McFeely: FCS inches toward seeding 16 teams for playoffs
Hope is to nationalize postseason tournament and eliminate programs from 'buying' home games with high bids
FARGO — The Football Championship Subdivision is inching toward a playoff format that seeds the top 16 teams and relies less on regionalization.
Playoff committee chairman Jermaine Truax, the athletic director at Bucknell, and committee member Matt Larsen, athletic director at North Dakota State, confirmed their group has forwarded several recommendations to the NCAA's Football Oversight Committee for changes to the postseason.
Neither Larsen nor Truax would go farther in their comments.
Larsen, though, did say the basic thrust of the recommendations is to increase the seeded teams for the 24-team playoff field from eight to 16.
The hope was to implement the changes for the 2023 season, but there might not be enough time between now and the beginning of the season for that to happen. The committee hopes to have the new format in place by 2024 at the latest.
The committee began working on changes to the playoffs after a controversy arose when North Dakota failed to get a first-round home game last season despite having what was believed to be the highest bid to host games among the field. The Fighting Hawks played at Weber State and lost 38-31.
At the same time, Montana hosted a first-round game with a strong bid despite being one of the last teams selected to the field. The Grizzlies beat Southeast Missouri State 34-24.
UND and MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito were upset once it became known UND had a higher bid than Weber State, believing the Fighting Hawks should've hosted the game. Truax, however, said the committee looked at several factors when deciding which team gets first-round home games.
Truax said Weber State was rewarded for being what the committee viewed as being the best unseeded team.
Seeding 16 teams eliminates programs being able to "buy" home games with high bids while erasing the appearance that lesser-deserving teams receive home games because they bid more money.
Other than that, the playoff format would remain largely the same. The top eight seeds would receive first-round byes, host second-round games and continue to host based on their seed.
The biggest change would come in the first round. Seeds 9-16 would automatically host, presuming they submitted the minimum bid required by the NCAA, playing the unseeded final eight teams. The winners of the first-round games would travel to top eight seeds in the second round.
NCAA rules currently say that after the 24-team field is selected and the committee determines the top eight seeds, "the remaining 16 teams play first-round games and are paired according to geographic proximity and then placed in the bracket according to geographic proximity to the top eight seeds.
"Teams cannot travel more than 400 miles via ground, and teams from the same conference that played each other during the regular season will not be paired for first-round games."
Under the proposed format, seeds 1-16 would not be based on geographic location although the committee could make minor tweaks to the seeding — moving 9-16 seeded teams up or down one spot, for example — to help the brackets. The NCAA men's basketball committee does the same thing.
The committee could match up first-round games based on geography where possible, but the host team would be based on seeding and not bids.
From the NCAA's perspective, the biggest hangup would be travel costs if FCS goes away from putting together its brackets based on geography. Through the first two rounds currently, the tournament largely stays regionalized in the northeast, southeast, Texas and Louisiana, and the west. There are numerous bus trips through the first two rounds.
The committee's hope is that regionalization would go away by seeding 16 teams and the tournament would take on more of a national feel from the start.
There are those who believe the current format isn't fair for FCS's power conferences like the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Big Sky because teams from those leagues play each other in the early rounds while lesser conferences in other areas of the country play against each other. Eliminating regionality would largely solve that issue.
While there was support from the MVFC and Big Sky for a couple of years about expanding the FCS playoffs from 24 teams to 28 or 32 to assure they got more teams in the postseason, that is dead. With the football merger of the Atlantic Sun and Western Athletic conferences, automatic qualifier spots in the playoffs dropped from 11 to 10 and opened another at-large bid. Having 14 at-large spots is enough to satisfy the power leagues.