Too few bowl games?
Bill Peterson | On 01, Jan 2014
Probably, this isn’t the festive holiday season that Sun Belt Conference officials anticipated.
The league succeeded this season at making seven of its eight football teams, including Texas State, bowl eligible. However, only two Sun Belt teams actually wound up with bowl invitations.
Conference co-champion Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) played Saturday night in the R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl, defeating Tulane, 24-21. The other conference co-champion, Arkansas State, will play in the Go Daddy Bowl against Ball State on Jan. 5.
Texas State become one of the league’s first bowl eligible teams in October with a road victory over Idaho that raised the Bobcats to 6-3 at the time. However, the Bobcats lost their last three games, all in the conference, to finish 6-6 overall.
From the start of November, it was clear that the number of bowl-eligible teams (teams with six wins) would exceed the number of bowl spots, which comes to 70 for 35 bowls. It was understood all along that, even at 6-3, Texas State needed more wins for even a chance.
However, when the smoke cleared from all the bowl invitations, the extent to which the Sun Belt suffers from being the low league in the pecking order became obvious. Last year, the Sun Belt had one bowl eligible team, Middle Tennessee (8-4) passed over for bowl consideration. This year, the Sun Belt ended the season with a whopping five teams that were eligible for bowls and did not receive bids.
Some of that was because teams in the league were barely bowl eligible. South Alabama, Troy and Louisiana-Monroe were right with the Bobcats as 6-6 teams. As barely eligible teams from a low-ranked conference, their chances were never good. But an 8-4 Western Kentucky team also was left out, so, for two straight years, the Sun Belt has had an 8-4 team stay home during the bowl season.
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, in a statement earlier this month, said he was in negotiations with two other bowls — the Avocare V100 Independence Bowl and the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — until those games made their final decisions. Doubtless, Benson was especially interested in placing Western Kentucky. But the league’s best efforts didn’t work.
“The Sun Belt Conference Presidents and Chancellors authorized me … to use Sun Belt funds at my discretion to entice both bowls to take a Sun Belt team,” Benson said. “As a result, the Sun Belt made very significant financial offers to both bowls that clearly exceeded anything the Sun Belt has done in previous years.”
All that said, the Sun Belt does have a bit going for it. Outside of the league, Sun Belt teams were competitive, if not victorious, finishing the regular season with a 19-21 record, and the bulk of that damage came from the big leagues. Against peer conferences — Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Mid-American Conference — Sun Belt teams were 6-1. And getting seven of eight member teams up to bowl eligibility isn’t nothing.
But the outcome was hard to swallow.
Said Benson, “I am extremely disappointed, that while our efforts were very aggressive, we ended up not being able to place more than two of our bowl eligible teams – especially Western Kentucky University with an 8-4 record.”
Starting next year, Benson said, the Sun Belt will have a third primary bowl in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL, and other guaranteed spots in the Bahamas Bowl and the Miami Beach Bowl. The league also is at work trying to develop other bowl games.
For now, though, the majority of bowl-eligible Sun Belt teams have little to celebrate now except for the holidays. The bowls will have to wait, at least until next year.