A barrier (real or perceived) that prevents a team or individual from reaching the pinnacle of a respective sport.
Members of college football conferences that are not members of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) are often left out of major bowl bids (see: Utah). That's a real barrier (BCS rules favor greatly teams from BCS conferences) that does not preclude participation, per se, but the obstacles are significant.
Also a phenomenon evidenced when a really decent program (e.g., college football) can not seem to make the transition to a national and/or perennial powerhouse due to self-imposed barriers. Virginia Tech, for example, fails each year to be considered in the same category as USC, Texas, and Oklahoma, teams that have won many national championships. The barrier is a failure to acknowledge and resolve internal staff issues (primarily, the offensive coordinator) which leads to a general perception by the players that they can't play at the Tier 1 level. In this case, the coaching staff has created a "grass ceiling" through which the players can not progress.
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