he rule was passed without much fanfare.
There was no banner headline, many papers didn't carry it and almost no one talked about it.
But a new rule passed and effective this year, has done away with the differentiation between a 6-6 bowl team and a 7-5 bowl team.
You may remember two years ago (how could we forget) when the Independence, papajohns.com and St. Petersburg Bowls entered into a contingency agreement with the Sun Belt Conference to take a bowl eligible SBC team before any other at-large team, if the bowl was unable to fill its contracted slot(s).
Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters believed that the agreement meant that a 6-6 Sun Belt school would get preference over any other team in the at large pool.
He believed incorrectly.
The now-infamous "memorandum of understanding" was poorly written and rather ambiguous. And, the Independence Bowl informed Waters that they would not be obligated to take a Sun Belt school unless that school had at least seven wins. As it turned out, Louisiana Tech accepted an Indy Bowl bid and made it clear they did not want to play a school from the Sun Belt Conference if at all possible. The Independence Bowl complied with that request and selected a 6-6 Northern Illinois squad, leaving Louisiana and Arkansas State at home despite the same record.
The 7-5 vs. 6-6 rule also applied to any other at-large slots. A 7-5 team, regardless of conference, had to be placed before any 6-6 school, regardless of conference, once contractual obligations were filled.
It's that elusive seventh win that, in the past, has hurt the Cajuns, the Red Wolves and last year, Louisiana Monroe. With a seventh win last year by any of those teams, UCLA would have stayed home with a 6-6 record while the Sun Belt would have had three teams playing in bowls.
But that rule doesn't exist any more.
A proposal by the Big XII conference passed and bowl eligible is now bowl eligible, period. Had that rule been in effect the last two years, the Cajuns would have made at least one bowl appearance, and possibly two. The Independence Bowl would have had to take either UL or ASU two years ago and there would have been an opening this past year in either papajohns.com or St. Pete.
And that would have changed the perception of UL football considerably, both nationally and locally.
Despite being bowl eligible in four of the last five seasons, the Cajuns still haven't been to a bowl game since 1970. And, disgruntled fans point to that fact when it comes to their evaluation of Rickey Bustle and his staff. Bustle received a one year extension (with a reduced buyout clause) last year after another 6-6 slate, which left some Cajuns fans grumbling about the administration being satisfied with "mediocrity." Never mind the fact that, before Bustle, the last six win Cajuns team was in 1995, a year BEFORE the Cajuns beat Texas A&M at Cajun Field. There is no quesiton that a bowl appearance in each of the last two seasons would have changed that perception considerably. Oh, yes, some fans will say that 6-6 is 6-6 regardless and they would be correct. They will also say that the University should strive to be better than that and no one will argue that point, either.
But if the Cajuns 6-6 had gotten them into a bowl game after 2008, very few would be calling for a coaching change. That's just the reality of the situation.
As we enter into the 2010 season, new bowl contracts have been signed. The Sun Belt now has two automatic tie-ins. The New Orleans Bowl has the first choice among Sun Belt bowl-eligible teams (NO, THE CHAMPION DOESN'T AUTOMATICALLY GO THERE). The GMAC Bowl in Mobile has the second choice. The Sun Belt also has a contingency agreement with the Little Caesar's (formerly Motor City) Bowl in Detroit. (There are also talks about agreements with papajohns.com and St. Petersburg, but nothing has been signed.) The Sun Belt by-laws state that the regular season champion must be accomodated.
At the New Orleans Bowl in December, I was approached by a couple of New Orleans Bowl officials. They made it very clear to me that having the Cajuns in New Orleans was their top priority. They understand that there is no other school in the Sun Belt that will sell more tickets to their bowl than the Cajuns. And, since there is no differentiation between a 6-6 and 7-5 bowl team, my guess is that, in 2010, six wins gets the Cajuns a date in the Crescent City.
And THAT will change the perception. Dramatically.
Now, all the Cajuns have to do is win enough games.