What if i told you every year, that three conferences in the FCS do not participate in the playoffs. Well unfortunately that under the current 24 team setup is true. The Ivy League does not send its champion, and the MEAC and SWAC champions participate in the Celebration Bowl. Some years, like in 2016, a runner up MEAC school can make the playoffs but that is a rarity I wish we would see happen more frequently. This year I was moved by the plight of South Carolina State University. The Bulldogs won seven games that mattered in the FCS considerations (the Selection Committee does not count wins over division two, division three, or NAIA schools, but losses to them hurt your standing, FBS wins count as a plus but losses to them do not hurt).
The best win of this team quality wise was beating Wofford, a good Southern Conference team in the field of 24. The current format and setup of the two Division One HBCU conferences puts them at an unfair disadvantage. The best two teams from each of these conferences (in the MEAC’s case, second best as Florida A&M was ineligible for the postseason) is bound to play in the Celebration Bowl, a game which routinely out draws pretty much all of the FCS playoffs on a yearly basis.
I understand why the MEAC and SWAC send their champions to this showcase in Atlanta every year. The games are always great, and the bands (and all HBCU Bands) are always sensational. One of the most underrated parts of HBCU games for someone who did not grow up watching them, and has began following them a bit more since seeing multiple stars like Tarik Cohen head to the NFL, is that the bands consistently play throughout the game. It gives the game more pace and adds a unique element to every game.
Anyway, back to the main point, three conferences do not send their champions to the FCS Playoffs and it boggles my mind as to why. For the MEAC and SWAC, I would humbly propose that the SWAC eliminate their championship and play all games in one division. Schools could still have natural travel partners they play every year, but having a conference full of teams that you do not always play in one division is not unique to the SWAC at this level, it is a part of the Missouri Valley Conference for instance. In addition, I would work to ensure all SWAC games are done the same weekend the MEAC schedule finishes, before the selection of the field.
Regarding the Celebration Bowl, perhaps a post post season game could be played if the game is to go on, or if ended, I would propose that all MEAC and SWAC schools be awarded the fees from ESPN to broadcast the game, and in return each school gets a set amount more of exposure on the ESPN family of networks not harming the amount of money each school gets, and over time that the two conferences work towards a better deal.
As to the Bulldogs, one could argue that they did something a team in this field did not do, beat a playoff team . The team I am speaking of is Kennesaw State. While the Owls did a lot of great things this season, they did not beat a single team in the 24 team field.
As to the Ivy League, well that is its own issue. The Ivy League, which allows schools in nearly every other sport it sponsors teams in, including the time and travel intensive Men’s Basketball Tournament, for some reason bars its champion from participating in the tournament. While yes, the playoffs happen for a lot of schools around final exams, I find it upsetting that schools say to their student-athletes essentially, if you play football here you cannot play in the postseason, yet if you play basketball and find yourself in the Sweet 16 or make a wonderful run to the Final Four (rare but it can happen) you can miss multiple weeks of school no problem. It is not consistent to me, that needs to change.
How we change
My idea is simple, expand the field to 32 teams, give auto bids to the MEAC and the SWAC Champions which gets us to 26 schools in the field. Next work with the Ivy League to find a solution to their concerns about compromising academics for sport and give their champ an auto bid as well, that gets us to 27 schools. For even numbers, and for parity sake with more schools jumping to the FCS level, giving out the remaining five spots as at large bids is truly the way to go. This would give us the same amount of weekends dedicated to the sport, and the committee could truly seed the field 1-32 and assign opponents accordingly.
So for example, the Bison would always play the lowest remaining school before Frisco and their yearly trek to the National Championship, and the lower seeded teams would be in and have a chance to shock the world yearly. If it is good enough for the true money maker of college athletics, the Division One Men’s Basketball Tournament, I think the FCS could learn from that.
The highest remaining seed has first right to host each round, paying the NCAA a guarantee similar to the current system through the semi finals. However, if their are facility issues, and a neutral site in the town is not qualified to host, then the lower seed could see the game at their place.
Eventually, the FCS playoffs will expand as more teams come in to this wonderful level of college football. Why not do it now and embrace the growing national awareness of FCS Football. It is a great game, let’s get more schools involved in the pinnacle of it, the FCS Playoffs.
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