TODD AARON GOLDEN: Another year of circular logic from FCS selection committee

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaMomentum stealer: Southern Illinois’ Qua Brown intercepts a pass intended for Indiana State tight end Matae Thomas (21) in the end zone during the Sycamores’ 23-14 loss Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Indiana State's football team was not going to be a part of the FCS playoff conversation this season. A 5-7 season ensured that there was no bubble to be burst as it was in 2018, when ISU's 7-4 overall record and 5-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference mark was not deemed worthy of inclusion.

While I'm sure every ISU player would trade their 2019 fate for one that at least put them in the playoff mix, there is something to be said for not having to listen to the twisted and circular logic that the Football Championship Subdivision selection committee uses to choose the 24-team FCS playoff field.

The Sycamores were a controversial exclusion in 2018. It must be said that ISU did hurt itself with a big loss against fellow bubble team Northern Iowa and a non-Division I win against Quincy. 

(ISU plays another non-DI foe next year, Lindenwood, and it's going to make their path to a 2020 playoff bid very difficult indeed. Playing a non-DI has cost ISU playoff bids in 2012 and 2018 — why does ISU keep going down this road?)

However, ISU also went 5-3 in what was easily the best league in FCS. The Sycamores had demonstrated they were worthy by winning what were, essentially, five playoff games to end the 2018 season. Yet, on Selection Sunday, the committee chose dross from the Southland Conference like Incarnate Word and Lamar and piled on six teams from the Colonial Athletic Association. Both Southland teams and a whopping four CAA teams ended up losing their first-round games.

The logic used to exclude ISU included the non-Division I win, the lack of wins against any team with a winning Division I record, and the fact that the Sycamores didn't beat any FCS playoff teams the committee chose.

A lot more on all of that in a moment, but let's fast-forward to 2019. The MVFC school that was in ISU's shoes was Southern Illinois. The Salukis also had a five-game win streak during the MVFC season to go 5-3 in conference play and finished 7-5 overall. While the Salukis didn't beat North Dakota State, South Dakota State or Illinois State, they did have one advantage the Sycamores didn't have in 2018 — they beat a FBS team.

Now, that FBS team was Massachusetts and the Minutemen are perhaps the worst program in FBS, but a win is a win, and the committee has always valued FBS wins regardless of the caliber of opponent in the past.

Last Sunday, the Salukis suffered the same fate the Sycamores did in 2018 — they were left out. Questionable selections dot the FCS bracket again. Furman is 8-4, but beat no one of consequence. Kennesaw State is 10-2, but beat not one, but two non-Division I teams and were housed by the only FCS playoff team they played. Missouri State nearly beat Kennesaw.

The mediocre Southland Conference got three bids again with 7-4 Southeastern Louisiana being the most suspect selection. The Lions have one quality win — Central Arkansas — but how can one truly determine how much quality there is in that win when those teams beat up on one another and almost no one else?

This is the problem with the FCS selection process. There's too much circular logic that justifies a conclusion or just plain non-logic at work.

One of the reasons SIU (and ISU in 2018) was kept out was due to the lack of wins against playoff competition. It is true that SIU lost to the MVFC playoff teams it played, and crucially, against Southeast Missouri State too. If the no-playoff win standard were applied evenly and to everyone? No problem with the exclusion.

But it's not. Why is SIU — who played a vastly tougher schedule than Kennesaw State — being held to that no-playoff-wins standard and the Owls aren't? Same for Furman, who I might add, also has a non-Division I win too. I guess beating Point — the common opponent and win for both KSU and Furman is the key to FCS playoff selection. Schedule Point ASAP, MVFC schools!

Worse is the argument that a bubble didn't beat any teams with a winning record. One of the reasons that occurs is because schools like ISU and SIU are playing in the most difficult conference in FCS. So, naturally, it's going to be a lot tougher to go .500 in the MVFC than it is in the Southland or Southern Conference.

In 2018, the committee chair devalued ISU's win over Illinois State because the Redbirds were .500 against Division I competition. Yet Incarnate Word and Lamar get to beat up on compartive tomato cans and get rewarded just because one or two of them slink over the .500 mark. It's ridiculous.

Strength of schedule and of conference is, apparently, a concept the committee hasn't caught on to. Give the 2018 Sycamores (or heck, the 2019 Sycamores) and the 2019 Salukis a Southland Conference schedule and I can almost guarantee both are cruising into the field with those oh-so-valuable over .500 wins. 

They may be hollow wins, given the weakness of the conference compared to the MVFC, but darn it, that's the circular logic the committee has chosen, so they must keep going around in circles because few will ever call them on it.

What I wish the NCAA would do, and FCS is a great place to experiment with such a concept, is to forget about subjective at-large bids altogether and go to a European-style coefficient system. Whatever tournament success your league produces over a period of, say, four years, gives you x-amount of at-large bids. That's how the field is chosen for the UEFA Champions League.

So let's look at the tale of the tape. From 2015-18, the MVFC went 30-14 in the FCS playoffs. The CAA was 20-17, the Southland went 8-10 and the SoCon was 8-11.

And if you think it's just NDSU dominance driving up the MVFC record? Think again. If you take NDSU out of the MVFC's playoff record since 2015?The rest of the league was still 15-13 in the playoffs — still a better winning percentage than the Southland or SoCon representatives.

Yeah, I think we know who deserves the extra bids. Too bad the FCS committee runs themselves dizzy trying to figure it out.

• Correspondent help sought — I don't usually devote column space to department needs, but I wanted to put this out there — the Tribune-Star sports department is seeking correspondent help to cover high school sports in the area.

We've been very fortunate at the Tribune-Star to have had excellent correspondents through the years. Several correspondents have moved on to full-time careers in communications fields, most recently, Adler Ingalsbe, who is now the sports editor at the Brazil Times. Jeremy Patterson is moving on from the Tribune-Star next week, so help is needed.

Anyone interested would need their own transportation, a laptop computer and access to wireless capability. Due to our work rules, you would be sending your stories to use remotely. The vast majority of the work would be in Vigo County or the surrounding counties. I also seeking someone to specifically cover the Little Illini Conference in Illinois.

Of course, we are seeking those with writing experience or an acumen for it. Knowledge of sports is also very important.

If you're interested, please email me at todd.golden@tribstar.com. You can also call at (812) 231-4272, though I am not usually in the office until after normal business hours, so please leave a message.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.

Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.

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