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Sun Belt champ Georgia Southern appeals to NCAA for bowl eligibility

In its first year in the Sun Belt Conference, Georgia Southern is in the clubhouse as the conference champion with a perfect 8-0 record.

But the Eagles will likely sit at home this winter despite their conference champion status, for the simple fact that it’s their first year as an FBS program. NCAA bylaws prevent first-year FBS programs participate in bowl games unless other conferences fail to meet their bowl requirements.

But with 80 teams now eligible for 76 spots, that ship has left the harbor.

So now Georgia Southern athletics director Tom Kleinlein will appeal to the NCAA for a waiver.

“Our whole basis for the waiver is if you really study the bowl process, there’s been waivers written for numerous things throughout time — for teams that had losing records, waivers when there’s not enough bowl eligible teams and other things,” Kleinlein told Dan Wolken of USA Today. “So when you start to look at that and the uniqueness of what we’ve done in our transition by becoming conference champions, going undefeated in the conference, we made an appeal basically saying does the uniqueness of our situation warrant at least a discussion of this?”

And even if the Eagles were to receive eligibility, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA Today they’d be placed at the bottom of the league’s pecking order out of deference to their conference bunkmates’ seniority. The Sun Belt has four bowl eligible teams - not counting Georgia Southern and fellow newcomer Appalachian State, who also crossed the six-win barrier - and three spots available.

“If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument,” he said. “But we’re conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn’t make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn’t make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal.”

The NCAA has previously denied Georgia Southern’s waiver, and the school is hoping to win on an appeal. Time is running out on Kleinlein and his Eagles. Bowl selections are announced Sunday.

Considering how arbitrary the bowl eligibility process is already, one would assume the NCAA - an organization that tells us it exists to serve student-athletes - would work to provide a deserving group of student-athletes an experience they’ve never encountered before.

But this is the NCAA, after all.