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Get Ready For A Grind: It's Bye-Bye Byes
HARRISONBURG - To accommodate four more schools in the Division I-AA football playoffs, the NCAA has mandated a major scheduling change starting in 2010: 11 games in 11 weeks, with no byes.
The Colonial Athletic Association’s boss is less than thrilled with the plan.
“The Colonial never supported that,” commissioner Tom Yeager said Tuesday by phone from his Richmond office. “It puts an incredible strain on the student-athletes. We like to think we’re going to play deep into the playoffs. That’s potentially 15 or 16 games in a row. The NFL doesn’t do that. [Division I-A] doesn’t do that.”
When the NCAA voted in April to expand its I-AA tournament from 16 teams to 20, it also eliminated bye weeks, forcing schools to play 11 consecutive weeks to make room for the extra round of playoffs.
Starting the season a week early was ruled out, Yeager said, because of the expense to schools of bringing athletes in for an extra week before classes begin.
Chattanooga, which hosts the I-AA title game, and ESPN were against pushing the season back a week because they didn’t want the championship contest to run into Christmas, Yeager said.
That left squeezing the season into 11 weeks, eliminating byes. It’s one of the reasons Yeager did not vote for the expansion plan in its current form. Still, the proposal passed.
“I don’t think it’s a better championship this way,” said Yeager, who wanted to see the playoff field expanded to 24 teams for 2010.
Yeager said the 11-week schedule was a hot topic at the college football commissioners meetings in Chicago last month, but that any change now will have to come from the NCAA.
“If there’s an opportunity to do something, it really rests with the NCAA committee,” Yeager said.
Damani Leech and Dennis Poppe, who coordinate football for the NCAA, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The CAA put a record five teams in the playoffs last season. In 2006, it had three teams in the field; in 2005, it had two. In 2004 - when JMU won the national championship - four conference teams made the postseason.
With two new leagues receiving automatic bids in 2010 - the Big South and the Northeast - the playoff expansion creates just two new at-large opportunities, not enough growth to offset losing the bye week in some league coaches’ eyes.
“I’m not happy about it,” Massachusetts coach Don Brown said Tuesday. “It’s nice to see the expansion of the playoff system, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make me happy about losing my bye week.”
Brown and Hofstra coach Dave Cohen both noted that - with just 63 scholarships at the I-AA level - losing a bye week to get healthy could make it hard to redshirt freshmen, something just about all I-AA coaches try to do.
Cohen noted that the third-stringers most likely to be pressed into duty to fill in for an injured player will be younger players, many of them freshmen who would have redshirted.
“Now, you’re bidding for a championship, do you take away one of his four years of eligibility to play one or two games?” Cohen asked Tuesday.
Said Brown: “What are you going to do? You’ve got to field a football team.”
However, James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said he has no problem playing 11 straight games - as long as the NCAA is moving toward expanding the playoff field to 24 teams.
“We’ve got to get to 24 teams as quick as we can,” Matthews said Tuesday. “That was a step in the right direction.”
Matthews said it remains to be seen if playing 11 straight games forces him to use more true freshmen. And, he noted, that with every I-AA team facing the same schedule, the playing field is still level.
“It’s fair for everyone,” said Matthews, who is 7-2 after byes in his JMU career. “No one’s going to get a week off.”
JMU has two open dates for the 2008 season, the first on Oct. 18 and the second on Nov. 8. Madison kicks off the season Aug. 30 at Duke, a I-A opponent. But Cohen said games like that could be the first to go once teams lose their bye weeks.
“A lot of us like to play a I-A game, but we prefer to have a week off after that game before you go into conference play,” Cohen said. “Without having that bye week, it’s tougher to play that I-A game.”
Get Ready For A Grind: It’s Bye-Bye Byes
By Mike Barber, The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record