Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito said she believes the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee made “a conscious decision” to put five Valley teams in the same bracket.
When the FCS playoff pairings were announced Sunday, all five Valley teams were placed in the same bracket. Second-seeded Illinois State, third-seeded North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Western Illinois are all in the lower bracket.
Speaking on my radio show on 970 WDAY-AM Monday morning, Viverito said: “It seems to me the committee has enough latitude in how they break the quadrants up that they’d be able to put teams on opposite sides of the bracket fairly easily. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know what challenges the committee faced when they came up with this. I can’t imagine it was just a horrible oversight and they didn’t realize they’d done it until the bracket was announced. I think it was a conscious decision. I just don’t know what went into the decision-making process.”
Valley supporters are crying foul because the conference is ranked as the best in FCS and they believe MVFC teams, particularly Illinois State and NDSU, should have been placed in opposite brackets. The Redbirds and Bison played in the FCS title game last year, with NDSU winning 29-27 on a last-minute touchdown.
Viverito called the committee’s pairings “the good, the bad and the ugly.” She said her league getting five teams in the playoff field “good.” She said the formulating of the bracket and the regionalization of it “bad.” And she placing five Valley teams in the same bracket “ugly.”
You can listen to the entire interview here: 970 WDAY On Demand: Patty Viverito.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen, also my guest on the radio, avoided criticizing the committee and instead said the process is flawed.
Larsen said regionalization is the biggest issue because once the committee set the seedings, “the die was cast” with the NCAA travel restrictions. In other words, because the second and third seeds are placed in the same bracket once Illinois State and NDSU received those seeds the committee was pretty much forced to keep the MVFC teams in the same bracket for travel considerations.
That’s why it actually would’ve been better — both from their standpoint and from splitting up the MVFC standpoint — for NDSU to be seeded fourth. That would’ve put the Bison in the upper bracket and pulled the Montana-SDSU first-round game with them. Yes, the Bison still would’ve faced another second-round game with the Jackrabbits but any subsequent games would’ve been against the Colonial Athletic Association or the Big South Conference, for example.
Putting NDSU fourth would’ve put McNeese State third and pulled the first-round matchup between Sam Houston and Southern Utah to the lower bracket.
Larsen also expressed sympathy for SDSU, which will travel to Montana in the first round despite apparently being the ninth team in the field. But since only eight teams are seeded, the Jackrabbits were at the whim of the bid process and Montana put in a higher bid.
“If you’re going to seed the top eight, then why not seed the top 16?” Larsen said. “Then that first-round game is not going to come down to who has the bigger stadium or who has the larger fan base. That way the regular season really means something. You’re earning a bid and the opportunity to host a home game.”
Larsen expects the issues will be addressed in off-season meetings.
“It’s come to a head the last couple of years. It wasn’t an issue 3-4 years ago because the Missouri Valley was getting two teams in the bracket. Now we’re making up 21 percent of the bracket. So now the instances of us running into each other are much greater,” he said. “These are some conversations that need to be had at the national level. You can’t fix everything, but at least how can you make it so you’re not seeing the same team every single round throughout the playoffs.”
You can listen to the entire interview here: 970 WDAY On Demand: Matt Larsen.
In the end, I’ll go back to this: If the committee had the opportunity to flop the three and the four seeds, NDSU and McNeese, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Once it was decided Illinois State as the second seed, if the committee wanted a more balanced field it should’ve seeded McNeese third and NDSU fourth.
Switching those seedings would not have made a difference in potential home playoff games because both are guaranteed two home playoff games (provided they win) and would have to travel for the semifinals (provided the No. 1 and 2 seeds also advance).