First off, for those of you who may be asking why the site name changed, it is an idea I had been tinkering with since the middle of the season. When I first formed this blog, I wanted a name that would help identify this blog with the University, the town, and show a sense of unity, hence the former Prairie Lion Nation name. I took inspiration for the name change as I also follow another unofficial college blog for Texas Tech called “Staking The Plains.” Seth C., the moderator used to have his blog called Double T Nation. I wanted to keep the word nation in there until I just decided that Blogging The Blacklands was going to be the best name, and I ran it past some blog savvy people who believe the name is a huge upgrade, so here we are.
Now, onto the topic at hand….Playoffs.
I have a lot of friends who went to FBS Schools and when I tell them that on the Division II level we have a playoff system, they always say things akin to “your team is so lucky to have a fair shot with no biases.” If only they knew.
Look, anything made by humans, rather it be an idea or a tangible item is inherently flawed because humans are flawed. Now, am I glad do we have a playoff system? Absolutely. Is it better than a Computer generated set of stats that pick two teams out of 126 to play for a national championship? Yes. Is the Division II playoff system flawed? Yes, and greatly so.
For those who do not know how our system works, here is a breakdown. There are four super regions. Roughly half way through the season, the NCAA releases regional rankings that rank teams in the region. They rank them 1-10. So, there are 40 teams that get ranked but only 28 get in the playoffs. At the end of the year, there is a selection Sunday where the top 28 teams are picked. The biggest plus a team can have on their resume is a good strength of schedule and wins against quality Division II teams. Doing things like beating a Division I-FCS school or losing to a Division III or NAIA school does absolutely nothing to help nor hurt your rankings, and that is something I believe should change. Also, as we have experienced first hand, being Conference Champion does NOT mean anything in regards to getting into the playoffs. It might secure you a Bowl, but that’s about it, and that is also wrong.
Let’s wind the clocks back to 2013. At the end of the year, Eastern New Mexico and Tarleton State tied for first in the conference, West Texas A&M got third, and we tied with Midwestern State for 4th. Now, Tarleton owned head to head with Eastern New Mexico, so despite being Co-Champions, it served no good for TSU, or ENMU. Guess who went to the playoffs? Third place West Texas A&M. Third place. Think about how absurd that is. So the third place team went to the playoffs, the conference champion went to a Bowl, the conference co-champion sat at home, and the fourth place team took a bowl bid over two teams that had better records than them and had also beaten them. (That was us, by the way.)
Now, does this sound stupid to anyone else? A third place team gets the big prize while a first place team sits at home. Why? The regional rankings. West Texas A&M had played a tougher Division II schedule, too bad they lost to two teams in their own conference. So, how should this go? I am so glad you asked.
First, and this is very important, if you win your conference outright, you get an automatic bid into the playoffs. Period. What good is a conference championship if it gets you nowhere? It is a piece of hardware and that is it. It should serve as a means to an end. There are 15 Division II Football conferences, so that is just over half of the field. In the case of a tie, head to head goes into effect. Team A and B both have the same record in conference, but Team A won the head to head, Team A goes as conference champion and Team B has to wait for their fate because they did not get it done. If there is a tie with 3 or more teams, use the AFCA polls, whoever is ranked highest gets the auto bid.
Second, there are still 13 slots left open. Of the four regions, all but one have 4 conferences per region. So every region gets 3 at large bids guaranteed to them which are decided by rankings, and the final spot is a the choice of the AFCA poll voters. That is when you use national AFCA rankings. The 13 highest ranked teams in their respective regions that did not win conference championships take the remaining spots and get the at large bids.
Third, determining brackets. Even though a conference championship gets you the right to be in the playoffs, it does not get you a first round bye or home field advantage. After your field of 28 is selected, this when you can use regional rankings to determine who gets the first round byes and who gets to host and gets to fly the friendly skies or enjoy a charter bus. A final note, if a team schedules a Division III school and loses to them, it should count against them in polls and if they are a bubble team, and on the flip side, if a team beats a Division I school that should help them in the rankings, especially if they are on the bubble. It happens in the FCS. Need proof? Sam Houston lost to Lamar, and how that happened I have no idea, but they almost beat Texas Tech on the road, and that helped them in their case for an FCS bid. (By the way, most of these ideas are already implemented on the Division I FCS Level).
Finally, Lone Star Conference Specific. I will be honest, I hate the way our conference is run from a Football perspective. There are some very stupid decisions made, and whoever came with the “Conference Playoff” idea should be inducted into the “World’s most awesomely bad ideas” Hall of Fame. I mean, it takes someone highly educated to make such a stupid idea a reality. Anyway, here is how the Conference should handle who it sends to the post season. First, Conference Champion goes no matter what. Again, going back to tie breaker rules, if it comes down to head to head, team that won the earlier match-up gets the automatic bid. If more than two teams are tied, go with NATIONAL AFCA rankings. Second, the highest ranking non playoff team should continue to go to the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl and the team that finishes just below them should have a hard lobby for the LiveUnited Texarkana Bowl.
Again, ideas are not perfect, but far more plausible and fair than what we have now. Thoughts?