By Greg Johnson
The Division I Football Championship Committee at its meeting last week in Indianapolis decided it prefers to seed the top eight teams if the championship expands its bracket to 24 teams.
The committee, which reviewed several expansion models, was charged by a Football Championship Subdivision working group with choosing an option to accommodate a 24-team bracket in the future. The working group will review the plan and present it to the Division I Board of Directors in April.
No implementation date has been set. The earliest the expansion could go into effect is 2013.
Under the option favored by the committee, the 24-team bracket would feature 11 automatic qualifiers and 13 at-large teams. The FCS bracket currently consists of 20 teams. Ten teams receive automatic qualification and five are seeded.
Under the preferred approach, the committee would seed the top eight teams, all of which would receive first-round byes and host second-round games. The remaining 16 teams would compete in the first round, and hosting opportunities would be open for bids.
Factors such as geography and travel costs would play a role when the committee makes the pairings.
”We would stay away from first-round opponents who are in the same league or maybe have played each other in the regular season,” said committee chair Jim O’Day, director of athletics at Montana. “There may be situations in the second round where teams in the same conference may match up. It’s hard to avoid those matchups when you are looking at it geographically.”
Committee members also looked at a bracket model in which all 24 teams would be seeded, but they felt it wouldn’t be realistic to differentiate more than the top eight teams for seeding purposes because there is so little out-of-region competition during the regular season. That would lead to a lack of reliable data regarding team strength across the Football Championship Subdivision.
Also, in seeding all teams, matchups would be determined solely by seed. That means teams from the same conference could meet in the first round, which the committee prefers to avoid for the sake of the student-athlete experience. Travel costs would likely increase if every team were seeded, as well.
Another model was based on regionalization, similar to the way the Division II Football Championship is conducted. In that model, six teams would be seeded in four regions. Drawbacks include the difficulty in avoiding intra-conference matchups in the first round and the potential for competitive imbalances in the bracket. Strong teams might not make the field because they are located in a competitive region. Also, some regions could be much tougher than others, increasing the possibility that the best teams might not reach the championship game.
Other models examined included having the final four teams advance to one championship-game site on sequential weekends. While that would allow more student-athletes an enhanced championship experience at the final site, there would be a significantly increased cost to host four teams. Field conditions could also be an issue if the site had a natural grass surface. Also, there is a likelihood of poor attendance for semifinals compared to sold-out venues on campuses now.
The committee also looked at placing the semifinals at predetermined sites.
That would allow for more advanced ticket sales, signage and game presentation. But again, it would increase the likelihood for poor attendance, which diminishes the student-athlete experience and revenue generation.
“The biggest challenge we’ll have is selecting the at-large teams for the field,” O’Day said of the preferred model. “But we will be providing a lot more opportunities for our student-athletes to compete in postseason play. That will be exciting.”
In other business, the committee nominated Charles Cobb, director of athletics at Appalachian State, as its new chair. The nomination must be approved by the Division I Championships/Sports Administration Cabinet.