FCS playoff expansion distinct possibility

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Good news, Dayton, Jacksonville, Liberty and all the football programs that thought they should have been included in the 2010 FCS playoff field.

Bracket expansion may soon be on the way.

Of course, the bad news for those teams is if, and seemingly when, the NCAA increases its 20-team field, it won't change how their playoff bubbles were burst last November or can again for similar teams this season.

The playoff field was increased from 16 to 20 teams last season - the first expansion since it went from 12 to 16 teams in 1987 - and was well received.

But the number of playoff bids still need to get more in synch with an FCS that enters this season with a record 126 teams.

Patty Viverito, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley and Pioneer football leagues, will be in Indianapolis next week when a newly formed FCS Presidents Leadership Group convenes to discuss issues facing the lower half of Division I football, including playoff bracket expansion.

Eastern Washington won the 2010 FCS championship after the playoff field grew to 20 teams for the first time.
"I remain ever hopeful that it's going to happen sooner rather than later," Viverito said.

"I would hope that if they expand, they'd expand to 24. But finances is always the challenge."

Ten of the 20 playoff bids go to conference champions and the other 10 go to at-large qualifiers. There are 11 conferences that are eligible for the 10 automatic bids. The non-scholarship PFL is the one conference that has been denied each of the past two seasons.

The PFL would gain an automatic qualifier if the playoff field increases to 22 teams. Coaches across the FCS, though, generally support a 24-team field, which would add the PFL champ and three more at-large qualifiers.

At 24 teams, 16 could play in the first round, with eight earning byes. Such a bracket makes more sense than 20 or 22 teams.

"The playoffs are our subdivision's biggest asset," Viverito said. "Success in the playoffs is the primary goal of ours every season. Expansion to 20 teams was a very important step to giving more of our teams that opportunity. There's still more deserving teams that deserve that opportunity to play in the postseason. It's certainly our league goal to work for continuing bracket expansion."

"Playoffs are exciting, it just creates that atmosphere on campus that you want with your football program," Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon said. "It's a fun thing to be a part of, so if you can make more opportunities, I think all the better."

The playoff system in NCAA Division II is 24 teams, while Division III invites 32 teams. The FCS is still coming up short of the end zone.

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