Colorado State (7-5) and Nevada (6-6) will play each other in the first-year Arizona Bowl, which was started to give the Mountain West and Conference USA another option for its teams.
But because Conference USA didn’t have enough teams to fill its spot, the Mountain West was left scrambling to find an opponent. Perhaps because the Arizona Bowl doesn’t have a national-TV deal, no outside team would take the spot.
Colorado State and Nevada didn’t play during the regular season.
The Mountain West had eight teams for six bowl spots. San Jose State (5-7) was placed in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. That left Nevada (6-6) with nowhere to go but the Arizona Bowl.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said the conference tried to find an alternative to the intra-conference bowl matchup but didn’t find any takers. He also was upset that the Big Ten was able to place 5-7 teams Nebraska and Minnesota in Big Ten bowl games rather than having to wait until all 6-6 teams were placed. Three 5-7 teams — San Jose State was the other — were needed to fill the bowl slate this year.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson released a lengthy, scathing statement about the situation:
For the first time in NCAA history, an insufficient number of deserving bowl-eligible teams (i.e., 6-6 record or better) are available to fill all the bowl games which make up the current landscape (40 bowls plus the National Championship Game). As a result, a specific group of 5-7 teams ranked according to Academic Progress Rate was granted waivers to expand the bowl-eligibility pool and ensure no bowl game would go dark. Today, we have come to the unfortunate realization another dubious milestone has been reached – two teams from the same conference will face each other in a bowl game later this month. Neither of these developments is good for college football.
While the expansion of the pool to provide additional teams was a necessary step at the end of this season to protect the college football bowl partners, and one which the Mountain West supported, a conference match-up in a bowl game did not have to happen. The NCAA decision to allow 5-7 teams to be added to the pool on an equal footing with 6-6 teams was flawed. Our conference representatives argued steadfastly for an approach whereby all 6-6 teams would first be placed according to primary and secondary agreements among the conferences and bowl games. Our position was that only then would the safety net of 5-7 teams be activated for those games which had not yet secured participants – rather than allow those teams to fulfill conference agreements and usurp 6-6 teams from conferences with backup agreements. The Mountain West cast its vote against the recommendation of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee (which did not include that parameter), and subsequently also voted in opposition to the action of the NCAA Council to approve that recommendation.
Understanding the implications of the NCAA verdict on Monday and with the knowledge neither of the primary or backup conferences contracted as opponents in one of our bowl games would be able to provide a team, the Mountain West began immediately to work in earnest toward identifying a solution that would place teams in a manner that could avoid a conference matchup in a bowl game. We exchanged dozens of phone calls, texts and e-mails over the course of six days with numerous bowl games, other FBS conferences, the NCAA staff, the Football Bowl Association and our partners at ESPN Events. We spoke individually with our directors of athletics and convened that group collectively on multiple conference calls. We engaged throughout the week with members of the MW Board of Directors.
The Mountain West explored every possibility for placing the teams in question. We suggested swaps, alternative financial arrangements and creative options. Unfortunately, no one was willing to adjust and those efforts were to no avail. Following the outcome of last night’s games, it became clear there were 80 teams for 80 bowl slots and the only two openings still available for a pair of MW teams would match them in the same game.
It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation. Clearly, the system is broken. There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. The result is teams with sub-.500 records participating in bowl games. There is consensus change is needed and this year’s outcome must not be repeated.
However, that is a discussion for another day. At the moment, we need to focus our attention on the more than 1,000 Mountain West football student-athletes, band members, cheerleaders and others who will be able to enjoy a postseason opportunity in the weeks ahead. We will work diligently with our bowl partners to ensure those young people have the best experience possible.