After finishing the regular season 9-3 and winning the Sun Belt Conference outright -- including an 8-0 conference record -- Georgia Southern's season will come to an end without a bowl game because the program is in its first year in a new conference. NCAA bylaws prevent first-year conference teams from playing in a bowl game unless spots are opened up by other conferences failing to meet their own bowl requirements.
Georgia Southern transferred from the Southern Conference (FCS) earlier this year.
"Our whole basis for the waiver is if you really study the bowl process, there's been waivers written for numerous things throughout time — for teams that had losing records, waivers when there's not enough bowl eligible teams and other things," Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein told USA TODAY Sports. "So when you start to look at that and the uniqueness of what we've done in our transition by becoming conference champions, going undefeated in the conference, we made an appeal basically saying does the uniqueness of our situation warrant at least a discussion of this?"
Kleinlein has argued that since the Eagles won their conference outright, they deserve to make a bowl appearance and should not be subjected to the typical NCAA bylaws.
"If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument," he said. "But we're conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn't make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn't make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal."
Bowl selections will be set Sunday once conference championship games are played. Before Georgia Southern's appeal waiver had been processed, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA TODAY that even if the Eagles were granted bowl eligibility, they would be placed at the bottom of the pecking order, behind schools with longer-standing conference ties.
The Sun Belt has four teams -- Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, South Alabama and Texas State -- for three contracted spots in the New Orleans Bowl, GoDaddy Bowl and Camellia Bowl.
- Mike Fiammetta