By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
FCS to expand playoff field
Placeholder Image
    Beginning in 2010, four more teams will be included in the Football Championship Subdivision postseason party.
    Coaches have been urging the NCAA to expand the FCS  playoffs, and the current field of 16 will increase to 20 with two new spots going to at-large teams and two awarded to champions of the Big South and Northeastern Conferences. In total, there will be 10 automatic bids and 10 at-large invites.
    “It seems like every single meeting the No. 1 topic is playoff expansion,” said Elon coach Pete Lembo, who represents the Southern Conference on the FCS Coaches Executive Committee. “We’ve been lobbying hard for several years for the simple reason that we are Division I but we have such a low percentage of our student-athletes who get an opportunity to participate in the postseason.”
    The FCS playoff field hasn’t expanded since 1987 when it grew from 12 teams to 16. Since then, 28 new programs have joined the FCS giving it 122 total teams and the lowest playoff ratio in the NCAA.
    “It’s time for expansion because you’ve got a lot of good football teams finishing 8-3 or 9-2 that aren’t getting into the playoffs,” Furman coach Bobby Lamb said. “It’s tough to go to your kids and say, ‘We were 8-3 this year, but we didn’t get in.’ I think it’s a good step in the right direction.”
    Like his peers, Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher is in favor of the larger field and would like to see the number of teams increase to 24, the amount of participants in Division II’s playoffs.
    “I think the more opportunities you give for postseason play does nothing but enhance our level of football,” said Hatcher, adding that teams from the same conference shouldn’t be scheduled to meet in the playoffs until the title game.
    The SoCon is traditionally one of the strongest leagues in the FCS, and conference coaches are hoping one of the two additional autobids would go to a league member.
    The exact format of the 20-team playoff hasn’t been determined, but one model includes four first-round games played prior to Thanksgiving with the top 12 teams earning byes.
    Regardless of how it shakes out, schedule changes are unavoidable to allow time for the added playoff round. The FCS isn’t interested in moving its mid-December title game any later, which means teams may be forced to eliminate open dates.
    “(Schedule adjustments) are a challenge, but at the same time, when you have so many programs that need to do it, there are going to be opportunities to work together to make that happen,” Lembo said. “We’ve got over two years to shuffle some things around if we need to. In this case, the benefits of the change make it worth doing.”
    Along with the SoCon, autobids are currently awarded to the Big Sky, Colonial Athletic Association, Gateway, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Ohio Valley, Patriot League and Southland champions. Even after the Big South and Northeastern Conferences are added to that list three seasons from now, further expansion appears inevitable.
    Currently, conferences with six members that compete in Division I in all sports can lobby for an automatic playoff berth. The number of eligible leagues is likely to increase, and Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton has helped create a proposal that would allow the playoff bracket to grow each time an FCS conference becomes qualified.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.