Automatic bids to college bowl games

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This article is about the contracted bowl tie-ins. For the actual teams selected, see 2015–16 NCAA football bowl games.

The teams that participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision earn the right to compete in a series of post-season games called bowl games. As of 2016, there are 40 bowl games (not counting the College Football Playoff National Championship), and all are contractually obligated to offer bids to specific conferences, a situation known as a "tie-in". The "top" six bowl games ("New Year's Six") in the nation select their teams as part of the College Football Playoff (CFP), which was put into place for a minimum of 12 years, beginning with the 2014 season. Prior to 2014, the top five games in the country were chosen under the system known as the Bowl Championship Series. The bowls outside of the CFP, have individual contracts with the conferences to offer preferential bids to teams from those conferences. As long as teams are bowl eligible, they may be selected by these bowls to meet these contracts.

College Football Playoff[edit]

The College Football Playoff consists of seven bowls: the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, and the College Football Playoff National Championship. For the 2014-15 season, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will serve as national semifinals for the 2015 College Football Championship Game in Arlington, Texas, meaning that the teams ranked #1 through #4 in the College Football playoff rankings will play in those two bowls, with the winner advancing to the national championship.

Twelve schools are selected for the major bowls. These include the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference. The highest-ranked champion from the "Group of Five" conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) is guaranteed a berth if the group's top team is not in the playoff.

The following tie-ins exist for bowls in the years they are not hosting the national semifinals:

2017 "New Year's Six" bowl games[edit]

Games First Game Conference Conference
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual 1902 Pac-12 Big Ten
Allstate Sugar Bowl 1935 Big 12 SEC
Capital One Orange Bowl 1935 ACC At Large
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic 1937 At large at large
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl 1968 National Semifinal National Semifinal
BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl 1971 National Semifinal National Semifinal
College Football Playoff National Championship 2017 Fiesta Bowl Winner* Peach Bowl Winner*
  • Winner changes based on which two bowls are the national semi-final games that year

Bowl Championship Series[edit]

From 1998 to 2013, the national champion was determined on the field by the Bowl Championship Series. The Bowl Championship Series consisted of five games, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl, as well as the BCS Championship Game. A composite system of computer rankings and human polls is used to rank the teams in the Division I–Football Bowl Subdivision. As with the College Football Playoff, the BCS consisted the champions of major conferences, at-large teams, and occasionally Notre Dame or teams from mid-major conferences. Consideration was given to historic associations between the conferences and the bowl games themselves. Tie-ins still apply, unless a team obligated to a certain bowl game is selected for the BCS Championship Game.

Other Bowl Games in 2016[edit]

The bowls that are not part of the CFP have contractual ties to specific conferences. For the 2016–17 bowl season, all bowls have at least two tie-ins, meaning that there are no at-large spots open in these bowls, assuming that all conferences produce enough bowl eligible teams. Many bowls also have contingency contracts to offer spots to other specific conferences should their first choice not be eligible. If any slot cannot be filled by a contracted conference at all, then the spot becomes open, and the bowl can offer the slot to any eligible team.

To be eligible, a team must have at least as many wins against FBS opponents as it has total losses, except that a team may count one win against an FCS team that has given out at least 90% of its allowed scholarships over the past two years. There are two exceptions to this; a conference champion is always eligible to play in a bowl game where the conference has a contract that requires its champion to play in that game, and a team that is 6-6 in its regular season but loses a conference championship game is bowl eligible. (The first time this happened, to UCLA in 2011, this was not in the NCAA bylaws, but the NCAA granted UCLA a waiver, and the exception appeared the following year.[1])

If, as happened in 2015, there are more bowl game openings than eligible teams, then additional teams can become eligible. They are divided up into four groups; all of the teams from a group must be chosen (or decline a bowl bid) before teams from the next group can be chosen. The groups are:

  1. A team that does not have a "counted" win against an FCS team, but beat an FCS team that did not meet the 90% scholarship requirement, and would have been bowl eligible had that game counted.
  2. A team that plays 13 games in its regular season and has a 6-7 record.
  3. A team in the second year of an FCS to FBS transfer "probationary period" that would have been eligible had it been a full FBS member.
  4. If there are still bowl openings remaining, they are given to teams with a 5-7 record in order of their four-year football Academic Progress Rate (APR).

Note that, in groups 1-3, the teams can be chosen in any order, and the bowl games choose the teams; however, in group 4, they must be chosen in APR order, and each team chooses the bowl game in which it will play.[2]

A rule change for 2010 allows bowls to tender a bid to any team with a 6-6 record before teams with more than six wins.[citation needed] Previously, a bowl with an at-large bid to fill was required to select the remaining team with the best record over a 6-6 team that would have been more financially attractive in terms of bringing more fans to the respective bowl.

Records vs. selection order[edit]

The contracts specify that the respective bowl committees receive a certain choice of teams. It should be noted that the selection order lists show below (#1, #2, #3, etc.) indicate only the order in which the respective bowl committees make their selections. The choices are typically not predicated on end-of-season rankings or actually final regular season records/standings. For example, a bowl with the "# 3 pick" from a particular conference does not mean necessarily it has to select the "third place team" from that conference. When it becomes that committee's turn to pick, it may pick any of the remaining teams from that conference (with respect to the aforementioned eligibility rules detailed above).

