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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. For all 35 bowl games in the 2011-12 NCAA college football bowl season, bowl games are contractually obligated to offer bids to specific conferences, a situation known as a "tie-in". The top five bowl games in the nation select their teams as part of a coalition known as the Bowl Championship Series. The remaining 30 bowl games 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.
The Bowl Championship Series consists 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. At the end of the season, the top two ranked teams meet in the championship game; the remaining eight slots are filled by the champions of six conferences (the Big Ten Conference, Pacific-12 Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big 12 Conference, and American Athletic Conference) and up to four "at-large" selections who finished the season ranked in the top 14 in the BCS rankings. The highest-ranked champion of a non-AQ conference will also receive an automatic berth if ranked in the top 12 or ranked in the top 16 and higher than at least one AQ conference champion. The at-large selections can be granted to any FBS team, even those that aren't members of the six AQ conferences, though no conference may have more than two teams in a BCS bowl in any given year.
Even in the five BCS bowls, consideration is 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. In that case, their slot is filled by an at-large school. Any bowl that loses a contracted team to the Championship Game gets first pick of the eligible at-large schools. In the instance that the Pac-12 or Big Ten champion receives a bid to the BCS National Championship, the Rose Bowl is filled by either the second place team of the conference with the team that opted out, or if a "non Big-6"(a school not part of the major conferences) is ranked higher in the BCS standings they receive the bid over the second place team. This occurred in 2010 when Oregon played in the BCS Championship Game, and TCU (Mountain West Conference) filled Oregon's place in the Rose Bowl, not the Pac-12 second place, Stanford.
|BCS Games||First Game||Conference||Conference|
|Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio||1902||Pac-12||Big Ten|
|Discover Orange Bowl||1935||ACC||At-Large|
|Allstate Sugar Bowl||1935||SEC||At-Large|
|Tostitos Fiesta Bowl||1971||Big 12||At-Large|
|BCS Championship Game||2007||BCS #1||BCS #2|
The 30 bowls that are not part of the BCS have contractual ties to specific conferences. For the 2011-12 bowl season, all 30 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 not have a losing record in the FBS. If a school plays 12 games, they must have at least six wins to qualify. If a school plays 13 games, they must then have at least seven wins to qualify. 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. 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.
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 Capital One Bowl is contractually obligated to select the winningest Big Ten and SEC teams that do not make a BCS game, 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 three contracted bowls.
|Bowl Game||First Game||Conference/Team||Conference/Team||Alternate|
|Hyundai Sun Bowl||1935||Pac-12 #4||ACC #4|
|AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic||1937||Big 12 #2||SEC #3|
|Gator Bowl||1946||SEC #6||Big Ten #5|
|AutoZone Liberty Bowl||1959||C-USA #1||SEC #8||American #7|
|Capital One Bowl||1947||Big Ten #2||SEC #2|
|Chick-fil-A Bowl||1968||ACC #2||SEC #5|
|Advocare V100 Bowl||1976||ACC #7||SEC #10|
|National University Holiday Bowl||1978||Big 12 #5||Pac-12 #3|
|Outback Bowl||1986||Big Ten #3||SEC #4|
|Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl||1989||Big 12 #4||Big Ten #4|
|Russell Athletic Bowl||1990||ACC #3||American #2|
|Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl||1992||MWC #1||Pac-12 #5|
|Valero Alamo Bowl||1993||Big 12 #3||Pac-12 #2|
|Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||1997||MWC #5||MAC #3|
|Little Caesars Pizza Bowl||1997||Big Ten #8||MAC #2|
|Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl||1998||ACC #6||SEC #7|
|GoDaddy.com Bowl||1999||Sun Belt #2||MAC #1|
|Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas||2000||Big 12 #6||Big Ten #6|
|New Mexico Bowl||2001||MWC #4||Pac-12 #7|
|R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl||2001||C-USA #7||Sun Belt #1|
|Belk Bowl||2002||ACC #5||American #3|
|Fight Hunger Bowl||2002||Pac-12 #6||BYU||ACC, MAC|
|Sheraton Hawaiʻi Bowl||2002||C-USA #2||MWC #4|
|Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl||2003||C-USA #3||Navy|
|SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl||2005||MWC #2||Army||MAC|
|BBVA Compass Bowl||2006||American #5||SEC #9|
|Military Bowl||2008||ACC #8||C-USA #6||MAC #4|
|Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl||2008||American #6||C-USA #5|
|New Era Pinstripe Bowl||2010||American #4||Big 12 #7||Notre Dame|
|Heart of Dallas Bowl||2010||Big Ten #7||C-USA #4||MWC|
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 provides an "at-large" selection to the BCS, the remaining bowls still select in the same order. Should a conference like the Pac-12 receive an "at-large" bid from the BCS, their remaining bowl tie-ins would be affected. The Alamo Bowl would then have the third (and not second) selection from the Pac-12, and all remaining bowls would be shifted accordingly. This increases the likelihood that the conference will not be able to provide enough teams to meet its tie-in obligations.
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 remain eligible for selection as a replacement team when the conferences do not have enough eligible teams to meet their obligations.
For 2013, the contractual obligations: