Photo courtesy of Illinois State Athletics
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - Illinois State football coach Brock Spack says he hasn't addressed the issue this offseason, but he feels it among his players.
"There's kind of an edge to them," Spack said.
It goes without saying the Redbirds believed they had a strong enough resume last season - a 7-4 campaign - to earn an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. They were left on the sidelines, however, when the NCAA selection committee announced its 20-team playoffs.
It won't help last year's Illinois State squad, but future teams will benefit if the NCAA expands the FCS playoff field from 20 to 24 teams. The NCAA executive committee reviewed the issue Wednesday and adjourned without making an announcement, but most signs point to approval of a 24-team playoff for the 2013 season in the near future.
The Pioneer Football League stands to gain the most in playoff expansion. The non-scholarship league would become the 11th FCS league to secure an automatic bid for its champion. The other three new playoff spots will go to at-large teams, bringing that number to 13.
The FCS playoffs increased from 16 teams to 20 for the 2010 season and, ironically, a fellow Missouri Valley Football Conference rival of Illinois State's has been sort of the poster child for the benefits of expansion.
North Dakota State snuck into the 2010 playoffs with the final at-large bid, beat Robert Morris at home, trounced Montana State on the road, and took eventual national champion Eastern Washington to overtime in the national quarterfinals before bowing out.
One year later, the Bison captured the 2011 FCS national championship.
"They proved to the country that there were probably a lot of deserving teams that were being left out - national-caliber teams that really needed the opportunity to participate," said Patty Viverito, the commissioner of both the MVFC and the PFL.
Only eight teams would be seeded in a 24-team field, which would help ensure more geographic matchups in early rounds.
There are 122 teams in 13 FCS conferences this season. The Ivy League and Southwestern Athletic Conference don't send their champions to the playoffs.
"I've been told it's absolutely in the budget and going to happen," Viverito said. "Every time I bring it up in an NCAA meeting, they say, 'It's a done deal, it's happening.'"