Patty Viverito, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, caused a ripple recently when she said that she's working to expand the Football Championship Subdivision playoff field.
The field went from 16 to 20 teams just last season, the first expansion since 1986. The four extra spots accommodated the Big South and the Northeast Conference, whose champions received automatic berths for the first time, as well as two more at-large berths.
But Viverito is also the commissioner of the Pioneer League — who knew you could be commish of two leagues? Her primary aim for expansion is to get the Pioneer an automatic berth. Or at least provide the league a better chance at the playoffs.
Given that the Pioneer plays non-scholarship football, my immediate reaction was absolutely, positively, no way. No league that plays non-scholarship football can hold a candle to the
or the Southern Conference or the other full-boat, all-in FCS leagues.
Didn't care that the Pioneer consisted of Division I schools or what it called itself. They can call themselves the Incredible Hulk League or the
, but no way they deserved playoff consideration.
I saw it as an extension of the self-esteem culture in which everybody gets a trophy, everybody's achievements are equally valued, and nobody should be excluded. Another step on the road to athletic socialism and the ruination of society as we know it.
After mulling it over for a couple days, though, I say: Sure. Why not? Let 'em in.
Do you know who should support playoff expansion or at least the inclusion of the Pioneer champ? The CAA, the Southern Conference, the Big Sky Conference, and every other league that has an automatic berth.
Know why? The
The CAA and all of the other leagues that play FCS football are also the leagues that are often snubbed come NCAA basketball tournament time. They gripe, often justifiably, when excellent teams with gaudy records are left out because the numbers say that the
deserves a ninth at-large bid.
To fuss about the unfairness of basketball selection and then go all snooty and exclusive when it comes to FCS football is a mite hypocritical.
Some will argue that a 10-1 Jacksonville would finish no better than seventh in the CAA. Or that Rhode Island would win the Pioneer League.
Make the discussion about basketball. Substitute "
" for "Jacksonville" and "
" for "CAA." Substitute "Clemson" for "Rhode Island" and "Southern Conference" for "Pioneer League."
Same argument. Teams play the league they're in. Because football teams play far fewer games than basketball teams, non-conference scheduling is much more difficult. There's less opportunity to play top-shelf non-league games. Not that that should matter.
The Pioneer is playing Division I, FCS-level football. How its members choose to fund — or not fund, or underfund — their programs is up to them. The Patriot and Ivy leagues offer need-based aid. The Patriot participates in the playoffs, and the guess is that FCS would welcome the Ivy if the league asked in.
So, go ahead. Expand the field to 24 teams. Invite the Pioneer champ and three more at-larges. Twenty-four out of 126 FCS programs — soon to be 129 — is less than 20 percent of the membership in postseason. Not close to a bloated number.
It's nowhere near the percentage of
teams that make the playoffs — 12 of 32. Or the NBA, where they play six months to eliminate only 14 of 30 teams. It's just about the same percentage as the
Division I basketball tournament — 68 of 345.
Or the NCAA could keep the FCS playoff field at 20, invite the Pioneer champ and make room for only one extra at-large team.
Of course one or more deserving teams might be left out. How's that different than it was with 16-team playoffs, or even with the present 20-team field? Somebody bangs a table and slams a door and says, we wuz robbed.
Would the Pioneer champ get crushed in the playoffs? Probably. So what? America East Conference men's basketball teams lost the past five NCAA tournament first-round games by an average of 21 points. Should they no longer be invited?
Here's a thought: A Pioneer League team could win. Upsets happen all the time. That's why they play the games.
George Mason and VCU make the Final Four.
plays in back-to-back national championship games. Society remains intact. Mostly.