By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — In Fargo, North Dakota State is buzzing with excitement as they are headed to the Division I National Championship game after dominating six-time Division I NCAA National Champion Georgia Southern 35-7 this past weekend.
And in Huntsville, Sam Houston State eagerly awaits, basically, a home game in nearby Frisco after holding on for a thrilling 31-28 victory over two time FCS Champion Montana.
To the majority of FCS football fans I’ve talked to over the years, nobody in their right mind would want to trade this type of playoff system for bowls.
But with that other Division I subdivision just starting their parade of exhibition bowl games, it’s worth exploring how FCS could have been robbed had they chosen to have a BCS-style free-for-all bowl system.
In order to come up with this alternative universe, I had to go with certain assumptions.
First (and foremost), with eleven game schedules in FCS (as opposed to twelve in FBS), there simply would not be enough teams available to field the number of .500 teams required to plug into bowls.
For example, in an FCS world, the New Mexico Bowl, which pits the fifth-placed team in the Mountain West versus the seventh-placed team in the Pac 12, wouldn’t be able to be played due to lack of eligible teams.
So the Beef O’Brady’s, Hawai’i, New Mexico, Texas, Music City, Military, and TicketCity.com bowls got cancelled in my FCS universe simply due to this fact.
Next, I had to simulate the BCS system where certain power conferences, through skewed computer ranking systems, get automatic bowl berths through their finish during the regular season.
For the sake of this exercise, I assigned FCS conferences and their equivalent FBS conferences, based on their relative power rankings. The CAA (SEC) and Missouri Valley (Big Ten) were the easiest to assign, while I chose to merge the Big Sky and Great West a year early in order to assign them the Pac 12’s bowl spots for this year.
The other conferences were a lot trickier. The SoCon (Big XII), OVC (Mountain West), Patriot (Big East) and Southland (ACC) worked out fairly well, but after that, it was tough to assign the remainder.
The MEAC (Conference USA), SWAC (Sun Belt) and Pioneer (MAC) were, admittedly, reaches, but then again FCS covers a whole lot of different types of institutions, and financial commitments to football, in its midst.
For the final conference, I ended up having to merge the Northeast Conference and Big South in order to represent the WAC, and the Ancient Eight, the fifty-plus-year-old conference, represent the FBS Independents.
Next, I had to simulate a BCS-style ranking system at the end of the regular season.
Fortunately there is an excellent tool available to do this. One of Massey’s detail ratings includes, oddly enough, a “Massey BCS” calculation, which is perfect for this exercise. (It also means I don’t have to get a spreadsheet or calculator.)
That’s where the first interesting fact emerges.
Massey’s BCS poll at the end of the regular season had Sam Houston State at No. 1, and Georgia Southern at No. 2.
Therefore, had a BCS-style system had been in place, the crystal trophy game would have been between the Bearkats and Eagles instead of the Bearkats and Bison.
Imagine that, a 9-2 team getting a shot at the national championship while leaving a 10-1 team in a lesser bowl. Who’d have thought?
With the rest of the major bowl matchups in this system, there would be some interesting games, but without the prospect of survival for a national championship, you wonder how forgettable the games would have been.
There’s no way a Fiesta Bowl between North Dakota State (10-1) and Old Dominion (9-2) could approach the excitement of competing for the national championship for Bison fans – but for Monarch fans, too, a crosstown sellout versus Norfolk State in the first round of the FCS playoffs wouldn’t have happened, either (which Old Dominion won 35-18). It’s also hard to imagine the excitement topped by the game the following week, too, where Old Dominion lost a shootout to Georgia Southern 55-48.
Would a Rose Bowl between Montana (9-2) and Northern Iowa (9-2) been a classic in Pasadena? In fact, the Griz actually played the Panthers in the playoffs, thrashing them 48-10 on a cold night at home in Washington-Grizzly stadium, but there was a lot more at stake than pride: the winner would get a shot at Sam Houston State.
Could an Orange Bowl between Lehigh (9-2) and Central Arkansas (8-3) have come anywhere close to matching the classic 40-38 win by the Mountain Hawks over Towson in the playoffs in front of a sellout crowd?
And could a Sugar Bowl between Towson (9-2) and Montana State (9-2) been better for Bobcat fans than Montana State’s thrilling 26-25 win over New Hampshire, who lost on a blocked extra point in the closing minute?