A committee may select one team over another due to geographical proximity, travel ability for the fanbase, or other factors. Bowls may chose to "skip" teams in order to avoid regular season rematches, or perhaps bowl rematches from the previous season. In various cases, bowls have embraced a particular team(s) participating in same bowl in two consecutive seasons, but may shy away from inviting them for a third consecutive season. However, in most cases, the order loosely follows the general order of the regular season records/rankings.

Some conferences have special selection parameters written into their contracts with specific bowls — for example, the Citrus Bowl is contractually obligated to select the winningest Big Ten and SEC teams that do not make a CFP game (semifinal or New Year's Six Bowl), or a team within one win of the winningest in its conference. The MAC's bowl contracts require that both division champions, if eligible, receive bids to one of its five contracted bowls.

2016 Order of selection[edit]

Teams must be bowl-eligible to be selected for a bowl game. Should a conference not have enough eligible teams to meet their obligations, the bowls at the end of the selection process are free to choose a replacement team from among any remaining bowl-eligible teams that are not already committed to a bowl game. If a conference has multiple teams chosen for the CFP/New Year's Six games, the remaining bowls still select in the same order. For example, if two Pac-12 teams are in the CFP, the Alamo Bowl would then have the third (and not second) selection from the Pac-12, and all remaining bowls would also shift accordingly. This increases the likelihood that the conference will not be able to provide enough teams to meet its tie-in obligations.

American Athletic Conference[edit]


Atlantic Coast Conference[edit]



  • #1 College Football Playoff. ACC Champion (or best available team if champ in College Football Playoff) goes to Capital One Orange Bowl in years when Orange Bowl is not a semifinal in the CFP. In those years, the ACC plays the highest ranked team among the Big Ten, SEC, and Notre Dame. If it is the Big Ten, the ACC will take Big Ten's spot in the Citrus Bowl, with a team chosen before the Russell Athletic Bowl. In years the Orange Bowl is the semifinal the ACC Champion (or best available team if champ in College Football Playoff) goes to either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl if champion is not in playoff game.
  • #2 The Russell Athletic Bowl versus Big 12 #3.

Tier #1

Tier #2 (selections still shared, order in place in case of insufficient number of bowl-eligible teams)

Conditional Secondary-Agreements

Big 12 Conference[edit]


Big Ten Conference[edit]


NOTE: Bowls submit preferences to conference, and conference actually assigns schools to bowls. Other than the Rose Bowl, all Big Ten bowls have agreed to have at least five different schools in their bowl over the 2014-19 contract cycle.[4]

  • #1 College Football Playoff. Automatic berth to one of the New Year's Six bowl games, the Rose Bowl versus Pac-12 #1 in years Rose Bowl is not a CFP Semifinal.
  • The Orange Bowl versus ACC if non-champion team is ranked higher than non-champion from Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Notre Dame. SEC and Big Ten will take spot minimum of three times each over 12 years; Notre Dame no more than twice.

Tier #1

Tier #2

Tier #3

  • The Quick Lane Bowl versus ACC.
  • The Heart of Dallas Bowl versus C-USA. This spot will rotate with the Armed Forces Bowl over next six years, with each bowl getting a Big Ten team three times.

Conference USA[edit]

2015: Conference Champion picks bowl game to attend.

Conditional Secondary-Agreements

  • The Independence Bowl Conference USA or the American fills unused slot if ACC or SEC does not fill its slot (both have backup agreements).

Mid-American Conference[edit]


Mountain West Conference[edit]


Conditional Secondary-Agreements

  • The Cactus Bowl if either Big 12 or Pac-12 cannot fill their slots.

Pac-12 Conference[edit]


Southeastern Conference[edit]


Sun Belt Conference[edit]


Conditional Secondary-Agreements

The Arizona Bowl if either Mountain West or C-USA cannot fill their slots.

Division I FBS Independents[edit]

Of the independent Football Bowl Subdivision teams, there are contractual agreements to play in certain bowl games should they become bowl eligible. All of these teams are eligible to be selected for a New Year's Six bowl game before accepting any other contractual bids.

For 2015, the contractual obligations are the following:

  • Army - Poinsettia Bowl - This spot will go to Mid-American Conference if Army ineligible.
  • BYU - Las Vegas Bowl or Hawaii Bowl
  • Notre Dame - eligible for ACC-contracted bowls. However, Notre Dame cannot be selected by an ACC bowl if there is an eligible ACC team with two or more wins than Notre Dame. For example, a 9-3 Duke team must be chosen over a 7-5 Notre Dame team. Notre Dame can play in Orange Bowl no more than twice over 12-year span, beginning in 2014, but has no limit on playing in any other New Year's Six bowls if selected (Notre Dame was ultimately selected to the 2014 Music City Bowl in lieu of another ACC team).

The contractual obligations for Army and BYU are the following: