The lucky loser in tennis is the player who gets knocked out in the qualifying round but enters the main draw when somebody is forced to withdraw, usually because of an illness or injury.
College football could have a lucky losing team or more.
There’s a chance a team with a regular-season record of 5-7 will be invited to a bowl game this year. I asked an athletic administrator recently if his school should accept a bowl bid with a sub-.500 record. “Absolutely not” was the response.
But would it?
The bowl game proliferation rate has created this condition. In 1995 there were 18 bowl games. This year, 41 postseason games crowd the December and January calendar, including the second College Football Playoff game. That makes 80 teams (CFP finalists will be playing their second game) that are needed to complete the bowl lineup.
There are 128 teams playing in the FBS. Some 63 percent will play in a bowl. Last year, there are 79 bowl-eligible teams for 70 slots.
With five new bowl games this year, including one in the Bahamas, there may be room for everybody this time. And them some.
Heading into Friday’s contests, 71 teams have won at least six games and will do no worse that finish with a .500 record, the heretofore minimum requirement for bowl eligibility.
It’s possible that all 80 slots will be filled by teams with at least a 6-6 record with 14 teams standing 5-6. Four more started the weekend with a 4-6 record, including Texas, which played host to Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night, and Kansas State.
Get to 6-6 and you’re looking good for the main draw. At 5-7, you could be the lucky loser.
That could be Missouri (5-6), if it falls to Arkansas. Or Nebraska (5-6), if the Cornhuskers lose at home to Iowa on Friday.
Among the others that need one more victory for a break-even season: Virginia Tech, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, Kentucky and Washington.
Two years ago the NCAA established a contingency plan to complete bowl games when they couldn’t be filled by conference contracts or there weren’t enough qualifying teams. The final step included a provision for a 5-7 team that would be selected based on Academic Progress Rate.
APR is a four-year rolling average of graduation rates and other academic metrics. Programs that paid attention to the books would be rewarded. Based on the latest year for which figures are available, 2013-14, Nebraska tops a list of potential 5-7 teams.
There’s some confusion here, a belief by some that bowls could pick from a pool of top five teams based on APR. The NCAA expects to have some clarity on the issue soon.
As long as we’re talking about teams currently 5-6 that should finished below .500, there’s another group at 4-7, including Virginia, Vanderbilt and Rutgers that could win their way into a record that would be considered for bowl eligibility.
Bowl game saturation isn’t going away. ESPN wants live programming around the holidays, and even the lowest profile bowl games rate well. Plus the market supports the enterprise. Communities benefit from the tourism and it’s a big week for local charities.
Players aren’t jazzed about three more weeks of practice around exams but like their $500 gift bags. And coaches love the extra weeks of practice.
The bowls aren’t going away, and now even some losers could get lucky.