Missouri Valley schools still upset about playoffs
FARGO — The Missouri Valley Football Conference opened its 2014 doors for business Tuesday with one leftover thought from 2013: The league is still fuming after only two teams reached the Division I FCS playoffs.
Expanding the playoff field from 20 to 24 teams was billed as a victory for the Missouri Valley with the theory that more of its teams would get a postseason bid. It didn’t happen, and coaches and administrators on the annual pre-season teleconference call weren’t shy in addressing it, either.
Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley said the conference needs to come up with a plan, going as far as saying perhaps dividing the league into two divisions that would yield two champions could help.
“We need to plan ahead and project some possibilities what we can do to figure out how to get a third and fourth team into the playoff system,” Farley said. “A lot of research has to be done. This is a great league and we’re getting only two teams in now and I don’t know if that will change.”
Valley Commissioner Patty Viverito, in response to a question on Farley’s comments, said she’s open to any conceivable plan that would give the league more opportunities for postseason. Two five-team divisions, however, is not what she would endorse.
“I have a hard time envisioning how that logic helps us,” she said.
A better way, she said, is scheduling teams ranked in the top 25 of the FCS polls and winning.
“And we’re not doing a lot of that,” Viverito said. “It’s not because we’re afraid to play them. I think the harder part of the equation is getting them on our schedule, and that is more of a challenge than actually beating them.”
Yes and no, last year anyway. Of the 38 nonconference opponents of Valley teams, only five finished the season in the top 25 FCS coaches poll. But the Valley went 2-3 in those games, with Northern Iowa beating McNeese State and South Dakota State stopping Southeastern Louisiana.
The three defeats were close. South Dakota lost 31-27 to Montana and 22-16 to Northern Arizona while Southern Illinois dropped a 31-27 overtime game to Eastern Illinois.
“We need to do a better job in nonconference,” said Missouri State head coach Terry Allen, pointing at his own team losing 17-13 at then-No. 13 Central Arkansas last year.
North Dakota State and SDSU reached the field last season. SDSU won at Northern Arizona in the opening round before dropping a quarterfinal game at Eastern Washington. The Bison ran the table for their third straight title.
The bracket was expanded to include 11 automatic qualifiers and 13 at-large entrants. Youngstown State, at 8-3, had the best case for a Valley team not getting in.
“I think it’s very clear we should have three or four teams in, I think everyone knows that,” said Youngstown head coach Eric Wolford. “There’s no doubt eight wins and you’re in, and that wasn’t the case. I think it’s frustrating to the other coaches in our league. We need to find a way to get that third or fourth team in.”
The Valley has had at least two teams in the playoffs for the last 19 years. Since NDSU became playoff eligible in 2009, the league had three teams selected just once — in 2010 with UNI, NDSU and Western Illinois.
It happened just two other times since the league’s inception in 1985, and that came in 2003 and 2006, although the FCS bracket for most of those years consisted of 16 teams. It went to 20 teams in 2010.
Last year, the Missouri Valley pointed to its Gridiron Power Index status as the top league as evidence. The conference also had four teams ranked in the top 97 out of 252 programs in all of Division I college football in the USA Today Sagarin Ratings, led by NDSU’s lofty No. 17 ranking.
“Having only two teams in the expanded bracket is not OK,” Viverito said. “We have playoff-caliber teams that are not being selected, and that is not OK. I know the coaches are frustrated and rightfully so. I think we need to do everything we can to help the committee understand and respect the strength of schedule, and there’s no doubt over the last several years the Valley has been the No. 1 FCS conference.”