The roar is returning to FCS college football – though a bit dulled.
The stadiums that went silent this past fall are now filled with quiet confidence and, yes, rising voices and whistles as schools in the lower half of Division I slowly return to practice for an atypical spring season that’s been born out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All roads still lead to Frisco, Texas, where the season, which kicks off next month, will be completed on May 16 by the championship game of a 16-team playoff – down from 24 teams in a normal fall season, but still considered the pride of the FCS when compared to the FBS postseason.
Kyle Moats, the Missouri State athletic director, is installed with guiding the playoff as chair of the FCS selection committee. Like everyone else in the sport, he’s hoping schools can make it through the spring semester without major problems.
This past week, Moats discussed the spring season and the reworked playoff with Stats Perform in a one-on-one interview:
SP: Kyle, one of the big differences with the spring playoff is the fewer at-large qualifiers. Can you explain if the selection committee’s job is easier or harder when you have five at-large bids compared to the 14 in a typical year?
KM: I think it’s a really good question, I think it’s a really fair question. I don’t know, to be honest with you because we’ve never had to do it before. I’ve been on the committee for numerous years and it’s always different with those last two or three at-large teams getting in. I assume that this will be no different. I think that fourth or fifth spot will also be difficult. But until you see the teams, and you determine who’s eligible and what those qualifiers are, I think it will be equally difficult, just in a different way.
SP: When you look at the College Football Playoff on the FBS level, three of the four teams selected entered with 11-game resumes and one, Ohio State, came in with only a six-game resume. What would be your takeaway from that scenario knowing your committee could face something similar?
KM: I’m hoping that we get more games maybe in than maybe what we got in the fall and what the FBS had to go through in some of those conferences. But if not, we may have teams that could only have played four games in their conference season and that may be all that we get. The conference would then dictate who that champion is and then we’d have to look at an at-large situation depending on how many games that they played. We’re not going to have a very large sample size of nonconference competition. Most of it’s going to be within the conference. There may be some nonconference competition, and then based upon what happened this fall, there may be some competition that we will have to evaluate and bring over to the spring.
SP: When you’re evaluating playoff resumes, does the committee use any kind of weighted system? For example, how much more is an FBS win that a Jacksonville State had this fall or a road win over a ranked FCS team worth compared to an average win?
KM: There’s not a point value in that, but certainly a win over an FBS team is part of our criteria, and that would be very well looked upon and favored in the committee’s eyes, I can tell you that. In terms of beating ranked opponents, that’s also a positive. But we don’t have a weighted system, if you will. Each of your committee members weighs it differently in terms of its importance.
SP: Will it be beneficial for teams to have more nonconference games?
KM: I would only have to speak for myself. I think the more data that we have, I think that helps.
SP: Some FCS conferences are using the spring season to have a championship game while still sending their winner to the playoffs. Is there any expectation that conference championship games will continue in future seasons?
KM: I don’t know that. You probably have to ask the commissioners that question. My guess is that we would probably go back to the that way we were doing it before – I thought that system worked, but each conference may think differently. The committee itself, we accept who the conference gives us as the conference champion. That’s your automatic qualifier.
SP: The SWAC, unlike some of the other conferences, didn’t move up its championship game date (May 1) to make it work for the winner to possibly go to the playoffs. Did the SWAC pursue an automatic bid for the spring season?
KM: No, they did not.
SP: For six seasons – and we’re going back – from 1995 to 2000, the entire FCS playoff was seeded 1 through 16, although the matchups were mostly regional. What are the reasons for seeding an entire playoff field and what are the reasons for continuing to seed just a third or a quarter of the field?
KM: I think really what it comes down to is the financial aspect of that. I know there’s been a lot of coaches and a lot of administrators (who favor full seeding), and I understand why you would want to do that. If you’re seeding your entire field, that probably makes it more of a true championship in terms of the seeds. We’re not able to do that just because of the financial aspect of how that creates travel. That’s why we limit the number of seeds that we have. It’s really based upon what we have to work with from a financial standpoint with the budget for the championship.
SP: The release of in-season playoff rankings debuted during your second year on the committee in 2016, but since then they’ve gone from three sets of rankings to only one set. Will the in-season rankings be continued this spring and do they warrant more than one release?
KM: I think we will have an in-season ranking because that’s part of trying to promote FCS football. Whether or not we have more than that, I don’t know.
SP: Since you’ve become a committee member in 2015, what have you learned about the selection process that perhaps you didn’t foresee going into your term?
KM: I think you have a lot of folks on the committee that really care about FCS football, and maybe I didn’t appreciate that as much. Not that I didn’t think people on the committees didn’t care about whatever championship they’re part of, but I just realized how much work you really have to do if you do it right as a committee member in terms of looking up information, watching games, talking to coaches, talking to administrators. … I think the committee has done a better job of seeding since I first got on the committee. I think we were so focused on getting the teams into the championship with the bracketing. Now I think we’ve really laser-beamed into the seeding part of it as well.
SP: What perspective of the playoffs do you draw from being the athletic director at Missouri State and within the Missouri Valley Football Conference?
KM: How really good these teams are. I mean, they’re really good. I know from a national perspective, there’s some really, really good programs and teams out there. I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of those teams before I got on this committee. Being a committee member, you get obviously sent to those locations, so you get to really see and compare what your program is to those programs that are making it all the time.
SP: The steps that schools are about to take – the playing and practicing in the winter months, the working through the (COVID) testing and the pandemic – what are your thoughts going into the season?
KM: Well, I just hope we’re able to get in as many games as we possibly can get in. I look at the NFL and I think it 256 (regular season games) was the number they were able to get in. And I think that’s remarkable, they should be commended for being able to get all the games in. Now I realize financially they’re in a much different situation than FCS football is. But I think when we looked at the start of this in the fall, and FBS started and the conferences started, I think there was a lot of apprehension. I think we did a pretty good job of getting a lot of games in. I know we didn’t get them all in – I know there are some bowl games that didn’t get in. My goal is that we’re able to have a championship, we get to play all the games in the championship and that we crown a champion in May.
SP: That championship week in Frisco is about four months away. Are you confident the spring season will occur and lead to that week?
KM: Absolutely. I think we’re a lot smarter in terms of what’s happening with the pandemic and the protocols than we were in the fall. We’ve been able to go through a (fall) football season. … That doesn’t mean we won’t have some hiccups. But I think we’ll be able to do a better job of getting games in in the spring than probably in the fall.