BY JEREMY HOECK — firstname.lastname@example.org
With four more teams to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff field a year ago, the Missouri Valley Football Conference probably could have qualified more than two programs.
Or, in the minds of league officials and coaches, it should have sent more than two.
Commissioner Patty Viverito made clear during Tuesday’s preseason coaches teleconference that the Missouri Valley deserved more than two playoff bids in 2013.
“Having only two teams in an expanded bracket is not OK,” Viverito said. “We have playoff caliber teams not being selected, and that’s not OK.”
Despite the FCS post-season bracket being expanded from 20 to 24 teams last season, the highest-ranked league in the country earned only two bids: North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
Both won at least one game (NDSU captured its third straight national title), but many who follow the league felt Youngstown State was also deserving of an invitation. The Penguins were 8-3 a year ago, despite losing their final three games, which may have hurt their prospects.
That didn’t sit well in Youngstown, according to head coach Eric Wofford.
“I think it’s very clear that we should have three or four teams in,” he said Tuesday. “Everyone knows that; every coach knows that.”
And still, the Valley had two teams in the post-season.
Despite leading the nation in the Gridiron Power Index (GPI), the ranking model that serves as the top indicator for at-large selection, the MVFC had North Dakota State at No. 1, Youngstown State at No. 9, South Dakota State at No. 12 and Northern Iowa at No. 13.
“That’s the thing that’s unfortunately out of our control,” Wofford said.
As for a way to avoid a similar issue in the future, Viverito pointed to two specific ideas: Help the selection committee “understand and respect strength of schedule,” and continue to schedule top-25 non-conference games.
“We’re not doing a lot of that,” she said, referring to the latter. “Getting them on our schedule; that may be the more challenging part, rather than beating them.”
The University of South Dakota, for one, played in 2013 a model similar to the one Viverito suggested. The Coyotes lost close games to Northern Arizona and Montana, both top-25 and playoff-bound teams out of the Big Sky Conference.
USD head coach Joe Glenn, who previously coached in the Big Sky, was quick to point out that a difference between that league and the Missouri Valley was easy to see late in the season – when the Coyotes played Montana and North Dakota State in consecutive weeks.
“There was no comparison. None whatsoever,” Glenn said.
By that point, USD had also completed its conference schedule (at 3-5), and was able to reflect back on a 6-point loss at Northern Arizona. “And they weren’t as good as people in our league,” Glenn added.
The first Valley coach to talk at length about – and offer a proposal to bolster — the league’s playoff chances was Mark Farley at Northern Iowa.
He suggested that perhaps the league should split into two divisions to have two league champions, and then a third team could possibly earn an at-large bid to the post-season.
“We need to plan ahead and project some possibilities of what we can do to get a third or fourth team in,” Farley said. “Scheduling is a big part of that.”
Viverito was asked about the possibility of splitting the league into two 5-team divisions as Farley suggested, and she wasn’t in favor in playing fewer games.
“I have a hard time envisioning how that logic helps us,” the commissioner added.