Bowl games are exhibitions, one step above your nephew’s second-grade soccer team. Win half your games and there’s a juice box and an iPad mini waiting for you at the end of the season. Just ask the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which only exists because the Cotton Bowl Classic left the Cotton Bowl Stadium, and Dallas businessman Tom Starr decided Fair Park needed a bowl game. Round up a sponsor, a couple participating conferences and a vacant ESPN time slot and you, too, could have your own bowl game.
Which is why we’re calling on a Georgia or Alabama business to do the same.
Georgia Southern and UAB are two of the best stories in college football this season, each for very different reasons. First, the happy story.
With a 22-16 defeat of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, Georgia Southern completed its inaugural FBS campaign with a 9-3 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in the Sun Belt. The Eagles won the Sun Belt in their first year in the conference, but they aren’t eligible for a bowl game for the simple fact that it’s their first year in the conference. Georgia Southern has a large, passionate fan base compared to other schools of their ilk, but they can only play in a bowl if other conferences do not fill their slots.
Until that happens, Georgia Southern’s senior class – a group that won 46 games, three conference championships, seven FCS playoff games, and secured the program’s first victory over an FBS opponent – could sit home this winter.
And then there’s UAB. The Blazers have played in only one bowl game in their history, and qualified for a second on Saturday with a 45-24 win over Southern Miss. A four-win turnaround under first-year coach Bill Clark would be one of the feel-good stories of the year if not for the black cloud encircling the program and its future. As we understand it, the possibility the program could get shut down after the 2016 season is very much on the table. In fact, we’ve heard there’s a plan for members of the UAB football program and athletics department at large to march on president Dr. Ray Watts’ office on Monday. It’s very real down there.
While the Blazers are eligible for a bowl game, there is no guarantee they’ll be selected. Conference USA has five tie-ins and eight eligible teams. Division champions Marshall and Louisiana Tech are locks to be selected, and Western Kentucky, Rice and UTEP all have better records. That’s five right there.
Thirty-eight bowls will be held this winter, from Belk to Bitcoin and in locales ranging from Boise to Boca Raton, but the system may not have room for UAB and Georgia Southern. So screw the system.
That’s why we’re calling on you, La Grange, Ga., car dealership owner, and you, Roanoke, Ala., insurance mogul. Get some buddies together and create a UAB vs. Georgia Southern bowl game. Let’s play this thing in an empty field, Coach Taylor style. If we need something more official, Atlanta’s Georgia Dome or Bobby Dodd Stadium are suitable options close enough to both schools. Jordan-Hare Stadium is roughly equidistant and currently sits unoccupied. If nothing else, let’s play it Legion Field or Paulson Stadium. The NCAA’s bowl eligibility system is already incredibly arbitrary, so why couldn’t they just rubber-stamp a one-time exhibition into existence? Where’s the victim? Although expecting the NCAA to act expeditiously for the betterment of its student-athletes is almost certainly expecting too much.
The bottom line is both of these programs are exactly the type of teams that the bowl system purportedly exists for, creating lifelong experiences for student-athletes excited to experience them, and the system may not have room for them. And that flat out sucks.
Take a look at the pics from Georgia Southern’s win over Louisiana-Monroe yesterday that helped them clinch the Sun Belt title. There’s no shortage of fan support and excitement surrounding the program. What more could you want from a potential bowl team?