College football has gotten off to a limited start (fans will get to see a much wider array of games next weekend, Sept. 26), but the question of the 2020-2021 bowl game scenario remains somewhat muddled.
As it stands right now, there are not enough Division 1 football teams to fill the 44 approved games: Many major conference (such as the Big Ten and Pac-12) earlier opted to skip the current season due to COVID-19 concerns. The Big Ten announced this week it will return to the football wars next month, but the addition of those 14 schools still leaves the bowl situation muddled, with 62 teams attempting to play a mostly abbreviated schedule this fall.
One bowl, the Redbox Bowl, has already thrown in the towel, but we still have 41 bowls needing 82 teams.
As of now, we still don’t have enough Division 1 teams to fill the bowl rosters.
Hence, bowl eligibility requirements are likely to be drastically lessened.
Last season, any teams within two games of a .500 season were allowed to play in a bowl – thus, some 5-7 teams got in.
But with many teams now playing limited 10-game (or less) conference-only seasons that possibly will mean several teams with 4-6 records will get into a bowl game.
This will especially affect the SEC, which currently has a half dozen teams ranked in the Top 25. SEC teams will be beating up on each other so much that it could easily leave several teams (other than Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia) with 4-6 (or worse) records — including Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
It seems likely that several bowl games will be forced to cancel their games this season due to a shortage of eligible teams.
The Final Four teams competing for the national title (perhaps Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia or BYU) will still have their playoff battles at the top.
Availability of big-name teams with large fan bases (a la UK and Tennessee) will likely be major players in bowl decisions. Both UK and Tennessee are expected to be much stronger this year and either could wind up as SEC division title challengers.
ESPN owns several of the bowl games and televises many, so they will likely have major influence on deciding which bowls are played.
The SEC and ACC have the most bowl tie-in agreements with 11 each, followed by the Big Ten (9), Pac-12 (8), Big 12 (7), American Athletic Conference (7) and Conference USA (7). The Mountain West and Mid-American Conference each will have six contracted bowl agreements.
(Ken Paul Mink is a former Herald-Leader sportswriter and a 60-year journalist/author. He grew up in the Vicco area near Hazard in Perry County).