The decision of which college football teams are bowl eligible comes with fairly high stakes. It determines which programs’ seasons are considered a success and which conferences reap massive bowl revenues.
So it figures the NCAA has tabbed a bunch of bigwig conference commissioners and athletic directors to make the call on whether 5-7 teams can play in bowls and whether eligibility should be tied to academic performance. But perhaps the most important voice on the committee belongs to someone who wears a uniform, not a suit: South Alabama kicker Aleem Sunanon.
Though it seems the NCAA picked the single most obscure player in the country to represent all FBS football players in this process, Sunanon sounds pretty impressive in this ESPN profile.
“When I look at it, I believe that these 6-6 teams should be the bottom line because you don’t want to be rewarded for a losing season,” he said. “That’s what I felt strongly about because you should get a reward for being a successful team, but at the same time — because we were one of the 5-7 teams but apparently our APR wasn’t up to par with all of the other schools that had a much higher rate than us — but I believe that academics should hold a stronger part.
“I feel like if you put a little bit more emphasis on the academic portion of it,” he said, “you’ll see a lot more success, whether it’s GPA or the graduation rate, whatever it is.”
This perspective, of course, is coming from an athlete who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in professional health sciences and is currently working on his master’s in public administration with a concentration in health care — not one who opted to leave early for the NFL draft.
It’s gigantically important to have student-athletes adding their voices to conversation about change in college sports — this was a major tenet of Kain Colter’s union movement at Northwestern — and it’s not always the biggest names whose perspectives best represent the majority. The NCAA and its conferences has done a better job listening to students in recent years, with the creation of several committees of athletes across sports, and the presence of a player in this bowl eligibility process will only help ensure the conversation is fair to everyone.
Or as one prominent college football mind says…
“The more the students can have a voice, I think the better off we’ll all be,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “I don’t know if it’s the South Alabama kicker I’d pick, but to have someone’s voice in there is pretty good.”