Look out college football. The Pioneer Football League is finally getting its chance to crash the party as one level of college football competition has managed to get a playoff right.
With the announcement on Aug. 16 that the Football Championship Subdivision level of the NCAA will expand the number of entrants in its football playoff, the PFL got the nod as the last remaining conference at the level formerly known as 1-AA to receive an automatic bid for its champion.
Ten of the 12 other conferences already have its champion receiving an automatic bid in the current system. The Ivy League and Southwestern Athletic Conference’s both also compete at the FCS level, but have chosen not to participate in the playoffs since 1982 and 1997, respectfully.
Starting with the 2013 season, the FCS playoffs will expand the number of entries to 24 teams from 20. There will be 11 auto-bids and 13 at-large selections. The top eight teams will now be seeded instead of just four, and each will receive a first-round bye. Those eight teams then will host games in the second-round of the competition. The remaining 16 teams will bid to host a first-round game.
Contrast this to the big boys at the Football Bowl Subdivision level who finally created a playoff to start in 2014 after 15 years of the controversial Bowl Championship Series.
The BCS has been nothing but a giant headache to the average viewer in determining who the top two teams in the country are. The same scenario seemingly has played out yearly with some undefeated team feeling slighted about not getting its “chance.”
Moving to a playoff is the right step toward FBS being a better product. Only admitting four teams and not having a limit on how many teams from one conference can be chosen are wrong moves though.
This is where the NCAA Division I Championships and Sport Management Cabinet have gotten it right at the FCS level.
Compare it to the men’s NCAA basketball championship. While that tournament is full of programs who all have scholarship athletes, the so-called “mid-major” triumphs are glory moments. Those teams who have been seeded among the bottom four spots defeating powerhouse schools seeded among the top four spots are what help make it special.
The PFL has never even had a member receive an at-large bid into the playoffs. Now, although the conference is made up entirely of non-scholarship programs, it will have at least one team every year getting the same chance as its peers at glory.
Is that not what conducting a playoff should be all about? While the playing field may not be equal as far as recruiting the same type of players because of the ability to offer scholarships, the field invited to compete for a championship should be, and now is.
One level has the playoff system done right, showing up its big brother who has yet to fully figure it out.