An increase in the number of FCS playoff seeds is in the works with hopes it can be implemented by the upcoming season.
The current FCS playoff structure has been in place since the field expanded in 2013 — 24 teams with eight seeds. How the bracket is formed and the criteria the playoff committee needs to follow has been scrutinized for years. But it hit its peak last season, resulting in perhaps the biggest push for changes to be made by fans, media, and administrators at FCS schools/conferences.
A pivotal change has been presented to the NCAA this offseason, and that is to seed 12 or 16 teams in the bracket.
“We were in Indianapolis together in February,” Eastern Kentucky director of athletics Matt Roan, who is on the FCS playoff selection committee, said on the FCS Football Talk podcast. “And you had the opportunity to hear from Team Frisco, you had the opportunity to hear from different commissioners around the country, different experts, ESPN, just kind of talking about our subdivision and certainly our championship. Things that we can do to bolster what we’re already doing well and things we need to change.”
The Division I Transformation Committee came out with its final report and recommendations earlier this year. Some of the recommendations pertained to postseason play, including an increase in the championship budgets and expanding bracket access for 25% of active Division I members.
Last year at this time, there was a push from some FCS commissioners to expand the FCS playoff bracket. But at that time, the reason was due to the bracket expecting to increase from 10 auto-bids to 12 auto-bids with 12 at-large bids. The bracket is back down to the usual 10 auto-bids and 14 at-large bids after the ASUN-WAC and Big South-OVC mergers.
The desire to expand the bracket has since cooled off. Now, the want is to increase the number of seeds.
“If you look at 25% of FCS membership, you’re probably looking at a range of 30-36 teams in that field,” Roan said. “As a committee, based on us representing the interests of our leagues and of people who care about FCS football, we think that 24 is the right number for us. But one of the things that we are exploring is rather than just seeding the top eight, is there a way to seed more? Can we get to 12? Can we get to 16? What is that right number? I know the NCAA staff right now is doing some data mining to figure out what would be the change in cost. Can we protect geography, but at the same time make this more of a national tournament and make those things go together.”
Roan said he is optimistic the FCS playoffs could see more seeded teams by this upcoming season.
“Our liaison, Ty Halpin, works really close with our committee,” Roan said. “He’s a tremendous partner. He and his staff are doing that work right now. I feel like just talking to Ty recently and talking to different members of the committee, we feel like there is some momentum here, and we’re excited to see what the process delivers.”
“We would like to get that research done to be able to present it in a timely fashion to where the ’23 postseason with the ’24 championship, where this new model could be something that is realized by then,” Roan added.
The FCS playoffs has just eight seeds and a regionalized bracket to save on costs. But the NCAA is set to have a new broadcast deal to air a bulk of its postseason tournaments, which is expected to bring in much more revenue than the current deal the NCAA signed with ESPN in 2011. That deal ends in August 2024. This coincides with two notable recommendations from the transformation committee:
- Evaluate each sport for potential growth in visibility, digital engagement, and revenue generation, including additional sport-specific sponsorship and partnership opportunities to further modernize, elevate and, in some cases, finance the enhanced Division I championship experience.
- Increase the championship budget to accommodate recommendations to expand championship access, ensure the highest level of bracket composition, and elevate the travel experience for student-athletes.
Roan believes the new TV deal will benefit the FCS playoffs, regardless of if it is again a part of the tournament bulk package or is shopped around independently.
“As you look at trying to offset any increases as things continue to get more and more expensive, more revenue might be added to those increases in expenses,” Roan said. “I think we’re seeing it across the country, college sports, people have an appetite for it. As we go back out to market, I think the NCAA has really enjoyed, and I know I have as a fan of FCS football, the relationship that we have with ESPN. But I’m excited to see what the future holds. Let’s see if we can maximize that brand of FCS football and continue to grow the game and what it means for the fans.”
The full conversation with Roan can be heard here: