LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – After its stunning blowout win over soon-to-be Conference USA foe Liberty on Saturday, New Mexico State hopes its 2022 season isn’t done just yet.
On Monday, the Aggies filed an appeal for a waiver with the NCAA to become bowl eligible, despite being 5-6 on the year. The NCAA requires teams to win six games for bowl eligibility; that number bumps up to seven wins if a team plays two FCS opponents in a season.
NMSU’s waiver hinges on two points. First, that the Aggies were not able to play their full 12-game schedule due to tragic circumstances. Second, that since they were not able to play that game due to no fault of their own, the Aggies should jump ahead of teams that are 5-7 and played their full allotment of games because, effectively, a 5-6 record looks better percentagewise than 5-7.
“We did not have an opportunity to play that 12th game and that was out of our control,” NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said. “We’ve asked everybody that’s possible that’s out there and they’ve all said no. As I understand it, we are currently in the pool with the 5-7 teams for consideration, but we are asking to be put at the top of that list.”
There are 79 bowl-eligible teams (with at least six wins) for 82 spots with Buffalo (5-6) playing Akron Friday in a rescheduled game. Depending on that result, either two or three five-win teams will be needed to fill the bowls, which would be filled based on Academic Progress Rate scores (APR).
When five-win teams are needed to fill the bowls, the NCAA uses the most recent APR scores to select the order the teams are taken. Rice had the highest APR score of the five-win teams, followed by UNLV and Auburn, so Rice is guaranteed a bowl.
New Mexico State ranks far down the list of FBS programs on the APR rankings – 124th – which is why NMSU’s waiver to be placed in line in front of 5-7 teams due to the circumstances of their 5-6 record is so crucial.
NMSU’s Oct. 22 game vs. San Jose State was postponed, then subsequently cancelled after the sudden death of Spartans running back Camden McWright the day before the game was supposed to be played in Las Cruces.
Moccia said that the university asked three available FBS teams and 11 available FCS teams to play them during their Nov. 5 bye week, but everyone declined. They also contacted multiple FBS teams about playing this weekend, but none of the schools they asked would agree to play, leaving them without a 12th game vs. an FBS opponent.
“When I got here they were lined up like club sandwiches to play us and now when we can’t get anyone to play us when we need to,” NMSU head coach Jerry Kill joked on Monday, before getting serious. “I don’t think we should be punished for something that happened that was out of everyone’s control. There’s no book on how to handle a player dying and there’s no book on how to handle this situation.”
NMSU’s waiver was being submitted Monday and while the university is hopeful they’ll hear back on it sooner rather than later, Moccia said he anticipated it could take until Saturday.
“With the bowl announcements being on Sunday, we would anticipate hearing what the NCAA or the FOC committee will determine before then,” Moccia said. “The deadline would be Saturday, but you’d like to hear something on that front as soon as possible as well.”
Moccia told reporters that a waiver of this regard appears to be new territory; it’s the first time that he was aware of a school appealing for something of this nature.
“The 5-7 APR thing hasn’t been around forever but this is not something that anyone from the football committee has ever had put in front of them before, so it is a little bit new,” Moccia said. “(NMSU’s argument) is very compelling individually; collectively, when the group makes the decision hopefully they see it the way we see it.”
In its final year as an FBS Independent before moving to Conference USA in 2023, NMSU has a bowl contract with ESPN that it signed in 2019 that runs through 2025. If the Aggies waiver is granted, it would seem likely that an ESPN bowl would be their destination.
The New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 17 in Albuquerque would be an option for NMSU, because it is an ESPN bowl game. Moccia didn’t want to think too far ahead on Monday before the Aggies had received the waiver, but NMSU playing a bowl game in its home state would certainly drive up fan interest.
The Aggies are also awaiting the ruling on a completely separate NCAA waiver that would allow them to play another game on Saturday, Dec. 3, vs. FCS opponent Valparaiso. That appeal was submitted by Valparaiso, not NMSU, but the Aggies had calls into the NCAA on Monday looking for an answer.
NMSU wants to play that game, not for bowl eligibility, but to give its seniors one final home game and its fans another opportunity to see the team that has far-exceeded expectations in year one under Jerry Kill.
Valparaiso needs the waiver because FCS schools are only permitted to play 11 games in the regular season by the NCAA.
Moccia said the schools would likely need to hear from the NCAA by the end of the day Monday in order to make plans to play the game.
“We for sure want to play,” Moccia said. “We understand that if we were fortunate enough to win that game, it would have nothing to do with bowl eligibility based on the fact that we already played an FCS school (Lamar). “
FBS schools that have more than one FCS win in a season must win seven games, rather than six, in order to be bowl eligible.
It’s possible that both waivers go NMSU’s way; it’s possible only one of them does and its possible neither of them do. The fate of the Aggies’ bowl hopes and their hopes of playing a 12th game currently sit in the hands of the NCAA.