As the present bloated bowl system stands, FBS programs are required to meet the six-win threshold for post-season eligibility. With the addition of a 12th game over a decade ago, half the country now has the ability to play a full third of their schedule against opponents of their choosing. Throw in that a victory over an FCS opponent counts towards that eligibility, and a team needs to only reach a laughable five wins over three months to go to Birmingham or Shreveport or Detroit.
But, there is a wrinkle: The APR. The carrot-and-stick of the NCAA’s academic progress metric has always been one damned big stick and one one mingy, measly, shriveled carrot. Teams are actively penalized for falling below an APR threshold, but exceeding the mark — even being among the best in the nation, as Alabama routinely is — does not earn you so much as a gold star on your report card.
Unless you suck.
Yes, owing to the mechanics of the APR, teams are among the best in the nation at keeping players in school, but fall a game short of bowl-eligibility, may substitute those diplomas in Dairy Science or General Studies for one of the needed wins. Thus, a 5-7 bowl team is born.
Think about the math on this one.
The Podunk State Mosquitoes, located in the Stygian humidity of — let’s say — East-Central Alassippi, has an upcoming 8-game conference slate and then schedules Ball State, Kansas, FIU and FCS A&M. This year, after a decade of bowl eligibility, the season takes a turn for the worse. The Skeeters have written paychecks for four pitiful non-conference wins, but have stunk in-conference, and sit at 0-7.
One game remains against PU’s fierce rival, the Cheeten University Confederates. The ‘Feds are a respectable conference team with a winning record, but are ineligible for postseason play in any event, following well-publicized scandals involving bootleg Croakies, burner phones, and rigged beauty pageants. The upset happens, and the Skeeters season is over at 5-7. They at least have an Ovipositor Bowl victory to console them with during the long, cold offseason.
But, it turns out that nearly everyone else sucked that year too. And, owing to a wealth of recent applied home ec degrees awarded under PU’s pas/fail grading system, the Skeeters APR is through the roof — top 10, in fact. A new lease on life is born. A 5-7 team with one victory over an FBS program above .500 gets a post-season nod. A trip to scenic Sioux City and an appearance in the Meatpacking Bowl awaits.
But, is this really how it should be?
The PAC 12, for its part, wants nothing to do with bad football and the few extra pennies that come with a Meatpacker Bowl appearance. During its spring meetings, the most academic-minded FBS conference decided to bifurcate the two: post-season is for at least mediocre teams, and academic success is an entirely different critter.
It’s an approach that strikes me as meritorious. Although you cannot separate student from student-athlete, nor individual progress towards a degree from eligibility and APR, you can (and probably should) separate the aggregate APR academic index (achieved by players long-gone) from whether this team has earned the right to participate in this post-season.
There truly is a free lunch for bad teams.
So, your RBR Question of the Day: