ATLANTA — When a 6-7 UCLA team petitioned the NCAA last season to allow the Bruins to still be considered for a bowl — despite a losing record — the NCAA allowed it, then fought off the backlash and subsequently changed the rule during the offseason to ensure that it didn’t happen again.
But to the surprise of many, it did happen again late Thursday night.
That’s when the NCAA granted a waiver previously submitted by Georgia Tech (6-6) before it plays in the ACC Championship game tonight against No. 13 Florida State (10-2). The NCAA’s decision means that if Georgia Tech fails to beat FSU and secure an automatic BCS bowl berth, then it will still be eligible to be considered for a lower-tier bowl, despite having a losing 6-7 record.
At least one commissioner, John Steinbrecher from the Mid-American Conference, expressed outrage that the Yellow Jackets would likely steal a bowl bid from one of the MAC’s teams, or others, that finished 6-6 or better.
“I am disappointed in the NCAA’s decision to issue a waiver. I could not disagree more with the rationale provided. One of the reasons for the development of the policy covering this matter was to clearly create a selection order to manage just this situation,” Steinbrecher said in a statement. “These selection orders were developed with NCAA staff input and approved unanimously by the NCAA Board of Directors last July. To suggest that the NCAA staff or task force working on bowl policy did not contemplate such a circumstance, when this same situation occurred last year, is incorrect. The policy is clear and understandable.
“What is lacking is the willingness to enforce NCAA policy and that is regrettable. All the Mid-American Conference asks is that the rules that have been approved by the member institutions of the NCAA be enforced. That did not occur in this instance.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson naturally defended the NCAA’s decision, saying that the Yellow Jackets would’ve finished with a 6-6 regular-season record — and thus would’ve been bowl-eligible if not for the University of Miami’s decision to take itself out of the running for the ACC title because of expected NCAA sanctions that have yet to be handed down. As a result, the Yellow Jackets were thrust back into a race they were all but out of.
Johnson said the NCAA’s statement on the controversial decision made that point.
“After reviewing the request from Georgia Tech, the NCAA staff granted the waiver based on the totality of circumstances. The waiver allows Georgia Tech to be considered for selection along with the other bowl-eligible teams,” the NCAA’s statement said. “In consideration of the waiver request, staff noted that Georgia Tech finished the regular season with a 6-6 record, which would make the team bowl-eligible before being obligated to play in the conference championship game (because of Miami’s decision to bow out).”
Georgia Tech will be one of six bowl-eligible programs from the ACC, which has eight bowls set aside for it, so the Yellow Jackets, even at 6-7, would be guaranteed a bid to an ACC bowl, while the winner between Georgia Tech and Florida State will play in the BCS Orange Bowl in Miami.
However, teams with far better records — like San Jose State (10-2), which hails from the WAC, a non-automatic-qualifer conference — could be left out to make room for Tech if the Jackets lose.
Including Georgia Tech, there are 71 bowl-eligible teams going into the weekend for 70 bowl spots. The number may go up if UConn (5-6) beats Cincinnati and Pitt (5-6) beats South Florida today.
If either the Huskies or the Panthers win, they are guaranteed a Big East tie-in bowl, which would then keep even more non automatic-qualifier schools from going bowling.