We saw it last season at this time when Big Sky conference member Montana (7-4) was passed over by the FCS playoff selection committee because of its lack of 7 Division 1 wins. Their crushing 73-2 victory over Division II Western State was deemed a ‘check mark’ against them on their resume by the playoff selection committee. They simply couldn’t beat them badly enough to make the selection committee change their minds.
This year, Colonial Athletic Association member Delaware (7-4) had to swallow this bitter pill. The exclusion of the Blue Hens in the 2011 FCS playoff field was simply a result of them only having 6 Division 1 wins and their 7th win coming against Division II West Chester.
Herein lies the problem of scheduling non-Division 1 teams.
While small enough already in what will be an amazingly tough Big Sky Conference, the margin of error becomes much less when you add in the variable of scheduling a DII or NAIA school. You might as well just have a bye on those weeks in the eyes of the playoff selection committee. Sure you might get a win on the schedule and maybe have a chance to build some depth and rest some guys, but in the long run is it worth it?
We all know Sioux head coach Chris Mussman has publicly stated he hates playing ‘those games’ because of the ‘n0-win’ factor. Keep in mind he has stated this in the past when FCS playoff berths weren’t on the line because of the transition – even when wins were a little more scarce. We wonder how he would feel about it now given the extra incentive and implication on the playoff selection process.
These objective criteria are no secret. Everyone in the FCS corridors know how it works. Recruiters from other schools can and will use non-D1 games on the schedule against UND in their recruiting pitches to prep athletes. A football program can help itself out by just simply scheduling Division 1 schools exclusively for these two reasons alone.
In their first season of playoff eligibility/Big Sky, UND has one mark against its schedule already when they open with Division II South Dakota School of Mines. As we discussed earlier, there are now rumors they may have to fill a 2012 game to replace 2011 FCS playoff participant Central Arkansas.
We think the choice on who to schedule should be abundantly clear given the consequences. We hope to see another FCS opponent to replace Central Arkansas game if needed. We also hope the UND Athletic Department tries to replace the South Dakota School of Mines game. We understand it will not be an easy task to do. However, we believe it can and should be done. If it means UND has to go on the road, so be it. The UND fans will understand the situation at hand.
The 2012 Big Sky Conference schedule and beyond looks like a breath of fresh air (pardon the pun) for UND. There is a huge improvement from what we have seen in recent years and the excitement it is generating should not be overlooked.
But the reality is this: a non-D1 win is the same as a D1 loss in the eyes of the selection committee, and the playoffs are what matter now and should be priority number one.