Rob Weiss, FCS Update:
The end of November is always an exciting time in FCS football. For 16 teams it means the beginning of a shot at the national championship. Starting in 2010 that number will jump to 20 with the addition of automatic bids for the Big South and NEC, and 2 more at-large bids.
When the playoffs started in 1978 there was only 4 teams involved. In 1981 the format changed to 8 teams. One year later the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams, with 4 teams getting a first round bye. The first 16 team playoff bracket was formed in 1986.
With the first change in over 20 years only a season away, another change is already brewing.
A little more than a month ago the rumors began spreading that the Pioneer Football League, a non-scholarship football only conference, was applying for an automatic bid. The league is in its 17th year of operation and it currently ranges from coast to coast. The ten team conference is composed of Butler, Campbell, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Jacksonville, Marist, Morehead State, San Diego, and Valparaiso. Although the Pioneer League has not officially announced it’s intentions, the rumor was confirmed by Morehead State Athletic Director Brian Hutchinson. ( http://www.wkyt.com/wymtsports/headlines/61520037.html )
This announcement has stirred up a lot of arguments in the FCS community. Here are the two sides to that argument:
“The Pioneer League meets all requirements”- This is the positive side of the discussion, and it’s true. The Pioneer meets all of the requirements set forth by the NCAA for teams who want to apply for an automatic bid. They are one of three conferences who are eligible to apply for an autobid, but most likely the only one that will apply.
I agree with this side of the argument. There is no reason to keep a league from applying for an automatic bid if they meet all of the requirements put forth by the NCAA. If the NCAA plans to exclude them, they would have to change the language in the by-laws. If they Pioneer League is denied, they will be the only qualified applicant who has been denied. The SWAC and Ivy show no interest in participating at this juncture.
“The Pioneer League is not competitive”- The other side of the argument is that the teams in the Pioneer League do not schedule properly and are not competitive when playing against teams from the other auto bid conferences. Statistically, since 2002 the Pioneer League is 7-25 against teams from auto bid conferences. They were outscored in these games by a total of 1132-486. In the 7 games that they won, their opponents combined for a record of 18-54, although one of those wins was against a 2007 Fordham team that won the Patriot League and lost in the first round to Massachusetts. There are two teams, Butler and Campbell, that did not play teams from automatic bid conferences during this period. The other issue that makes the Pioneer League appear to be weak is the losses to sub D-I opponents. The 10 teams in the league have combined for 53 losses to sub D-I opponents since 2002.
It’s hard to disagree with this side. If the Pioneer League intends to participate in the playoffs, some changes need to be made in order for them to be competitive. The changes need to start with the schedules. The teams in the Pioneer League need to schedule less sub D-I teams and more teams from auto-bid conferences. Hopefully with some changes the Pioneer League will find itself competitive and their playoff match-ups won’t end up like a 1 seed playing a 16 seed in March Madness.