue to grow (and appropriate committees can continue to boondoggle their way around to a bunch of buffets and hospitality suites) until we get all FBS teams playing a post season game.  Why not...once you've given up scheduling the last game of the season to the Bowl committees, why stop at 62.5% eligible.  I'm not going to watch an Eastern Michigan vs. North Texas bowl game, but somebody will bet on it and a couple of bowl trips (and beers on TV) can be sold.

BTW: If the CFP isn't a beauty contest, then explain how ESPN tried so hard to pretty up OSU. (I had to laugh a bit when Urbs was asked about his bowl invite and the first thing he said was "I've never been to the Rose Bowl".  Keep waiting by the phone, honey, the star QB will call for the prom date soon..)