SYRACUSE, N.Y. – When asked on a recent conference call about a team with a losing record receiving a bowl invitation, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said he was unaware of such a situation — his focus was entirely on getting the Orange bowl-eligible.
That could end up being easier than Marrone originally thought. The NCAA's football postseason licensing subcommittee might have to alter eligibility rules for playing in the postseason depending on how the season plays out. There are 35 bowl games this year and there's a chance not enough teams will meet the current criteria.
"The committee has begun to discuss the situation and has a host of options if the circumstances arise," committee chair by Nick Carparelli, Jr., an associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, said this week.
In April, the NCAA added another bowl game, bringing the total to 35. That means 70 teams will have to meet the current qualifications to participate, which are six wins, including five against teams from Division I's top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"History has dictated that there will be 70 or more bowl-eligible teams. That was the basis of certifying 35 bowls," Carparelli said. "I think the scenario certainly crossed our minds. However, the directive from the commissioners was to certify bowl games provided that the historical data from those conferences proved that they could be supported."
Sometimes, history just doesn't repeat itself.
FBS teams usually schedule teams from the second tier, the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) because they want the best shot at getting the minimum six victories needed to play in a bowl, which also offers extra practice time that coaches relish.
According to NCAA statistics, in 2009 FBS teams were 89-5 against FCS teams, and at the end of the season there were 71 bowl-eligible teams for the 68 bowl berths.
It didn't take long for the NCAA to realize that this season might not follow form. James Madison, an FCS powerhouse, upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech in early September.
So far, FBS teams were 67-6 against the FCS through games of Sept. 25. With only 17 more such games remaining, that means the most wins that FBS teams will have against the FCS is 84 — or five fewer than last year.
Now, it's a simple waiting game.
"I don't believe the committee will wait until the end of the season, but being only four weeks in, the committee isn't prepared to make a decision," Carparelli said.
Still, it's certain that no bowl games will be canceled, and if not enough teams meet the current requirements, 12-game schedules would leave open the possibility of a team with a 5-7 record going to the postseason.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney doesn't know what to think about that.
"My job is to get us to a bowl game. That's for other people to worry about," Swinney said. "It seems a little odd to me that you could have a losing season and go to a bowl game. I wouldn't feel really good about going to a bowl game with a losing season."
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer has righted his ship. The Hokies are 2-2 now, and though they're still not playing like the top-10 team they were at the start of the season, playing in the postseason is the goal.
"I'm all for bowl games," Beamer said. "I think it's a reward for a good season. I'm thinking about it for the first time, but if you haven't had much success, maybe five wins is a great season for someone."
Before letting 5-7 teams into the postseason, though, the NCAA would probably look at 6-6 teams that have two wins against FCS opponents. Normally, only one FCS win counts, but that rule could be waived.
Syracuse (3-1), which hasn't had a winning season since 2001 and hasn't played in a bowl game in six years, already has beaten FCS teams Maine and Colgate. But victories over FCS teams that don't use enough scholarship players also do not count, and Colgate does not offer athletic scholarships.
The NCAA also could consider letting in a 6-7 team, one that reaches its conference title game with a .500 record and loses. That would be possible in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.
"I like being inclusive with bowl games. I like having enough bowl games for deserving teams," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "I want enough bowl games for as many kids to play in bowl games as they possibly can. I'd rather not see a team with a losing record go play in a bowl game, but the flip side of that is, I wouldn't want to see a handful of winning, good teams not get bowl games.
"So that's the problem, trying to decide how many bowl games can we actually fill slots with winning teams," Grobe said. "But generally, I would say, you've got to at least be a 6-6 team to go to a bowl game."
Ironically, the fortunes and misfortunes of Southern Cal factor into all of this. The Trojans have been invited to nine straight bowl games, but they won't be going this year or next. The school is under a two-year bowl ban because of the actions of former star Reggie Bush, who accepted improper benefits when he played in 2004 and 2005.
USC is 4-0 and ranked 18th this week by The Associated Press and already has taken possible wins away from Hawaii (2-2), Minnesota (1-3), Washington State (1-3) and Virginia (2-1).
James Madison coach Mickey Matthews has an idea.
"The top two or three teams in our league are bowl teams every year, and I don't think there's any doubt about that," said Matthews, whose Dukes play in the powerful Colonial Athletic Association, which boasts four other FCS national champions (Delaware, Richmond, Villanova, and Appalachian State) since JMU won it in 2004.
"We wouldn't hesitate at all to play (an FBS team). I don't know how we'd fare against a top-10 team in the nation. I wouldn't go that far, but certainly I think the championship team of the CAA would hold its own against a Division I opponent in a bowl game."
In the past, a bowl invitation at Syracuse has been a formality, according to director of athletic communications Pete Moore. If the Orange qualify for the postseason and are invited somewhere, no decision will have to be made, regardless of the team's record.
"If we are bowl-eligible and get an invite, we go," Moore said.
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina, Joedy McCreary in North Carolina, Ralph Russo in New York City, and Hank Kurz in Virginia contributed to this report.