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Five-a-Side: NCAA's Damani Leech

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Bethlehem, PA (Sports Network) - As a former Ivy Leaguer at Princeton, Damani Leech knows a thing or two about pulling an all-nighter.

Fortunately for the NCAA's director of baseball and football since 2003, he will get some shut-eye late Saturday, Nov. 20 and early Sunday, Nov. 21. There just won't be time for much of it considering the weekend's importance.

The selection of the Football Championship Subdivision's expanded playoff field - up from 16 to 20 teams - will be conducted on Nov. 20/21 before being announced on Nov. 21 during a 30-minute selection show on ESPNU, beginning at 10 a.m.

Leech isn't part of the selection committee - it is composed of one athletic director from all 11 conferences that are eligible for and applied for automatic qualification to this year's playoffs - but he will be there almost every step of the way serving as a liaison from the NCAA.

This year's playoffs have attracted added attention because the field has expanded for the first time since 1987, with automatic bids going to the Big South and Northeast Conferences, and two more bids going to at-large selections.

Damani Leech is the NCAA's director of baseball and football.
The larger playoffs will have four first-round matchups on Nov. 27, with 12 teams getting byes until the second round on Dec. 4.

Also new is the championship site, Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, which replaces Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn., which hosted the game for the last 13 years.

Instead of the championship game being played one week after the semifinals, there will be a three-week gap before the Jan. 7 title game. Pizza Hut Park, home to FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, will host each of the next three championships.

In Five-a-Side - In the Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Leech discusses the FCS playoffs, including the selection of the larger field. . Let's kick off:

TSN: Obviously, the championship game is three weeks later than usual. What kind of buildup is the NCAA expecting?

DL: We're pretty positive (about) the championship game this year as a result of the bracket growth and then the resulting change in date for the championship, particularly because of that three-week gap that we're going to have between the semifinals and the championship game. So unlike any other year, those teams and their fans are really going to have an opportunity to gear up and plan on descending on Frisco, Texas, for the championship game in a way that they haven't in the past. You talk to some of the teams that played before and it's really just been a fire drill for them after winning a semifinal game. Trying to figure out how to get hundreds, if not thousands, of people to Chattanooga within a four, or five-day period is not easy to do. So now that we have this time, it's going to be better for the teams, we're going to be able to do more from a local promotion standpoint, focusing on those two teams that are coming to town and educating fans about those two teams. When the teams get there, making them really feel special and feel good about their experience because they're going to see a lot more of their own photos and their own logos around the city and throughout the venue in a way that they haven't before because of time.

TSN: The NCAA announces five seeds for the playoffs. Does the NCAA selection committee actually seed the teams 1 through 20, or does it use tiers when it comes to seeding, or does it just look for regional matchups?

FCS playoff selection committee
The selection committee for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs is composed of one athletic director from all 11 conferences that are eligible for and applied for automatic qualification to this year's playoffs (the Pioneer Football League applied but was denied an AQ).

A committee member can provide information about any team within his conference, but can?t be in the room when their merits are discussed by other committee members.

The 11 committee members:


Jeff Barber, Liberty (Big South)
Robert Bernardi, Nicholls State (Southland)
Jeff Bourne, James Madison (CAA)
Wheeler Brown, North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
Charles Cobb, Appalachian State (Southern)
Craig Coleman, Robert Morris (NEC)
Bruce McCutcheon, Lafayette (Patriot)
Jim O'Day, Montana (Big Sky) - chair
Mark Sandy, Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)
Ron Strollo, Youngstown State (Missouri Valley)
Tim Wabler, Dayton (Pioneer)
DL: In terms of selecting teams we're going to select the 10 best teams in the country. So 10 will be selected via automatic qualification and the next 10 will be deemed by the committee to be the 10 best teams in the country. So once we have that group of 20, then we'll go through the process of deciding of that group of 20 who are the five best in the country and then ranking them according to seeds 1 through 5.

The 12 best teams of the 20 will receive a first-round bye and the remaining eight teams will play a first-round game. They won't have a number attached to them. In the bracket, they won't be seeded in any way. But in effect they will be differentiated.

TSN: How much easier is the process now that there are two more at-large bids?

DL: I don't know if it will be easier. As a staff, we just went through a bit of a mock selection to prepare for the nuances of the process and make sure we were clear on how the meeting will flow. We went through it and I don't think it will be easier, I think what you'll find is more teams that look a lot alike when you get down to deciding who that ninth and 10th at-large teams should be. It's sort of like that triangle in the further you move down towards the base the more teams begin to look a lot alike with three and four losses, and one or no common opponent. I think the committee is going to find that process more difficult, not easier.

TSN: When you consider travel expenses and other expenses, a lot of FCS schools sometimes struggle to make money off the playoff games. How can you improve this situation?

DL: The goal of the championship is not to find ways for our institutions or the NCAA to make money off of championship participation. In fact, as an association, this isn't a championship that makes a profit, so to speak. We don't bring in more revenue that we expend. A lot of expenses are tied up in transportation and trying to fly 130-person travel parties across the country in some cases, and that adds up. We're certainly very aware from the feedback we've gotten from our member institutions that hosting a championship game is by no means a financial windfall and in some cases, depending on how teams spend money the further they go into the playoffs, it gets fairly expensive for them. We're aware of that. However, there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Again, as I said, the revenues that are being generated are being used to offset the expenses for transportation and per diem for those visiting teams.

TSN: Is a 24-team playoff inevitable?

DL: I wouldn't say inevitable. It's certainly something that's been on the table for discussion purposes before. It's what was recommended when we ended up with a 20-team bracket. It's what was actually recommended but was not supported. And I know it's something that coaches and some conferences are still supportive of, but, again, it's still something that we've got to figure out a way financially to make work given the cost of just going to a 20-team bracket. The estimated budget impact is going to be anywhere from half a million to three-quarters of a million dollars to go from a 16-team to a 20- team bracket.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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