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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 18 2012

Schnepf: FCS playoff selection committee underrates strength of MVFC

Fargo

I’m not sure what was more stunning this weekend in college football: BCS No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon getting knocked off or No. 1 North Dakota State getting the shaft.

At least with Kansas State and Oregon, what happened to them was their own doing on the football field. What happened to NDSU came from a selection committee that vastly underrates the strength of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and overrates the need to make money.

What we’re talking about here is the pairings that were released Sunday for the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs – the tournament that NDSU won last year.

As expected, NDSU was awarded the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye – earning the right to supposedly play the weakest team in this 20-team format.

Unexpectedly and shockingly, its Dec. 1 opponent will be the winner of Saturday’s Eastern Illinois at South Dakota State game.

Really?

Is SDSU, the third-best team from the highest-rated conference in FCS (Missouri Valley), the weakest team in this field? Is Eastern Illinois, the champion from the fifth-ranked conference in FCS (Ohio Valley), the weakest team in this field?

Hardly.

All fingers were pointing to the winner of the Colgate-Wagner game as NDSU’s first-round opponent. Colgate is the automatic qualifier from the eighth-best conference (Patriot League). Wagner is the automatic qualifier from the 11th-best conference (Northeast Conference).

All these conference rankings are based on the Gridiron Power Index – something the selection committee doesn’t factor in when making its pairings, which it should.

“The thing that surprised me was that South Dakota State was the last team selected,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “And that seems to indicate that some of the committee doesn’t understand the strength of the Missouri Valley. That shocked me. They (SDSU) are a lot stronger than the last team in. That’s the thing that a lot of people are scratching their heads about.”

Many are scratching their heads about the committee’s focus on pairing up teams regionally to save a buck – a policy that escalated when this playoff expanded from 16 to 20 teams.

According to Missouri Valley commissioner Patty Viverito, it all came down to the possible bus trip SDSU could take to Fargo.

“Money dictated this … there was no conspiracy involved here,” said Viverito. “If it’s anybody else other than South Dakota State from our conference, this doesn’t happen. It was like the perfect storm.”

Money really shouldn’t be an issue at this level – especially after last year’s playoffs operated in the black, thanks much to the three sellouts at the Fargodome.

But if going regional is the committee’s strategy, then why is it sending the winner of the Colgate and Wagner game across the country to the West Coast. Merry Christmas Eastern Washington.

Word is, a couple committee members – including Ron Strollo, athletic director of Missouri Valley member Youngstown State – were lobbying to have the Colgate-Wagner winner play at NDSU, the SDSU-Eastern Illinois winner play at No. 3-seeded Montana State and the Stony Brook-Villanova winner play at No. 2-seeded Eastern Washington.

It fell on deaf ears.

Now after scratching and clawing its way through the Missouri Valley for that top seed, NDSU will prepare for a tougher team than many expected.

As NDSU head coach Craig Bohl was getting peppered with questions about SDSU during Sunday’s playoff pairings press conference, he quickly reminded the media that there will be another team playing in Brookings Saturday.

“I think it is really important to recognize that there are two teams that are playing guys … let’s be real clear on this,” Bohl said. “It’s important to recognize that these are two really good football teams and we’re going to have to get ourselves ready to play both of them.”

He’s right.

There’s not much that can be done about it now. But perhaps in the future, the No. 1 seed of this playoff gets a little more respect.


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at

(701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com.