It used to be possible to win titles under a postseason ban. That’s no longer the case.
College football’s current 40-game bowl system means most FBS teams play in the postseason these days. Typically, all a team has to do to make a bowl is win six games, or it can go 5-7 and get in based on academic numbers if not enough others are eligible. But every so often, a team is barred from bowls for bad behavior.
The latest such program is Missouri, which the NCAA hit with a one-year ban for 2019 on Thursday. Mizzou’s going to appeal, but it’s in line to miss out on the postseason in its only year with Clemson QB transfer Kelly Bryant.
Sometimes, the NCAA bowl-bans teams. Other teams, teams slap these bans on themselves as a time-honored way of demonstrating personal accountability to the NCAA.
Bowl bans have been a tool of college athletics justice since at least the 1950s.
In football, the bans referred to as “bowl bans” usually run deeper than just bowl games. They are postseason bans, which typically bar a team from playing in conference championship games, also. For instance, third-placed Georgia Tech played in the 2012 ACC Championship because Miami and North Carolina were both under postseason bans. Other teams have missed conference title games over the years, too.
Specific bowl games, like the Rose Bowl, have been the subject of conference rules that barred teams from playing in those game two years in a row. And in eras with fewer bowl games, such rules could function as de facto bowl bans.
Some big programs have taken bowl bans over the years.
Ole Miss was bowl-banned in 2017 and 2018, with the first of those self-imposed and the second coming by NCAA decree, as part of a wide-ranging investigation into college football in Mississippi that’s taken most of the decade and is still producing fallout.
Ohio State went 12-0 in 2012 but couldn’t play in a postseason game, the NCAA’s punishment for a tattoo and memorabilia scandal. It could’ve taken a preemptive ban in 2011 and thus traded a Gator Bowl for a potential title shot.
USC got a two-year bowl ban, for 2010 and 2011, after the NCAA decided Reggie Bush had received impermissible benefits years earlier.
The Miami bowl ban that landed Georgia Tech in that ACC title game was a result of a booster and benefits scandal. North Carolina’s was for academic fraud.
Auburn went 11-0 but was bowl-banned in 1993, keeping the Tigers away from a national title they otherwise could’ve won. Next to Ohio State in 2012, this ban probably stands as the costliest, at least as far as squandered championship potential goes.
Usually, you get a ban for breaking NCAA amateurism rules. But that’s not all.
After the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA imposed a four-year postseason ban on Penn State. Penn State’s ban was for systemic, institutional wrongdoing that led to children being abused. The NCAA later cut that ban short after 2012 and 2013 amid legal concerns that it’d overstepped its jurisdiction.
Otherwise, most of the highest-profile bowl bans have been the result of players getting benefits the NCAA didn’t want them to get, and/or schools lying to the NCAA about those benefits after the fact.
But teams can also get bowl bans for a lack of academic progress, which the NCAA measures through annual Academic Progress Reports. If a program’s APR score is too low, the NCAA doles out a one-year bowl ban. This isn’t common among FBS teams, and most recently happened to Idaho in 2014, though it is more common in the NCAA’s lower levels.
Mizzou’s ban is because a tutor was a little too helpful to players.
There’s a financial cost to postseason bans, too.
When Ole Miss was under its self-imposed ban, it said it was missing out on $7.8 in SEC postseason revenue shares in one year (2017), per conference rules.
A postseason ban means you can’t win titles. It wasn’t always that way.
Back when college football didn’t have a national title game, it was possible to win all the marbles without being let into a bowl game. Auburn pulled off an AP national title while under a ban in 1957, and Oklahoma did it in 1974. Oklahoma’s accomplishment might’ve been weirder, because the national champion was selected before bowl season in the ‘50s.
The advent of league title games, the BCS, and then the Playoff means it’s virtually impossible to be a champion while under a postseason ban.
Mizzou is thus the first team to be eliminated from national championship contention in 2019, unless you count literally every team in a Group of 5 conference.