Understanding College Football Bowl Game Eligibility Rules: A Comprehensive Guide

Ashley Hopkinson

College Football Bowl Game Eligibility Rules

College football bowl games are a thrilling conclusion to the season, but ever wonder how teams qualify for these coveted spots? The NCAA has specific eligibility rules that determine which teams get to play.

Since 2006, these rules have evolved, particularly with the introduction of a twelve-game season.

Teams with a minimum .500 record (6-6) can qualify for bowl games, provided their conference has a contract with a bowl. Even teams with a .500 record can earn bids if all other winning-record teams are taken.

For thirteen-game seasons, like those involving Hawaiʻi, a team must win at least seven games. Understanding these rules can help you appreciate the strategic maneuvers teams make to secure their postseason glory.

Overview of College Football Bowl Games

College football bowl games offer exciting postseason opportunities for eligible teams. Each year, these games captivate fans, reward players, and showcase the sport’s top talents.

Definition and Importance

College football bowl games are postseason matchups that feature eligible teams from various conferences. They offer a stage for teams to cap off their season with a high-profile game.

For fans, bowl games provide memorable matchups and allow teams to compete for national recognition. Financially, these games generate significant revenue for schools and conferences, influencing future planning and investments.

Eligibility Rules

Eligibility rules dictate which teams can participate in bowl games. Teams usually need at least a .500 record (6-6) to qualify. However, in seasons with 13 games, teams must secure a minimum of seven wins.

Conferences often have specific contracts with certain bowls, ensuring their teams fill slots in these games. For instance, the Citrus Bowl is contractually obligated to select the winningest Big Ten and SEC teams not making a CFP or New Year’s Six Bowl.

Special Selection Parameters

Some bowls follow unique selection parameters. Bowls consider factors like geographical proximity, travel ability for fanbases, and avoiding rematches from the regular season or previous bowls.

Occasionally, bowls welcome teams in consecutive seasons but typically avoid inviting them for a third straight year. Contracts may specify criteria, such as the Citrus Bowl’s obligation to pick the top remaining Big Ten and SEC teams.

Notre Dame’s Unique Case

Notre Dame possesses a distinct bowl game eligibility condition. Although eligible for ACC-contracted bowls, an ACC team with two or more wins must be chosen over Notre Dame. For instance, a 9-3 Clemson team takes precedence over a 7-5 Notre Dame team.

Notre Dame’s bowl history includes the 2019 Camping World Bowl and the 2022 Gator Bowl. They can also play in the Orange Bowl twice between 2014 and 2025 and in any New Year’s Six bowls without restrictions.

Factors Influencing Selection

Bowl selection committees consider multiple factors. Geographic proximity influences travel logistics and fan attendance. Commitment to avoiding rematches adds variety and excitement to postseason play.

Additionally, some teams’ performance consistency and fan engagement can sway selections. A committee’s choice can significantly impact a team’s visibility, recruitment, and financial gains.

Eligibility Criteria for Bowl Games

Eligibility for college football bowl games depends on meeting several key requirements. The rules focus on a team’s win-loss record and other special criteria designed to ensure a competitive postseason.

Basic Requirements

A team needs at least six wins to become bowl-eligible. In seasons with 13 games, seven wins are required. Current regulations allow one win against a Division I FCS team to count toward eligibility.

This inclusion ensures teams can schedule a wider range of opponents and still have a chance to qualify.

Impact of Team Records and Rankings

Team records are pivotal in bowl game selection, though diluted criteria can allow teams with non-winning records to participate. In the 2016-17 bowl season, 25% of teams didn’t have winning records, suggesting a priority on filling slots over upholding standards.

Rankings also impact selections, with higher-ranked teams getting invites to prestigious bowls and lower-ranked teams qualifying only if there are more slots than eligible teams. Understanding these criteria helps teams strategize to improve their postseason chances.

Historical Overview of Eligibility Rules

College football bowl game eligibility rules have evolved significantly over the years, shaping the landscape of postseason play. These changes reflect the dynamic nature of college football and the efforts to ensure competitive balance and fairness.

Changes Over the Years

Initially, bowl eligibility rules focused on overall team records and achieving a winning season. These rules later expanded to include factors like strength of schedule and conference standings.

The 1998 formation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) introduced computer rankings and human polls for a more objective selection process.

With the advent of the College Football Playoff (CFP) system in 2014, eligibility rules evolved further, emphasizing conference titles and overall rankings, ensuring a diverse representation of teams in bowl games.

Key Milestones in Rule Evolution

Several milestones have shaped the rules for bowl game eligibility. In the mid-1970s, the NCAA required teams to win at least six games to qualify for a bowl game, a standard still in place.

The 1998 implementation of the BCS introduced a system using computer rankings and human polls to select top teams for five major bowls, including a national championship game.

The College Football Playoff (CFP) further transformed the landscape, using a selection committee to choose four playoff teams and emphasizing regular season performance.

These changes have refined the criteria for bowl game selection, ensuring deserving teams compete in postseason play.

Current Eligibility Rules

College football bowl game eligibility rules ensure that postseason opportunities remain competitive and fair. These rules balance win-loss records, conference standings, and special conditions for specific scenarios.

Role of Conferences

Conferences play a significant role in determining bowl game eligibility. Each conference has agreements with certain bowls, dictating which teams participate based on their performance.

For instance, Notre Dame is eligible for ACC-contracted bowls but cannot be selected over an ACC team with two or more wins than it.

