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Planning Ahead With a Smaller Bowl Slate

The cart has been put seven months and six wins ahead of the horse. As announced on Wednesday, Army is set to participate in this year’s Military Bowl — that’s on Dec. 27 — if it can reach, you know, bowl eligibility. If the Cadets make it that far, they’d be pitted against a squad from the A.C.C., should that league feature enough bowl eligible teams. By the way, Army has participated in five bowl games in its history, and only one since 1997. At least the Armed Forces Bowl has a fall-back plan, I guess. Now, Army isn’t the only team that has locked itself in for a bowl bid before the games have even been played; as on in gridiron, Navy is already well ahead of the Cadets.

If you go back to 2009, you can read an article by Patrick Stevens of The Washington Times detailing how the Midshipmen — “crafty Navy,” Stevens call them — had locked in their bowl future through the 2013 season.

The specifics: Texas Bowl in 2009, Poinsettia Bowl in 2010, EagleBank Bowl in 2011, Emerald Bowl in 2012 and the Armed Forces Bowl in 2013. The Midshipmen would reach their projected bowl spots in 2009 and 2010, beating Missouri in the Texas Bowl but losing to San Diego State a year later.

Navy didn’t reach bowl play last fall, but neither did the EagleBank Bowl, in a way: after two years with EagleBank as its sponsor, that postseason event was renamed the Military Bowl in 2010. And even if the Midshipmen reach bowl play this season, it will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl — the bowl-formerly-known-as-Emerald.

And the Midshipmen didn’t stop there. According to its spring prospectus, Navy has accepted bids to the 2014 Poinsettia Bowl, the 2015 Military Bowl and the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl. Obviously, the university is expecting the current bowl system to remain intact once the F.B.S. moves to a new postseason format in 2014.

That’s one factor that must be taken under consideration after this week’s B.C.S. meetings. Almost to a man, prominent head coaches asked about a change in the current bowl system — coaches like Bob Stoops, for instance — firmly stated that they’d like the current non-B.C.S. bowl system to remain in place.

But with a four-team playoff, most added. This is where college football’s decision-makers will hit a snag: Everyone wants wholesale change, but with an asterisk. Coaches like Stoops — and every program in the F.B.S., I’d wager — want a playoff, but they also want to maintain a non-playoff bowl system.

In January, when playoff chatter started percolating among university presidents and administrators, Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports reported that there was “growing support” to increase the standard for bowl eligibility to seven wins.

According to McMurphy, the new eligibility rule would kick in for the 2014 season; just in time, you’d say, and that administrators were discussing a 2014 start time does indicate that even in January, most were viewing a playoff format as the next logical step after the B.C.S. system.

Tying this back to teams like Army and Navy — those already planning ahead — you wonder if new eligibility rules would also lead to fewer bowl games altogether. For example, eliminating six-win teams for consideration would have prevented 13 teams from reaching bowl play last fall. Put seven-win Western Kentucky in place of one of those teams and you have a dozen teams that would not have reached the postseason under the projected new standard.

Twelve fewer teams; six fewer bowl games. While we’re still fairly far off from a final decision, it’s only logical to expect the new postseason system to also trim some fat off the current bowl system. While this might not directly impact the schedules in place at Army and Navy, teams preparing for their bowl future should consider how a postseason alteration might alter those plans.

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  1. David says:

    Army has bowl tie-ins beyond 2012 as well.

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