The FCS Playoff bracket was announced earlier today, and a few notable teams were left on the chopping block - perhaps most notably Austin Peay, who snapped a 29-game losing streak under second-year head coach Will Healy to go 8-4 overall and 8-1 against FCS competition (excellent profile of Healy here).
Richard Johnson, the committee chair for the playoff committee, joined ESPN to provide some rationale on their picks for the 16-team playoff as well as the committee's picks for the last two teams in (8-3 Nicholls State and 7-4 South Dakota), and the first two teams left out (Austin Peay and 7-4 Delaware). A team like Howard, who finished 7-4 overall with a remarkable turnaround of their own, is also deserving of mention for at at-large bid.
Johnson, in his third-year leading the committee, noted that this was by far the hardest year in picking a field before being asked why Austin Peay - a team that put up 30 points against an undefeated UCF team - was left out.
Here was Johnson's explanation on 8-4 Austin Peay being left out:
"They're a compelling story, but when we looked at it, and you look at three FBS losses, and then a loss to Jacksonville State, they were 0-1 against teams in the field, and we looked at that consistently. We also looked at head-to-head rankings, and because they played the FBS teams, they didn't play any additional FCS opponents and forgo an opportunity there to beat an FCS opponent out of conference."
"Then we rely on our regional rankings, so the regional advisory rankings had Austin Peay lower, and then the committee rankings, as a result, had them a little lower. But there was a lot of debate on Austin Peay, and they had a great year and were a deserving team, we just didn't have enough spots."
Whoa. Hang on a second? So because Austin Peay scheduled some guarantee games that will help their football operating and recruiting budget tremendously instead of scheduling cupcake FCS teams to simply get a win, they're ultimately penalized? I fail to see how that logic makes sense.
That could set an interesting precedent when FCS programs look to fill their schedule in the coming years. They may effectively have to choose between a guarantee game to help their operating and recruiting budgets, or a shot at an FCS win that moves their bottom line very little in the hopes of making the playoff field, and then having some limitations when it comes to hitting the road to recruit, or to retain and quality attract coaches, or upgrade facilities..
Most of our coaching audience reading this understands how vital it is for FCS programs to schedule those guarantee games with FBS opponents. For most of them, that guarantee money makes up a significant portion of their annual budget, and that budget would ultimately get cut significantly by opting to play a softer FCS team. It's an interesting topic we wrote about extensively when the Big Ten made the decision back in 2013 to ban members from scheduling FCS opponents - a stance that they've since adjusted.
Hear Johnson's full comments below.
FCS Playoff Committee says Austin Peay was penalized for playing 3 games vs FBS teams rather than beating an extra FCS team 🤔 pic.twitter.com/5GXLfQG5P6
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 19, 2017