Expanded playoffs boost chances for CSU, Citadel
While the BCS has said no — again — to the idea of a playoff for the big boys of college football, the playoff field for Football Championship Subdivision teams is growing.
And that will boost the playoff odds for state FCS schools such as The Citadel, Charleston Southern, South Carolina State, Furman, Wofford and Coastal Carolina.
The NCAA Board of Directors last week approved an expansion from 16 teams to 20 teams beginning in 2010 for the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs.
Two of the four new playoff slots will go to at-large teams. The other two will be automatic bids for the champions of the Big South Conference — of which Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina are members — and the Northeastern Conference.
That means that starting in 2010, there will be 10 at-large bids and 10 automatic bids up for grabs. The Southern Conference, of which The Citadel is a member, already has an automatic bid.
"I think it's a great idea," said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, "to have more schools included and to have the opportunity to make the playoffs. It seems like every year, there are two or three teams that everybody agrees should be in, and for whatever reason, they are left out."
In 2005, Charleston Southern won the Big South championship but was left out of the FCS playoffs because the league did not have an automatic bid at that time. Despite a 7-4 record in 2005 and a 9-2 mark in 2006 — and a 14-game win streak between the two seasons — neither could the Buccaneers earn an at-large berth.
"When we had the 14-game win streak, we felt like we had to run the table just to have hope to get an at-large bid," said CSU coach Jay Mills. "We were in a single-game elimination mode almost from the first game in 2006. Now, this relieves some of that pressure."
Coastal Carolina, which earned an at-large berth in 2006, is the only Big South team ever to make the FCS playoffs.
The SoCon, with its reputation as one of the top leagues in FCS, has produced at least two playoff teams for each of the last four years and nine of the last 10. With Appalachian State having won the last three FCS national titles, the SoCon is well-positioned to benefit from two extra at-large bids, Higgins said.
Last season, App State (9-2 in the regular season) and 8-3 Wofford earned playoff bids from the SoCon. The Citadel, Elon or Georgia Southern, all with 7-4 records, might have slipped in with an extra at-large bid available.
"This past season, we had several teams that in that scenario might have been selected," Higgins said. "I think that will benefit our conference as much or more than anybody else."
Some FCS members had pushed for a 24-team playoff field. Division II football has 24 teams in the playoffs, and Division III has 32.
"We had hoped for 24 and that's what we pushed for," said CSU's Mills. "But we are thankful for 20."
With an automatic bid to play for, Mills said CSU could continue to beef up its schedule with the likes of Miami, whom the Bucs will face in 2008.
"It allows for some flexibility for our non-conference games," he said. "We can play teams like Miami and be rigorous in our non-conference schedule and still know that, like Davidson did in basketball, we can use those games to get ready for a better and more competitive conference season.
"We can have our March Madness, too."
The FCS playoffs last expanded in 1987, growing from 12 to 16 teams. Since then, 28 teams have joined FCS, expanding the current ranks to 117 teams, according to the NCAA's Web site.
"The most difficult postseason to get into has been the FCS playoffs," Mills said. "You look at Division II and Division III, and then in FBS half the teams go to bowl games. So this was the logical move to be made."
In addition to the SoCon, current leagues with at-large bids include the Big Sky, Colonial, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Southern and Southland.
Reach Jeff Hartsell at email@example.com.