FARGO — If you want to boil down the push to expand the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs from 24 teams to 32, it is this: The division is willing to considerably water down its postseason for the benefit of fifth-place teams.
If that doesn't sum up the current state of the FCS, nothing does. Mediocrity makes the rules.
Lord, please allow North Dakota State and James Madison to make the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision to escape this silliness.
We are hitting this topic again (it was a story back in August during conference media days) because Big Sky Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill is again pushing the narrative that the FCS playoffs need to expand because the number of auto-bids to the postseason are set to grow in 2022 when the Western Athletic Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference both become AQ-eligible.
Wistrcill told Matt Brown of the Extra Points newsletter, "The three big Power Leagues (Big Sky, Missouri Valley Football Conference and Colonial Athletic Association) can all get multiple teams in the Playoff, but these leagues are going to start to get squeezed from these autobids."
It was the same narrative pushed by Valley commissioner Patty Viverito when she made her "state of the conference" address on media day before the season.
The argument remains as lame today as it did then, when I ripped it in a blog post.
Nothing's changed. Wistrcill, Viverito and CAA commissioner Joe D'Antonio remain committed to severely watering down the FCS playoffs so mediocre fifth-place teams in their leagues can remain assured they'll be in the hunt for the postseason.
And you know what's the worst? They'll probably succeed because coaches and athletic directors of perennially mediocre fifth-place programs in the Big Sky, Valley and CAA will support an expanded playoffs so they can make themselves look better.
A 24-team playoff field remains the right size for now, and even it might be too big — something I've postulated before. It gives the top eight seeds a bye week, it allows the non-power leagues (including the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League) automatic bids for their champions and it allows enough space for some bubble teams to sneak in (and some to be left out).
In many years, 24 teams is too many. The FCS playoff committee scraps and claws to find the final two or three at-large teams to fill the field and some unworthy squads make the bracket. The truth is, while the top 10 of the FCS is pretty solid year-to-year, there isn't much depth in the division. When you get outside the top 15, there are a lot of wholly humdrum teams. Get outside the top 24 and ... uff da.
Wistrcill, and by extension Viverito and D'Antonio, are pushing a postseason that doesn't reduce the regular season and doesn't lengthen the current postseason. Wistrcill explicitly told Brown that the best route might be eliminating the bye week for seeded teams currently in place between the end of the regular season and the second round.
"Nobody wants to give up their bye, sure, but nobody wants their league to miss out on potential playoff teams either," he told Brown.
The only way to accomplish that would be to expand the field to 32 teams — adding a remarkable eight teams to an already stretched-thin playoff field — and making every team play Thanksgiving weekend regardless of regular-season accomplishments.
So teams like NDSU, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington and other heavyweights can grind through an 11- or 12-game regular season with the sole purpose of getting a top four seed and assuring as many home playoff games as possible ... only to be rewarded with not getting a bye week and having to play four postseason games to reach the title tilt in Frisco, Texas.
What's the purpose of the regular season then?
It would be even worse for teams in the West and Midwest, including all of Wistricill's Big Sky constituents and much of the Missouri Valley.
Because there are so few FCS programs in those regions compared to the East, Southeast and Texas and because the NCAA runs the FCS postseason on the cheap by insisting on as many bus trips in early rounds as possible — the beloved "regionalization" of a national championship — it's likely the first-round games wouldn't be straight seeded matchups.
An NDSU, SDSU or Eastern Washington wouldn't get, say, the 31st or 32nd best team in the field. It's likely Valley teams would have to match up against one another in the first round and Big Sky teams would have to match up against each other in the first round. The playoff committee already sets up the brackets for as many bus trips as possible in the first and second rounds (this is why poor SDSU had to play NDSU early in the playoffs so many years). It would become more pronounced with an expanded field.
Meanwhile, in parts of the country where there are more FCS teams, the tops teams would get easy matchups in the first and second rounds.
It just makes no sense.
And all of this would be to assuage bubble playoff teams that couldn't finish higher than fourth or fifth in their conference during the regular season. We're talking teams that finish 5-3 in conference play, 7-4 overall. These are teams that have no realistic shot at winning a national title and whose playoff fate could be solved with an easy fix — win one more game.
Conference commissioners like Wistrcill continuing to push their narrative is a joke.
I believe it will be formally proposed and passed in the next couple of years because that's just the way FCS is going. The race to rewarding mediocrity will continue.