Let Them Bowl: NCAA’s Bowl Ban Continues to Make Little Sense

The NCAA's Bowl Ban on first- and second-year FBS teams continues to make little sense, especially with success from teams like JMU and Jacksonville State.

Picture this: the Jacksonville State Gamecocks beat the mighty Liberty Flames on a Tuesday night in front of a national audience to move to 6-1 in its inaugural season. The home crowd goes wild because the Gamecocks are going bowling.

All is right in this small Alabaman town. Except, the NCAA doesn’t allow first-year FBS teams to play in the postseason. The NCAA doesn’t allow second-year FBS teams to play in the postseason either.

Rooted in opinion, we state facts and share our opinions on the Bowl Ban below.

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Why Are New FBS Teams Banned From Postseason Play?

The NCAA has a two-year transition period for FCS to FBS transitions and a full four-year transition period for Division II to Division I moves. During this time, teams are banned from postseason play and usually receive only a fraction of money from TV deals and conference payouts.

In the past, teams have created “hybrid” schedules in those two years where they play a combination of FCS and FBS opponents. However, teams have mostly stopped doing that as they prefer to play full conference slates from the start.

The NCAA has taken it upon itself to be a gatekeeper of postseason play and even announced recently that this ban includes the College Football Playoff, to which the NCAA supposedly has no ties.

This transition period is designed to discourage FCS teams from hastily moving up without much thought. The NCAA says this is for the good of the transitioning teams, to protect them from the difficulties of FBS football.

However, the data shows that the sports governing body is more often than not punishing talented teams.

Recent History of FCS to FBS Teams

Over the last 10 years, 10 teams have moved up to the FBS level. A quick look at their inaugural seasons shows a pattern of immediate success.

Georgia State, 2013

The Georgia State Panthers are a unique case in that they replaced their entire coaching staff the year of their promotion, going 0-12 in the process. Head coach Trent Miles never found success in Atlanta, finishing with a career record of 10-39 in four seasons.

Shawn Elliott came in and put together winning seasons in four of his first five years.

Here, the bowl ban did not matter as the Panthers went a combined 1-23 in their first two FBS seasons. One could argue that the Panthers were not ready for the transition.

Old Dominion, 2014

The Old Dominion Monarchs started slowly, dropping six of their first nine games, before rebounding to finish the year 6-6 and 4-4 in Conference USA. They would have been bowl-eligible but were denied the opportunity.

Georgia Southern, 2014

Willie Fritz’s Georgia Southern Eagles went 9-3 overall and undefeated in conference play in their inaugural season in the FBS. A pair of 1-score losses to ACC teams kept them from a truly magical year. However, despite filing for a postseason waiver, the Eagles were banned from postseason play.

The Eagles went 9-4 in 2015 and actually made a bowl after too few teams were eligible. They won that game by 31.

Appalachian State, 2014

Georgia Southern’s primary rival and fellow FBS transitioner got off to a slow start in the FBS, but won its last six games to finish 7-5 with no bowl eligibility. In year two, Appalachian State went 10-2 in the regular season and made a bowl, winning 31-29.

Charlotte, 2015

The Charlotte 49ers struggled in their first year of FBS football, finishing 2-10 under Brad Lambert. Like Georgia State, they struggled to find footing in their first few years.

Coastal Carolina, 2017

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers hired Jamie Chadwell in 2017, and it took him a few years to get going (and to find a good quarterback). The Chanticleers went 3-9, then 5-7 before winning the Sun Belt in 2020.

Liberty, 2018

The Liberty Flames made a quasi-transition in 2017, playing a weird schedule that included playing a home and home against New Mexico State. Liberty went 6-6 and was denied a bowl opportunity.

In year two, Hugh Freeze led the Flames to a 7-5 regular season record and won a bowl game.

James Madison, 2022

The James Madison Dukes are the most famous example here: They went 8-3 in the regular season and “won the Sun Belt” in their first season. The Dukes couldn’t even play in their conference championship game. This season, James Madison is undefeated and will likely be favored in every game for the rest of the season.

Theoretically, there’s no rule against the Dukes making the College Football Playoff, but a bowl is off the table unless there aren’t enough six-win teams to fill the bowls.

Sam Houston, 2023

The Sam Houston Bearkats just can’t get it going on offense and sit 0-4 in 2023. Whether or not the decision to move up pays off is yet to be seen, but they were obviously not discouraged enough by the bowl ban to reconsider transitioning.

