Bowl-Eligible: A New Level of Mediocrity
By Wally Adamchik
Jan 22, 2009 - 12:44:56 PM

Over the past few months, as each Division I college football team reached six wins, they were proclaimed bowl-eligible. The NCAA mandates that a team must have at least six wins to play in a bowl game. Notice I didn’t say “compete,” because at that level, one wonders what how much competition there would be in the first place. The television analysts and even some of the coaches made a point of calling attention to this achievement. My local paper made it a headline as the team from one of the nearby schools reached six wins. In a season of eleven or twelve games, when did winning half the time become something to crow about?

There was a time when bowl games didn’t exist. Then, for many years, the University of Notre Dame turned down bowl invitations, asserting that academics were more important. Ah, the good old days, before the Irish were happy to be bowl-eligible! Now we have teams that are bowl-eligible with six wins and six losses and they think this is reason to be proud. They spin their eligibility with the mastery of a political spokesman on a presidential campaign. But, since when has a .500 season been a good thing?

Do they start the season with such lofty goals? Consider this opening game locker room talk: “Alright, men… four months from now, at the end of the season, if we have six wins, if we are bowl-eligible, you will have done your job.” Or what about this season-ending talk? “Well fellas, we got the heck beat out of us this year. Some of our games were just downright embarrassing! But don’t worry about that, because we’re bowl-eligible!” Nice.

While I realize the world of college athletics is not the real world, I also realize that this mindset of celebrating mediocrity is dangerous. The collegiate level retains much of what we love about sports and competition. Sure, it’s big business--but at least we have the illusion that these guys play for love of the game, to give it their all. Yet, the harsher reality is that we live in a global society in which we are increasingly less competitive. We lag in education and innovation. We lead in having a sense of entitlement, in whining, rather than winning.

So, now we come to you. As a leader in a business, you must understand this trend toward accepting mediocrity. “Average is fine,” some will assert, “Heck, who cares if China and India are beating us?? We’re bowl-eligible!”

What are you going to do to combat this regression? Leaders must set the example and articulate the plan. They have to inspire. Managers look at spreadsheets and analyze numbers; they’re not overly concerned about the people playing the game. Managers are happy to be bowl-eligible.

The last time I played, I didn’t play to be okay, acceptable, or average. I played to win it all! My comrades in the Marines don’t go into battle, willing to accept any loss. My clients don’t accept mistakes or excuses--and neither do yours. My team aims to give superior service every time we are with clients. We don’t want to be bowl-eligible, and neither do your employees.

Wally Adamchik is the President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, a national leadership consulting firm based in Raleigh, NC. You can visit the website at or email him at [email protected]. His book is No Yelling ( was selected by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the best business books of Summer 2007.

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