Mountain West Conference divisional champs are ensured bowl bids under a league rule approved Tuesday — as long as the teams are postseason eligible — a change that could pay off for Fresno State as soon as this season.
The 12-member conference previously had guaranteed a bowl only to the winner of the league’s championship game, which matches the winners of the Mountain and West divisions.
Other postseason-eligible schools are left at the mercy of bowls with tie-ins to the conference. And with two games left in the regular season, the Mountain West could have as many as eight teams eligible but only six invitations set aside for the conference.
But at least the championship game finalists, in most instances, now will be able to feel secure.
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“The athletic directors had a majority vote that if you win your division, you are protected,” said Steve Robertello, Fresno State’s co-interim athletic director. “So even if you lost in the championship game and you’re under .500 but bowl eligible, as a division champ you’re guaranteed to get a bowl invite.”
The proposal had been discussed and supported by a majority last month.
It could prove crucial this season for Fresno State (4-6, 3-3), with the Bulldogs in position to win out and clinch the West but potentially to finish with a sub-.500 record should they lose in the title game.
NCAA rules require teams have at least six regular-season wins (seven if they play a 13-game schedule). A win in a conference championship doesn’t count toward that requirement.
Fresno State closes with games Saturday at Nevada and Nov. 29 versus Hawaii. Win those and a bowl bid is a lock.
There are scenarios in which the Bulldogs could go 1-1 and still win the West, though a victory over the Wolf Pack is a must. But under such scenarios, the Bulldogs then would not be bowl eligible heading into the conference title game.
“The playoffs have begun for us,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Each week, we face an elimination game. We were up for the test the last time (in a win against San Jose State). We know the path to the Mountain West championship goes through Reno.”