PHILADELPHIA, PA -There is so much to love about the FCS Playoffs.
I know, because I’ve been following and writing about the teams involved with the FCS Playoffs for almost twenty years.
The simple premise of getting together the best teams of the subdivision, putting them in a big single-elimination tournament and determining a true National Champion is one of the best things the NCAA has ever done.
And yet, there are some aspects of the whole system that are still begging for some sort of fixing. Even though the premise is still great, what agonizes me is the idea that, with a few changes, it could be something that is the envy of all – even those playing in Bowls.
Here are five ways the FCS could improve their championship almost overnight.
5. Ditch all home-field games and replace them with regional games at pre-bidded sites, if not for all rounds, at least for the quarterfinals.
The FCS subcommittee currently implements a bidding system with the teams involved in the playoffs. Along with seeding, that determines who is the home team during FCS Playoff games, and also who forks over all the money in terms of producing the game.
What this does is have a surprising number of schools put in puny bids in the early games, hoping not to be the ones stuck with the bill for producing the show. Some, like North Dakota State, want to showcase their program and give their teams an advantage, so they will bid high. Others give up.
If the NCAA wants someone to foot the bill for hosting the playoff, why not simply have some programs bid for the honor before a single game is played? Considering that the NCAA wishes to “regionalize” the first few rounds of the playoff anyway – games are grouped in such a way to minimize travel costs – it should be easy to determine regions to host multiple rounds of the playoffs.
For example, Dayton stepped up to essentially become the home of the “First Four” for the men’s NCAA Tournament. Might some schools and/or venues want to bid on the honor of hosting one or more rounds of the FCS Playoffs?
4. Implement a men’s basketball NCAA Tournament-flavored “share” system to distribute to conferences and participants.
In the NCAA Tournament for men’s hoops, each team and each conference gains a financial “share” when their teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and gain more financial “shares” the further they get in the tournament.
An identical system for the FCS playoffs might cost a lot of money; however, the NCAA, in the fiscal year ending in 2014, had a total revenue of nearly $1 billion dollars.
Wouldn’t some sort of share system, even a tiny one, at least ensure that teams participating in the FCS playoffs don’t ever get put in a situation where they lose money? Implementing some sort of share system might be enough to lure back members of the MEAC and SWAC to have autobids into the FCS Playoffs, who have ditched sending their champions there in favor of the SWAC Championship Game and the Celebration Bowl, two games that generate money for their members.
3. Do more to make sure every FCS conference participates in the playoffs.
Anyone who watches the men’s NCAA basketball tournament will tell you what makes it compelling is its diversity. Tiny schools like Butler can face off against giant schools like Texas. State schools like Penn State can face off against high-academic schools like Stanford. It is that diversity which makes it great.
In the FCS playoffs, there has been too much of a “our way or the highway” approach to implementing the playoffs in general, and it has deeply hurt the overall product. MEAC and SWAC schools have been pushed away, and the Ivy League hasn’t really been given much of a reason from the broader membership to want to participate in the playoffs other than various naming and shaming their hypocrisy for not participating.
Access to the FCS Playoffs is a gift that every FCS conference should welcome, and that means thinking of ways to have the tournament be so compelling, to be such good theater, to be such good publicity for your school, that you’d have to be a fool to refuse that gift. Enhancing the playoff, ensuring that all types of schools can more or less equally compete for the championship, will do that.
This leads to:
2. Renegotiate the TV rights to make sure every game is televised, and make sure the broadcasts of the games all work with one another.
Currently, the first few rounds of the FCS playoffs are buried on streaming-only ESPN3 broadcasts, and have been a disaster in timing for those who want to catch multiple games. This year, six of the eight opening-round games started either at 2:00 PM or 3:00 PM, which is asinine if your goal is to have hardcore FCS fans watch multiple games.
Certainly the first round of the FCS Playoffs go up against some very large Rivalry games in the FBS, and that, of course, should be a big consideration when making a schedule. But clustering that many games on ESPN3 streaming at one time, when several ESPN broadcast properties were scheduling reruns of ESPN 30-for-30 documentaries, isn’t right if the goal is to have as many viewers enjoy the FCS playoffs as possible.
During the regular season, ESPNews, ESPN’s sports news ticker, made themselves available to broadcast certain games during the regular season. Why not replace that crawl with three FCS playoff games – one at noon, EST, one at 3:30, EST, and one at 7:00, EST? I have to believe that the viewership of ESPNews would be much higher with a FCS playoffs tripleheader than simply going with the same studio news hosts. And ESPN has to broadcast the game anyway, so why not put it up on a network?
Additionally, extra first-round playoff coverage on an ESPN network would be a nice carrot to allow the MEAC, SWAC, and Ivy League to participate in the playoffs. It would be foolish to opt-out of something like that.
1.Rotate the site of the NCAA National Championship Game with different sites.
Frisco, Texas has been a great site for the FCS Playoffs for some years now. But one of the things that the College Football Playoff has gotten right is the rotation of their championship location with different venues. One year, it’s the Sugar Bowl, another it’s the Orange Bowl.
Why not open up the bidding for the FCS National Championship game to multiple warm-weather cites and/or domed stadiums? It’s not that difficult to envision an FCS National championship back in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it was for years before it moved to Frisco, and a multitude of other interesting venues, like Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, or even the Fargodome up in North Dakota.
The NCAA could have a rotating three-year schedule for the games. One year in Frisco, one year in Charleston, and another in, say, Fargo. In the years they’re not hosting the championship, they are neutral-site hosts of the semifinal games.