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Bid bewilderment: FCS football playoff selection, hosting process needs an overhaul

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Nov 29, 2022

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

A wide shot of a kickoff between Weber State and North Dakota is seen during an FCS first-round playoff game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

In the week-plus since the 2022 FCS football playoff field and bracket was revealed, it’s become clear the process needs to be overhauled.

The 24-team playoff field is selected and places in a bracket are assigned by a selection committee. The only must for the committee is to include teams who earned automatic bids by winning their conference championships. The rest are at-large selections based on subjective evaluation by the committee.

The top eight teams are seeded one through eight and awarded a first-round bye, according to a subjective process from the committee. The other 16 teams play in the first round; who hosts the eight games at home in the first round is, again, decided by the committee.

Schools that desire to host games must send a bid that commits a guaranteed monetary amount to be paid to the NCAA. The host school gets to try and recoup some of that bid money by selling tickets, but only slightly: the NCAA keeps 85% of ticket revenue.

To cut down on travel, the first two rounds of the bracket are also designed with regional matchups in mind.

Several problems with this process came to a head in this year’s playoff field.

One of those was Montana (7-4 in the regular season), who was said to be the last team in the field, ended up hosting a home game against a Southeast Missouri State (9-2) team with a better resume (SEMO beat a team that finished ranked this season, for example, while Montana did not). Montana historically submits a strong monetary bid to host home games due to its larger stadium and dedicated fanbase.

Playoff committee chair Jermaine Truax told Lucas Semb, a reporter for The Missoulian, that though the committee did not know Montana’s exact bid to host a home game until after the 24 teams were selected for the field, the committee did know how big, historically, the bid usually is and included that among factors it considered when deciding if the Griz should be in the field in the first place.

Yikes.

As an aside about other subjective items, Truax, in his conversation with Semb, said the committee gave Montana credit for scheduling Missouri Valley Football Conference teams as part of a strong resume that should see UM included in the field, but he failed to acknowledge those teams (South Dakota and Indiana State) went a combined 5-17 this season.

One of South Dakota’s wins was a 17-point triumph over Cal Poly, a 2-9 team that lost to Montana by 57. The other Montana opponent from the MVFC was Indiana State, a 2-9 team that won games over two teams who were a combined 1-21 this season.

Weber State, meanwhile, was awarded a home game despite having a bid much smaller than North Dakota’s. Tom Miller, a Grand Forks Herald reporter who was on site in Ogden to cover UND play WSU, reported via records requests that UND’s bid to host a game was $127,500 and Weber’s was just shy of $42,000.

Historically, it’s been understood that schools that submit the highest bids are awarded home games. That, apparently, is not the case. Truax told Miller other factors matter, too, such as facilities, travel, attendance and each team’s performance.

So the committee had a problem. Weber State — a team with an 8-2 record against Division I teams that included a 28-point blowout win of Utah State, who was 6-5 at the time of the FCS playoff selection and clearly represented the lower subdivision’s best win over an FBS team this season — was not selected as one of the top eight seeds. The Wildcats were very clearly the No. 9 team in the pecking order and would have been evaluated as such by any FCS writer or expert in the country, and may have been so considered by the committee.

So the committee simply could not send that team on the road after assigning them to play in the first round.

(And, to pit Weber against UND directly is folly because the committee could have changed the matchups to better reward North Dakota for its strong monetary bid and sent someone else to Grand Forks to play the Hawks there, like Idaho perhaps.)

So Weber State hosted a home game because, Truax said, its on-field performance won out — a logical decision for a committee using subjective criteria. But for Southeast Missouri State, that same logic didn’t apply when it came to playing at Montana.

And, as the understood No. 9 team, Weber State was bracketed to play No. 4 seed Montana State in the next round — not, say, No. 8 Holy Cross, like usual tournament formatting might suggest. That’s because of regionalization: the committee tries to limit travel in the first two rounds.

That seems pretty unfair to both Weber State and Montana State.

Not only are the explanations of how seeds are assigned, bids awarded, teams selected and matchups paired for the field rather scattershot, but it gets more strange: seeded teams are not necessarily guaranteed to host their second-round games. Teams send bids to the NCAA for hosting those games, too.

The same criteria are used to choose who hosts in the second round and, as Truax told Montana State beat writer Victor Flores of 406mtsports.com, “the committee tries to reward the seeded team with the opportunity to host.”

The second-round minimum bid is around $48,000, Semb reported, who added the hypothetical that if Montana State did the minimum and Weber State bid twice that much, there would be a conversation about who hosted the game despite MSU being the No. 4 seed and Weber being unseeded.

Does your head hurt yet? Mine too.

It could be so much more simple, and the fixes are easy as long as the Division I football oversight committee agrees to recommend the end of regionalization beyond the first round. Subjectivity from a committee is not totally avoidable, but cutting down on the number of subjective factors would go a long way.

First, the top 16 teams should be seeded, with the top eight being awarded a bye and a second-round home game.

Seeds No. 9-16 should then be assigned to host home games in the first round, provided they agree to a small, minimum, standardized monetary guarantee and can provide proof of adequate facilities. All bids to host would be equal (say $40,000 for the first round). Schools could not outbid one another to host games and most teams would only be kept from hosting home games by failing to agree to the small, standardized bid.

Using those top 16 teams, the bracket should be arranged in the way sports tournaments are typically organized using seeded teams, regardless of geography.

Then, the final eight teams in the field would be unseeded and assigned road games based on geography while avoiding rematches from the regular season. This would still allow for limiting travel costs, but in the first round only and only after the top 16 are rewarded for on-field performance.

Seems simple, right? If only the simple and obvious could always rule the day.

Until then, it’s difficult to crow too much about the merits of the FCS playoffs over the FBS postseason because there’s too much caught in the translucent haze of how the whole thing comes together.

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