Bowl eligibility likely to remain at six wins

After several unappetizing 2011-12 bowl matchups, including one involving a team (UCLA) with a losing record, momentum began building to increase minimum postseason eligibility from six wins to seven.

The idea first surfaced in January and quickly gained legs, culminating at the Big Ten spring meetings, when the league's athletic directors reached a "very strong consensus" that at least seven wins should be mandatory for a team to play in a bowl game. That way, bowl teams would never finish seasons with sub-.500 records.

Although some Big Ten coaches who had coached six-win teams to bowls -- Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Purdue's Danny Hope -- oppposed the change, all the athletic directors were on board.

"We think it's better for our programs, better for our fans and better for the bowl system for us to have a winning season in order to qualify," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in May. "... For us, it means redefining a successful year at 7-5 from the standpoint of a bowl season. We argued for 6-6. We've experienced 6-6. Now we're suggesting that it's in our best interest, the bowls' best interest as well as the other conferences that might benefit by these open slots to look at a 7-5 standard."

Well, some of the other conferences don't seem to agree.

Both Delany and Football Bowl Association executive director Wright Waters told ESPN.com in recent weeks that momentum to go from six wins to seven wins has slowed significantly. Waters said that several conferences, after consulting with their ADs and presidents late this spring, didn't want to reduce the pool of bowl teams by increasing the demands to get there. Major conferences that have recently expanded, such as the SEC and Big 12, have reservations about changing a rule that would send fewer of its teams bowling.

"I thought there was an emerging situation among all the conferences to move it to 7-5," Delany told ESPN.com last week. "And what I've learned in the last 30-60 days is that a number of the major conferences are wanting to keep it at six. If that's the case, that's probably where it'll stay. It's the major conferences that will be losing slots as a result of going to seven. It's status quo, 6-6, unless there's a compromise."

One idea Delany has is to increase the requirement to seven wins but include a provision that would allow 6-6 teams that haven't made bowl games for a number of years to become eligible. For example, Duke hasn't made a bowl game since the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl, and Indiana endured a drought between 1993-2007.

If a team made a bowl game because of the exception, it would then have to go bowl-less for a certain number of years to be eligible again at just six wins.

"There are programs that haven't been to a bowl game in a decade, and 6-6 is a huge achievement for them," Delany said. "The kids would have fun, their fans would have fun. But it's different for programs that go every single year. Actually, a year off is good for them and the system.

"So maybe there's a middle ground."

Until 2006, teams played 11-game schedules and needed to finish with a winning record to become bowl-eligible. The arrival of a 12th regular-season game in 2006 also changed minimum bowl eligibility to 6-6.

Any change to bowl eligibility would come from the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, which tabled the bowl-eligibility discussion at its April meeting. The group meets again in August.

It's unlikely to see any sort of change until the current bowl cycle is up after the 2013 season. But as Delany pointed out, bowl deals soon will be negotiated, and the bowls need to know what the rules are.

Barring another momentum swing, though, it seems like the status quo (six wins) will remain.

"It's thought after 10 years of 6-6, [a seven-win minimum] would be better for everybody," Delany said. "But if there are other major groups that say no, we're not going to fall on our sword over it."