FARGO — For a fan base as savvy in the ways of the Football Championship Subdivision as North Dakota State's, you'd think it'd have learned by now how the playoffs work.

Yet when the NCAA unveiled the playoff brackets for the 2021 Road to Frisco and it became known the Bison will have to play fellow a Missouri Valley Football Conference team in the second round — either Southern Illinois or South Dakota — the griping commenced.

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"Why do we have to play another Valley team right away while Sam Houston gets a cakewalk with a Southland Conference team?!?" was the basic refrain, at least on Twitter and our InForum live blog.

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The answer is the same as it's been for the 12 seasons since NDSU first qualified for the FCS playoffs: Because money matters to the NCAA and any opportunity it gets to use a bus trip instead of a plane flight, it will do so.

So the potential to have USD take a bus to Fargo outweighs the "fairness" of the field's second seed taking on a couple of competent Valley teams instead of a likely overmatched Southland, Northeastern, Patriot or Southwestern Athletic team.

And, no, this is not universal in the NCAA's decision-making. That's why No. 3 seed James Madison will get a cakewalk in the second round by playing either Florida A&M or Southeastern Louisiana, both of which will have to fly to Harrisonburg, Va.

Hey, life ain't fair.

That the Bison got the second seed is the most important takeaway of Sunday. It assures homefield advantage through the semifinals as long as NDSU wins. Nobody in FCS wants to play in Fargo in the playoffs and the committee assured they'll have to.

Great FCS minds — OK, me — said all along the Bison deserved the second seed over JMU if they finished 10-1 because they had a much tougher schedule and more impressive victories than the Dukes'. I was right, and the committee got it right, by ranking the Bison one slot behind No. 1 Sam Houston.

Committee chairman Thorr Bjorn, athletic director at Rhode Island, said there was much discussion about which team should get the second and third seeds. It came down to the schedule and quality of victories, as common sense would dictate.

"When you look at it, NDSU was 3-1 against the field and James Madison was 0-1 against the field," Bjorn said. "Two great teams. That's the difference right there."

The Bison beat playoff teams Missouri State, South Dakota and Northern Iowa while losing to South Dakota State.

The only playoff team James Madison faced was Villanova, and the Dukes lost.

Other than the annual issue of the Bison having to face a Valley team early in the bracket — it's happened numerous times with SDSU and Northern Iowa — NDSU's path to Frisco is pretty standard.

The fact is, NDSU just blew USD off the field 52-24 on Saturday and Southern Illinois was trounced 35-18 at home by a 3-7 Youngstown State squad that the Bison recently hammered 49-17. If the Bison can't beat either USD or Southern Illinois at home, coming off a bye week, they don't deserve a trip to Frisco anyway.

After that, it could get more interesting. If the Bison advance to the quarterfinals, their opponent would be either No. 7 seed East Tennessee State or the first-round winner between Davidson and Kennesaw State. It will be a new opponent either way and NDSU would be heavily favored.

And, of course, lurking for a potential semifinal matchup is James Madison. The Dukes are leaving FCS after this season, so that game would be a terrific cap to a nice playoff rivalry built since 2016 between JMU and NDSU.

Long ways to go, but a semifinal game between the Dukes and Bison at the Fargodome would be over-the-top nuts.

Yes, the Bison are getting a tougher second-round foe than James Madison, Villanova and Sam Houston. That's the way regionalization works. Instead of griping again, Bison fans, enjoy the ride. The tough Jackrabbits are on the other side of the bracket and there could be fun as hell games coming to the dome.