The FCS has a problem. And it needs to be fixed.
Something needs to be done about its Coaches Poll. The weekly Top 25 rankings lost its credibility a long time ago, which a majority of fans and media recognize. And the fact that this poll is used as a data point for the playoff committee is the biggest concern. We’ll get to that in a bit.
For some background, the American Football Coaches Association took over the Coaches Poll in 2018, but it had its issues way before last season.
According to the AFCA website, “In response to overwhelming support by NCAA FCS coaches, the American Football Coaches Association began publishing an FCS Top 25 Coaches Poll in 2018. Prior to 2018, the NCAA FCS Coaches Poll was administered by the Southern Conference.”
The FCS poll follows the same format as the FBS Amway Coaches Poll. The FCS Board of Coaches has 30 voters representing all FCS conferences along with independent schools. (The 2018 poll had 26 voters). For the FBS Amway Coaches Poll, the voting panel is chosen by random draw, conference by conference plus independents, from a pool of coaches who have indicated to the AFCA their willingness to participate.
The struggles with the FCS poll are real.
It got to the point during the 2018 season where, frankly, no one cared about the Coaches Poll. It seemed worthless, and the comments proved that.
“This poll is a joke.”
“You all should be embarrassed with how awful this poll is.”
“Coaches poll is always a good laugh.”
“lol this is the worst poll EVERY WEEK and should be abolished. What a joke.”
Now, yes, this is how social media works these days. People typically keep their “good job” compliments to themselves but are more than happy to voice their “you suck” opinions if they disagree on something that doesn’t fit their narrative. But the other official FCS rankings, the STATS Media Poll, doesn’t get this much hate. That poll is voted on by media members and sports information directors from all 13 conferences and is much better researched.
So why are the struggles of the Coaches Poll such a big deal? Well, for a while, it was brushed aside.
Fans blew it off and those who cover the FCS typically cited the STATS poll when using official rankings to discuss matchups.
The general thought during the 2018 regular season, from media and the fans, was the poll didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – AKA the playoffs. But then an interesting tidbit came out when the NCAA released a video of how the 24-team playoff bracket was formed by the committee.
Under the heading "General Principles For Selection, Seeding And Bracketing" was a list of criteria the playoff committee can rely on. That slide stated: "At any time during the process, the committee may consider comparative data of individual teams, including but not limited to:"
- Overall record
- Record against Division I opponents (an institution with less than six Division I wins may place that team in jeopardy of not being selected)
- Record against opponents from other AQ conferences
- Record against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents
- Head-to-head records
- Record against common opponents
- NCAA Simple Ratings System (NCAA SRS) data
- FCS Coaches Poll
- Input from regional advisory committee
The data point that includes the Coaches Poll is a problem.
That’s a huge problem.
To have such a hastily put together poll possibly influence whether a team is a seed or not, or whether a team is the last four into the field or the first four left out of it is a major issue.
To show just how bonkers this poll is, let’s take a look at two late-season polls.
In the Oct. 22 poll, UC Davis, an unknown commodity at the time, was 6-1 with an FBS win and the lone loss coming against FBS No. 9 Stanford. The Aggies were ranked No. 13. You put Montana or Montana State by that resume and it’s a Top 5 ranking.
The next week was even more puzzling.
Jacksonville State, a known commodity for many years, was ranked ahead of Southeast Missouri State in the Oct. 29 poll.
On Oct. 20, SEMO beat JSU 37-14. Both teams won their Oct. 27 games and held 6-2 records with SEMO arguably having the tougher schedule and one of its losses coming against FBS Arkansas State. Yet JSU was ranked No. 10 and SEMO was No. 24.
Again, at this point in the season, people mostly just laughed at how bad this poll was. But we didn’t realize these rankings actually can have an impact on the playoff field.
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How the NCAA can defend the Coaches Poll as credible is beyond me. If you want to use a Top 25 poll as a data point for the playoff committee, that’s OK. But use the STATS poll. If STATS can sponsor the official FCS awards like the Walter Payton and Buck Buchanan, the NCAA should feel comfortable using their poll as information supplied to the committee.
It seems obvious media members are going to be more tuned in to what’s going on nationally than someone on a coaching staff who isn’t concerned with what teams are doing on the other side of the country. Yes, the coaches who vote expressed their interest in participating in this poll. But history shows there is a lack of thorough research.
A Top 25 poll shouldn’t be something you put together in 30 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Especially if that poll can play a role in what the playoff bracket looks like.
I would suggest just getting rid of the Coaches Poll altogether, but apparently, there is overwhelming support from coaches to have this poll done. Which is interesting considering they don’t seem to care about rankings inside a press conference room.
The existence of an FCS Coaches Poll is fine. The logic of having two national polls makes sense, even though a high percentage of people who follow this subdivision put zero stock in the Coaches Poll.
And it’s that exact reason why it should not be a factor in how the playoff bracket looks.
Who knows how often a playoff committee member has actually used the poll as a resource. Maybe it’s often. Maybe it’s not. But when Coaches Poll voters highly rank a team with a good record because they have a more recognizable national brand than another team with a better overall resume, that can rub off on the playoff committee.
The fact that this poll is supplied to the committee as a tool should be a ginormous concern for teams looking to get a seed or a playoff berth.
The postseason is too big of a deal to even give this poll the opportunity to influence the bracket’s integrity.
The Coaches Poll needs to improve and the voters need to take it more seriously. If not, don't let it impact the playoffs.
NEXT: Setting O/U 2019 Win Totals For The 24 Playoff Teams