The Wildcats’ presence also points out the number of great teams that would have been sitting on the sidelines, being relegated to the role of appetizers for the “major bowls”.
The fates of 8-3 New Hampshire (Capital One Bowl, against 7-4 Illinois State), 8-3 Appalachian State (Alamo Bowl, vs. 7-4 Portland State), 7-4 Eastern Kentucky (Armed Forces Bowl vs. 7-4 Hampton (7-4), 7-4 James Madison (Chik-Fil-A Bowl, vs. 6-5 Stephen F. Austin) and 7-3 Tennessee Tech (Las Vegas Bowl, vs. 6-5 Cal Poly) amply demonstrate the superiority of the playoff system to the bowl system.
Would any of these teams have traded their playoff experience for the chance to play in a bowl? Would they have traded their chip at the table in order to potentially finish the 2011 season with a win?
I hardly think so. The FCS playoffs every year create tension and drama that is simply vacant from the FBS games at the end of the bowl season. Sure, an occasional football game might break out, but the bowl games should be called what they really are – postseason exhibition games that don’t really have anything at stake.
You can’t take an exhibition game involving 8-3 Maine (Cotton Bowl, against 8-3 Wofford) and say it would have offered more drama than their shocking 34-12 upset of Appalachian State and their tough fight against Georgia Southern the following week.
You can never convince me that two different bowls involving 8-3 Stony Brook (Poinsettia Bowl, vs. 5-5 Yale) and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl featuring 8-3 Albany (vs. 7-4 Jacksonville) would generated drama anywhere close to their first-round matchup in Long Island, where the two New York state university schools and rivals were in a struggle to the end, with the Seawolves prevailing 31-28.
Additionally, the winner of the BCS Crystal Trophy game is not an offical NCAA champion, a fact that is often forgotten. There is only one NCAA-sanctioned national champion at the Division I level, and that team will be playing in Frisco, TX on January 7th.
And I have to believe that any fans of an FCS school FCS – especially if they wear the Green and Gold of North Dakota State – think otherwise. They’re never trading the playoffs for Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Here’s how my bowl lineups shook out:
Sun Bowl: Eastern Washington (6-5) vs. McNeese State (6-5)
Cotton Bowl: Wofford (8-3) vs. Maine (8-3)
Gator Bowl: Delaware (7-4) vs. Indiana State (6-5)
Liberty Bowl: Norfolk State (9-2) vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-5)
Capital One Bowl: Illinois State (7-4) vs. New Hampshire (8-3)
Chik-Fil-A Bowl: Stephen F. Austin (6-5) vs. James Madison (7-4)
Independence Bowl: Campbell (6-5) vs. Jacksonville State (7-4)
Holiday Bowl: Samford (6-5) vs. Southern Utah (6-5)
Insight Bowl: Furman (6-5) vs. Murray State (7-4)
Champs Sports Bowl: Brown (7-3) vs. Georgetown (8-3)
Las Vegas Bowl: Tennessee Tech (7-3) vs. Cal Poly (6-5)
Alamo Bowl: Appalachian State (8-3) vs. Portland State (7-4)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Albany (8-3) vs. Jacksonville (7-4)
Pizza Bowl: Liberty (7-4) vs. Drake (9-2)
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Alabama A&M (8-3) vs. San Diego (9-2)
New Orleans Bowl: Grambling State (6-5) vs. South Carolina State (7-4)
Belk Bowl: Penn (5-5) vs. Holy Cross (6-5)
Fight Hunger Bowl: Florida A&M (7-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (7-4)
Outback Bowl: Bethune-Cookman (8-3) vs. Duquesne (9-2)
Armed Forces Bowl: Hampton (7-4) vs. Eastern Kentucky (7-4)
Poinsettia Bowl: Stony Brook (8-3) vs. Yale (5-5)
Compass Bowl: Dayton (6-5) vs. Alabama State (8-3)
Pinstripe Bowl: Bucknell (6-5) vs. Harvard (9-1)
Fiesta Bowl: North Dakota State (10-1) vs. Old Dominion (9-2)
Rose Bowl: Montana (9-2) vs. Northern Iowa (9-2)
Orange Bowl: Lehigh (10-1) vs. Central Arkansas (8-3)
Sugar Bowl: Towson (9-2) vs. Montana State (9-2)
Crystal Trophy Game: Sam Houston State (11-0) vs. Georgia Southern (9-2)