If they continue to struggle, it’s proof the bowl ban didn’t do its job, if they pick it up, it’s proof the bowl ban is unfair.

Jacksonville State, 2023

The Gamecocks are 5-1 after a thrilling win over Middle Tennessee State in Week 6. With a favorable schedule for the rest of the season, Power Five quality front seven, and a solid coaching staff, the Gamecocks look like this year’s bowl ban victim.

Jacksonville State looks like a legitimate Conference USA contender and along with JMU, is driving the conversation around new-coming FBS teams being banned from postseason play.

Opinion: The Real Problem with Bowl Bans

You can stand on either side of bowl bans for FCS to FBS transitioners, but for those disagreeing with the bowl ban, there are several reasons.

Why Punish Success?

Let’s concede that the NCAA believes the FBS is too crowded and wants to limit interest in moving up. The question becomes: Is this approach even working?

Of the last 10 teams to make the leap, only Charlotte has a below-average winning percentage, suggesting it was never ready to make the jump in the first place. Of the other nine, three won conference titles within three years of promotion, and six (maybe seven) were denied or nearly denied a bowl opportunity in the first two years.

The goal is to prevent a team with a particularly strong team from trying to cash in on momentary fame and move up before it is ready. So far, that hasn’t come close to happening.

We see strong FCS teams beat FBS teams frequently, and with the 21 extra scholarships that come with the promotion, it’s unsurprising to see some teams have immediate success.

Bowl bans unfairly punish teams for being too good. It’s as if the NCAA is saying: “You can move up, but you won’t succeed. And if you do, we still won’t let you play in the postseason.” Instead of simply letting teams earn their postseason opportunities, the NCAA has hung its hat.

Why Reward Mediocrity?

More than that, it subjects us to more mediocre teams and fewer good teams. Last season, we watched Troy shut down Coastal Carolina’s offense a week after the Chanticleers lost 47-7 to the more deserving James Madison. All in the name of “protecting the Dukes from embarrassment.”

Luckily, the Sun Belt didn’t have a championship game in 2014 or we would have watched second-place Louisiana (who later vacated wins) play fourth-place Texas State. Jacksonville State has a chance for a magical season this year that will end Thanksgiving Weekend, regardless of the outcomes of their games.

Instead, we could end up watching a conference championship featuring multiple four- or five-loss teams.

The Ban is Inequitable?

In case you missed it, the NCAA doubled down Wednesday by raising the fee requirement to transition from $5000 to $5 million. If this were about limiting Division I movement, why did the NCAA recently waive the attendance requirements to move?

Not only is this a seemingly pointless money grab, but it unfairly attacks poorer schools while doing little to deter richer schools from moving up. HBCUs, in particular, are unfairly targeted by this new, useless rule. And if they pay the entrance tax, the withheld conference payouts and lack of opportunity to make postseason money severely handcuff them.

The NCAA wants to prevent teams from making poor long-term decisions for the sake of short-term gain, but is currently making the short-term punishment hurt so much that long-term gains aren’t feasible.

Teams aren’t scrambling to climb divisions. If they were, there would be far more than zero FBS teams in the Dakotas. We routinely see FCS-over-FBS upsets, so much so that metrics like Bill Connelly’s SP+ rank strong FCS conferences like the Big Sky ahead of a couple of FBS conferences, the latter of which is filled with teams that have struggled to succeed at the highest level for decades.

Opinion: End Bowl Bans

Bowl bans for new teams don’t help football.

They don’t improve TV ratings, conference strength, or the product on the field. As the NCAA’s power slips, the sport’s governing body is holding tightly to whatever dumb rules make it feel important.

Jacksonville State will still celebrate if they beat Liberty to move to 6-1 next week, even though that sixth win carries no extra importance. The NCAA hasn’t yet taken that potential excitement from the Gamecocks.

Perhaps some third-party sponsor will create a postseason game between the two, as some suggested last night. People would watch, partially due to the excellent on-field problem and partially because people enjoy seeing the NCAA look silly.

The better solution would be for the NCAA to admit its wrongdoing and announce James Madison and Jacksonville State as bowl-eligible teams as it voids the bowl ban henceforth. It’s the obvious thing to do. But obvious and NCAA don’t go together.

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