LARAMIE — When the matchups for college football’s 39 bowl games are announced Sunday, there’s a good chance Wyoming won’t hear its name called.
The Cowboys are eligible for a bowl with six wins, but Wyoming needed a four-game winning streak just to get there. As the seventh and final team in the Mountain West to gain bowl eligibility, Wyoming, which has the fewest wins of the group, may be the odd man out in a conference with just five contracted bowls.
It doesn’t sit well with Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman for a number of reasons.
“I’ll tell you this: There are times when 6-6 doesn’t deserve a bowl game,” Burman said. “But this group of kids, from going to 2-6 to 6-6 and playing the schedule they did, I’d like to see them play again. I think they deserve it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to say that every time we’re 6-6.”
More importantly, Burman said, no bowl-eligible team in the MW should be at risk of being left out of the postseason with the league still trying to enhance its profile. That wasn’t as much of a concern when the conference had six contracted tie-ins — a number the MW is allowed based on its four-year historical average of bowl-eligible teams — but the Poinsettia Bowl closed shop after the 2016 season and the league hasn’t been able to find a replacement.
There’s a chance the MW loses another tie-in when the current contract expires after the 2019 season with the Las Vegas Bowl trying to align with a pair of Power Five conferences. Discussions began around the league about getting back to six tie-ins after the Poinsettia Bowl dissolved, but Burman said those conversations will become a point of emphasis after this season.
“We are going to ramp that effort up as ADs and as a conference because it’s not in anyone’s best interest if we have multiple teams sitting at home someday,” Burman said. “It’s not in anyone’s best interest with one team sitting at home. It gets a little scary if seven is the number and we only have five (bowls). We’ve got to do more to take care of people.”
MW deputy commissioner Bret Gilliland said in an email the league has been permitted by the NCAA to get back to six contracted agreements for the next six-year bowl cycle starting in 2020, though exactly which bowls the MW will partner with is still being hashed out. All 10 FBS conferences are in the process of negotiating their respective bowl deals.
MW commissioner Craig Thompson told The San Diego Union-Tribune before this season he expects the league to renew ties-ins with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Arizona Bowl, New Mexico Bowl and Hawaii Bowl. So where might the conference look for two more contracted bowls?
Las Vegas wants to eventually move its bowl from Sam Boyd Stadium to the Raiders’ new stadium currently being constructed. Another bowl game could be played at Sam Boyd Stadium once that happens, though Burman said those discussions haven’t gained any traction with the city wanting to drive everything to the new venue.
Burman said there’s been talk of bowls being added in Phoenix and Denver. The league has been hesitant to step outside of its geographical footprint because of travel expenses and the increased difficulty fans would have getting to those games, but Burman said the league should strongly consider deals with any bowls willing to negotiate if that ends up being the only way it could get back to six tie-ins.
The Poinsettia Bowl was played in San Diego while all of the MW’s remaining primary bowl contracts are in Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho. The Frisco (Texas) Bowl, one of the league’s backup bowls, is the farthest east of any game with a MW agreement.
With ESPN and other television partners primarily driving bowl matchups, Burman said the work the MW has done to raise its profile in recent years should help in making the league more attractive to bowls in other parts of the country. No. 22 Boise State and No. 25 Fresno State played for the MW championship Saturday night after each finished the regular season in the College Football Playoff rankings. A 10-win Utah State team was as high as No. 23 in the rankings at one point while Wyoming, coming off back-to-back eight-win seasons, is bowl eligible for the third straight year.
“They are looking for brands that people recognize, and we’ve improved our profile over the last few years significantly,” Burman said. “Many schools in the Mountain West have done that.”
Whatever the league needs to do, Burman said, to ensure none of its teams find themselves in Wyoming’s predicament in the future.
“When we had the Poinsettia Bowl, there were occasionally some discussions about do we want to play in a bowl game in Florida? Do we want to play in a bowl game in Texas? And the answer was no,” he said. “We generally want to stay in our footprint, but we have to be more aggressive than that. Without the Poinsettia, if the only option is to play in a bowl game in the Midwest or in Florida or in Texas, we ought to do it.”