WKU fans were confused, perhaps rightfully so, when bowl pairings were announced on Sunday.
Three Sun Belt Conference teams got bowl bids, and their Toppers, who finished second in the league, weren’t among them.
A deeper look shows that even if WKU had finished in a first-place tie with league champion Arkansas State for the Sun Belt title, the Toppers still wouldn’t have been guaranteed a bowl.
Sun Belt Associate Commissioner John McElwain said this week that the league always accommodates its first place finisher thanks to four-year agreements with the R+L Carriers New Orleans and GoDaddy.com Bowls.
The New Orleans Bowl has first pick, but must take the Sun Belt champion at least two of every four years. In years it doesn’t choose the league champ, the GoDaddy.com Bowl must.
However, the league’s teams and tie-in bowls jumping the gun on this year’s bowl invitations could’ve caused WKU to get left out in a hypothetical first-place tie scenario.
Arkansas State was offered a spot in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Nov. 19 — the day the Red Wolves clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt title.
This deal was done when WKU was 6-1 in the Sun Belt with one game to play, and Arkansas State was 7-0 with one league game remaining.
The Toppers won their finale, so if the Red Wolves lost theirs, the teams would’ve split the league crown with identical 7-1 records.
But the Toppers still wouldn’t have been accommodated for a Sun Belt bowl, because third-place Louisiana-Lafayette accepted a New Orleans Bowl bid on Nov. 21, almost two weeks before the season’s end.
Therefore, the two bowls that could’ve taken a potential league champion like WKU were already filled.
Sun Belt teams need to sit down and discuss dates of when bowl bids can be accepted, something Athletics Director Ross Bjork has said he’d like to see.
The Sun Belt was in a bad position this year because its bowl tie-ins were spoken for with two weeks of games left to play.
The league doesn’t break ties, so had Arkansas State and WKU tied for first, only one of the two would’ve been accommodated.
The league could solve that problem by simply breaking a tie to the winner of a regular season head-to-head matchup. Then there would be no disputing the champion.
WKU would’ve had an extremely legitimate complaint had it finished in a first-place tie and not been given a bid to a Sun Belt bowl.
The conference needs to work harder with the bowls to develop a situation where at least the top two teams are accommodated.
Right now, it’s not a mathematical system. In this day and age where the national championship game is partially determined by mathematical figures and standings, it only makes sense for other bowl games to adopt the same philosophy.
But much of this weight falls on Sun Belt teams to start winning more non-conference games, so more bowl tie-ins can be created.
With just two tie-ins, the Sun Belt doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to bowls. The only way for that to change is to get more teams bowl eligible every year so the league has more clout when bowl tie-ins are re-drawn in 2013.
There are plenty of things that need to change if teams like WKU don’t want the stress they experienced last Sunday.