Conferences also influence the selection process for the College Football Playoff (CFP), which considers conference champions alongside other criteria.

Special Exemptions and Conditions

Special exemptions and conditions allow teams with unique circumstances to qualify for bowl games. For example, teams losing their conference championship but with a winning record remain eligible.

Teams can count one win against an FCS team towards eligibility if the FCS team awarded at least 90% of its allowed scholarships over the previous two years. The Ivy League and Pioneer Football League do not count towards eligibility wins due to scholarship limitations.

A waiver exists for catastrophic situations preventing an FCS team from meeting scholarship requirements.

Bowl Selection Process

Bowl selection processes involve various committees using criteria set by the NCAA and conferences to ensure fair and competitive matchups.

Selection Committees and Criteria

Selection committees play a crucial role in determining which teams qualify for bowl games. These committees evaluate teams based on factors like win-loss records, strength of schedule, and conference standings.

They also consider head-to-head results and performance in the final games of the season. For example, a 9-3 team might be favored over an 8-4 team with similar scheduling difficulty.

Additionally, teams must be bowl-eligible, typically requiring at least six wins in a season, though variations exist depending on specific bowl agreements and waivers granted by the NCAA.

Influence of Conferences on Selection

Conferences play a crucial role in bowl selections through tie-in agreements that guarantee their teams placement opportunities in specific bowl games. The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC, for example, have arrangements with notable bowls for their eligible teams.

If a conference lacks enough eligible teams, spots can be filled by teams from other conferences.

Notre Dame, despite being independent, has eligibility stipulations allowing participation in several ACC-contracted bowls, provided no eligible ACC team has two or more wins than Notre Dame.

This system balances conference representation and ensures competitive standards in bowl games.

Which College Football Teams Are Bowl Eligible?

Teams earn bowl eligibility by winning at least six games in a season or having a record of .500 and above, but wins vs. non-FBS opponents count only once.

American Athletic Conference

Teams from the American Athletic Conference (AAC), like Tulane Green Wave and SMU Mustangs, must achieve six wins, with only one win allowed vs. non-FBS teams to be bowl eligible.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) follows similar rules. Teams like Clemson Tigers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons must secure six wins in the regular season, considering only one non-FBS win.

Big Ten Conference

Big Ten teams, including Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, require at least six wins, considering one non-FBS victory to qualify for bowl games.

Big 12 Conference

Teams from the Big 12 Conference, like Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns, need six wins in a season. Only one non-FBS win may count towards bowl eligibility.

Conference USA

Conference USA (C-USA) mandates its teams, such as UTSA Roadrunners and Rice Owls, to record six wins, considering only one vs. a non-FBS opponent.

FBS Independents

Independent schools like Notre Dame can qualify for bowls by winning at least six games. Notre Dame has unique stipulations allowing participation in ACC-contracted bowls if specific conditions apply.

Mid-American Conference

Teams in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), such as Toledo Rockets and Ohio Bobcats, need six wins with a restraint of one non-FBS victory to be eligible for bowl games.

Mountain West Conference

Mountain West Conference (MWC) teams, like Boise State Broncos and San Diego State Aztecs, must secure six wins. Only one win vs. non-FBS opponents can count towards eligibility.

Pac-12 Conference

The Pac-12 Conference requires teams, such as USC Trojans and Oregon Ducks, to win six games in the season, with one non-FBS win counting towards bowl game eligibility.

Southeastern Conference

Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams, including Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs, need to record six wins, counting one non-FBS win to qualify for bowl games.

Sun Belt Conference

Sun Belt Conference teams, like Appalachian State Mountaineers and Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, must achieve six wins in the season, while considering only one win against non-FBS teams.

Frequently Asked Questions

What determines who plays in college bowl games?

Bowl game eligibility depends on teams achieving a winning record (at least 6-6). Other factors include strength of schedule, conference standings, and specific conference-bowl agreements.

How did the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) change bowl game selection?

The BCS, introduced in 1998, used computer rankings and human polls to create a more objective selection process, considering various performance metrics.

What impact did the College Football Playoff (CFP) have on eligibility rules?

Starting in 2014, the CFP allows conferences automatic bids and emphasizes conference titles and rankings when determining bowl game eligibility.

How do special exemptions work in bowl game selection?

Special exemptions allow teams with unique circumstances, such as those with winning records despite losing conference championship games, to qualify for bowl games.

What role do conferences play in bowl game eligibility?

Conferences have agreements with specific bowls, which play a critical role in determining which teams become eligible for those particular bowl games.


Understanding the intricacies of college football bowl game eligibility rules is crucial for fans and teams alike. These rules have evolved to ensure a fair and competitive selection process, balancing traditional criteria with modern considerations like conference standings and rankings.

As the landscape of college football continues to change, staying informed about these eligibility guidelines will enhance your appreciation of the sport.

Whether you’re rooting for a powerhouse team or an underdog, knowing how bowl game eligibility works adds an extra layer of excitement to the season. The requirements primarily hinge on win-loss records, typically needing at least six wins for bowl eligibility.

Additionally, factors like academic performance and strength of schedule can influence selections.

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Ashley Hopkinson

Ashley Hopkinson is an esteemed American Football coach at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College. With a passion for the game and a dedication to mentoring young athletes, Ashley has played a pivotal role in developing the college's football program. His expertise and motivational skills have not only enhanced players' performances on the field but also fostered a strong team spirit and work ethic. Under his guidance, the team has achieved significant success, reflecting his commitment to excellence and sportsmanship. LinkedIn

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