FARGO — It was in late November of 2015 when Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito accused the Division I Football Championship Committee of sticking it to the league. A day after it was announced five Valley teams that were selected to the 24-team were on the same side of the bracket, Viverito said it was a “conscious decision” by the committee to do so.
She said she couldn’t imagine it was an oversight, that the system needed to be addressed and somehow fixed. A sign of change came in the spring of 2016 when Viverito said there was a “universal acceptance” among FCS commissioners that grouping teams from one conference into one side of the bracket will no longer be acceptable.
In other words, the regionalization concept of playoff selection was to be shelved in favor of a more national bracket.
Four seasons later, that mandate appears to be holding serve.
The four major conferences in the FCS landscape all had their multiple selections split on each side of the bracket.
In the Missouri Valley, North Dakota State and Illinois State are on the top bracket and South Dakota State and Northern Iowa are on the bottom. The four Big Sky Conference selections are also split in half: Montana State and Sacramento State on one side and Montana and Weber State on the other.
The Colonial Athletic Association has Albany on one side and James Madison and Villanova on the other. Nicholls State and Central Arkansas from the Southland are on the top bracket and Southeastern Louisiana on the bottom side. Viverito said Monday it was her understanding that the first draft of the bracket had all three CAA teams on the same side.
“Technically, by their own policy, they wouldn’t have had to separate them but they did and they did the right thing,” she said. “On that, I’m glad they split up the teams in two different halves of the bracket. The rest of this, there is a lot to be unhappy about, not the least of which would have forced them to separate five teams, not four.”
That fifth Valley team would be Southern Illinois, which was left out of the bracket of 24. The Salukis went 7-5, but did have an FBS win and a decent strength of schedule.
“I know what they do is a difficult if not an impossible, thankless task,” Viverito said. “But that doesn’t mean I have to sit back and give applause. They got some things terribly wrong. At the top of the list is not giving Southern Illinois an at-large bid.”
Her other point of contention is pitting No. 7 seed South Dakota State against the winner of San Diego at Northern Iowa. The Valley is the only conference that could have a league rematch in the round of 16.
“If that were commonplace, I wouldn’t be as concerned,” Viverito said. “I think we were singled out in that position.”
So diversity at the expense of a larger travel budget has become the norm in the FCS playoffs from the second round on. The first round is a mixed bag of a regional vs. national feel. The University of North Dakota, for instance, was predicted to play a more regional team like Northern Iowa in the first round.
Instead, the Fighting Hawks are headed to Nicholls State (La.) and the University of San Diego is traveling to UNI. Five first round games, however, do meet the under-400 mile NCAA stipulation for a bus trip: Illinois State at Southeast Missouri State, Central Connecticut State at Albany (N.Y.), Wofford (S.C.) at Kennesaw State (Ga.), Furman (S.C.) at Austin Peay (Tenn.) and Monmouth (N.J.) at Holy Cross (Mass.).