GRIZ GRIT: The FCS Championship Could Lose its Luster

By Beacon Staff

Looking five months down the road, since the University of Montana Grizzly football team most likely won’t be competing in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that weekend, it looks like I will be home for the Thanksgiving holidays for the first time in 18 years.

You have to admit that I got your attention here in the offseason, when every Griz football fan is counting the days until the Pflu tenure begins in Missoula and speculating about how the realignment of the Big-10 Conference and subsequent move by Boise State to the Mountain West may possibly affect the future of University of Montana football.

Now, I’m not assuming that the Grizzlies won’t be in the playoff field next year, but I am fairly certain – barring injuries – that they won’t be involved in a post-season matchup in November after their annual meeting with the Bobcats.

You see, with the expansion of the FCS playoff field to 20 teams, something I believe was unnecessary, the top 12 will not play on the first weekend of competition, thus drawing a bye into the second round.

The Big South Conference, which features those old postseason standouts like Stoneybrook, Charleston Southern, Gardner Webb and Presbyterian, and the Northeast Conference, with such household luminaries as Monmouth, Sacred Heart and St. Francis, now join eight other leagues in receiving automatic postseason bids.

Only Coastal Carolina in 2006 ever received a postseason at-large bid from the Big South, something that has never occurred in the NEC where Wagner is forecast to move past Albany at the top of the standings this season.

OK, here you go – Coastal Carolina is located in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wagner is found in Staten Island, N.Y.

In all fairness, maybe the rest of the country’s writers would be saying the same thing about Idaho State and Sacramento State of the Big Sky Conference, but is it really necessary to continually cheapen the postseason by expansion?

Seldom is the third-place Big Sky Conference team really worthy of playing in December and, except for maybe a league like the Colonial or the Southern, which have won the titles nine of the last 11 seasons, does a middle-of-the-road team have a chance of being a Cinderella – like what often occurs in basketball.

So here is how the new 20-team format shapes up: The top 12 will sit out the first round, with the top five teams being seeded, which guarantees homefield advantage as long as a minimum monetary bid is received.

Of course, the winners of the first four games move to the field of 16 for games continuing for three weeks beginning the first weekend of December.

Now since that would place the championship tilt during the Christmas holidays, the FCS championship game not only switched sites for the first time since moving from Huntington, W.V. to Chattanooga, Tenn. in 1997, but also changed dates.

It now will be contested in a soccer stadium (cap. 21,200) in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Frisco, Tex., on the same January day that nearby Cowboys Stadium host the Cotton Bowl, which will dominate the area’s sports sections and overall media coverage.

The NCAA says some 20,000 fans will be interested in driving to the game, and the length of time between the semi-final game and the championship will give fans time to ramp up their enthusiasm and make travel plans to a centrally located site.

I don’t know about either of those possibilities. Time will tell, but I think the game, which the NCAA says may start an hour before the Cotton Bowl, will lose any luster it had gained.

But ask yourself this question: If you win a semi-final to advance to the championship game about three weeks later, what will it cost you to house and feed a football team during Christmas break when the dorms and facilities are closed for the holidays.

Believe me, it isn’t small potatoes (it could approach $75,000) and remember while there certainly are no givens, the Grizzlies have played in the title tilt not just the last two seasons, but five times in the last 10 years.

Is the additional cost to the two competing schools subsidized by the NCAA? I think not.

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