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FCS playoff expansion appears likely

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wednesday may be Leap Day, but that title also could be bestowed affectionately on the day the NCAA expands the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs again.

So many people associated with the FCS want the playoffs to be expanded from 20 to 24 teams that they are hoping it is an inevitability in the not-so- distant future.

It appears so.

Continued growth across the FCS led to the playoffs expanding from 16 to 20 qualifiers for the 2010 season, but the number most have wanted for some time is 24. The FCS commissioners and presidents groups that have combined to champion the cause seemingly got a green light from NCAA president Mark Emmert the first week of January at the FCS championship in Frisco, Texas.

The target for a leap to a 24-team playoff is 2013, not this season.

Illinois State, led by quarterback Matt Brown, was considered the top team denied an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs last season.
"We had some direct dialogue with very specific questions," said Patty Viverito, the commissioner of both the Missouri Valley and Pioneer football conferences who has been a driving force for a 24-team playoff.

"Mark said in that meeting and then repeated the next day at the (FCS) Summit pretty unequivocally that he thought that bracket expansion to 24 was absolutely warranted, and that it was a question not of if but of when and how."

So the touchdown drive seemingly is taking shape.

A FCS presidents advisory group will meet in Indianapolis on April 24 to make the recommendation to a smaller executive committee which will meet one day later. The NCAA doesn't have a timetable for when the board may vote on expansion, although by all accounts it seemingly should be a go.

There will be 124 teams in the FCS this season. The Ivy League and Southwestern Athletic Conference don't send their champions to the playoffs, but the Pioneer League desperately wants an automatic bid for its champion, and Emmert seems to realize the league has been getting the shaft while 10 other conferences claim one. Bracket expansion would send the PFL champ to the playoffs as well as increase the number of at-large bids from 10 to 13.

"When we approached this with the presidents and when they approached Mark," Viverito said, "they tried to make it very clear that this isn't just one of the 89 (NCAA) championships, this championship defines who we are within the governing structure in a way that no other championship does."

With a 24-team field, Liberty could have made the case in each of the past two seasons that it belonged in the playoffs. San Diego would have gone in as a PFL co-champion this past season and Illinois State can say it had its bubble burst more than any other team.

With a 20-team field, the NCAA uses such an odd dynamic with 12 teams getting first-round byes. Increasing the field to 24 teams won't lengthen the playoffs, either, because 16 would play in the first round while eight enjoy byes, thus still leaving 16 teams heading into the second round.

NCAA policy states that only 25 percent of a playoff field requires seeding, so it's likely only six or eight of the teams will have seeds. That will help keep more regional pairings in the early rounds because seeding all 24 teams could create, say, a San Diego-at-Delaware-type of match-up.

Playoff expansion also would make it easier for FCS programs to play a FBS or non-Division I program - or two - in a season. To date, no team has ever received an at-large bid when it didn't have at least seven wins against Division I opposition.

Too many of the points favor the leap forward to a 24-team playoff field. Keeping a 20-team field would feel like a step backward.

FCS AT THE NFL COMBINE

There were 22 FCS players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Josh Buchanan of the influential small college JBScouting.com provides who helped or hurt his draft status:

Helped

Tom Compton, OT, South Dakota - Needs to improve his strength and didn't run better than expected, but had solid numbers in the other drills and looked good in position drills.

Justin Bethel, SS, Presbyterian - Improved his 40-yard dash time from last spring and did very well in the vertical (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches).

Corey White, CB, Samford - Had a 10-6 broad jump, 37.5 vertical, 6.72-second 3-cone clocking and a 4.47 hand-held 40. Very good athlete. If he wasn't a little stiff in the hips, he could fly up the draft board as a 5-11 1/2, 205- pound safety with those numbers.

Hurt

Ryan Steed, CB, Furman - Ran a 4.68 40 and put up pedestrian numbers with a 10-1 broad jump, 34-inch vertical and just 12 reps on the bench press. Probably fell to the fourth or fifth round after his workout. Might fall farther depending on how pro days go. Really needs to run again.

Micah Pellerin, CB, Hampton - People thought he would run 4.4s and he managed just a 4.53 40 and had average numbers in the other testing.

Patrick Witt, QB, Yale - Did not test well, especially compared to the others with just a 4.37 short shuttle, 7.14 3-cone, and 31.5 vertical.

AROUND THE NATION

Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman did not throw at the NFL Combine because of a broken finger on his throwing hand. The plan is for him to throw at an upcoming pro day ... Montana ranked only 57th in the FCS in passing yards per game (209.5) last season, but the Grizzlies' skilled offense figures to open it up more with former Washington State and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Timm Rosenbach on board as the offensive coordinator ... As if not having a head coach for much of this offseason isn't hard enough, Alcorn State won't be helped by its two 2012 non-conference games at James Madison and Arkansas State - both likely losses. Defensive line coach and coordinator of football operations Todd McDaniels continues to run the team until a successor is named for the departed Melvin Spears Jr. ... Silent auction items from the 2011 FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation remain available. Proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

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


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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