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NCAA Playoff Automatic Bid On Line for Monmouth, NEC in 2010
With the 2010 season looming, Monmouth University and the eight other football playing members of the Northeast Conference (NEC) will compete for the first time for something very special: an automatic berth to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS formally I-AA) Playoffs.
“Having an opportunity to play for a postseason berth is something that players in our program have looked forward to for a long time,” said MU Head Coach Kevin Callahan. “Having it become a reality excites everyone involved in our program, past and present. It also plays an important part in recruiting, for years schools were able to hold against us the fact that we couldn’t advance to postseason play. This evens the playing field in that aspect of recruiting.”
The budget for the championship, which was approved in April of 2008, contained a proposal from the Division I Football Championship Committee calling for an increase in the number of FCS playoff participants to 20, a 25 percent rise from its current 16-team format. The NEC will acquire one of the four added berths and be guaranteed an opportunity to play for the 2010 FCS Championship. It is the first time since the late 1990s, when the Patriot League was granted an AQ, that a new automatic bid was awarded.
Due to the tireless efforts of key members of the NEC office and member institutions, including former Commissioner Brenda Weare and Callahan, the champion of the league will gain automatic access to the newly expanded NCAA FCS playoff bracket.
Weare, who passed away in June of 2009, compiled numerous seasons’ worth of data which included NEC team records against similar teams that play in conferences with automatic bids. Callahan believes the 2005 and 2006 seasons, which saw marquee wins by NEC teams over former FCS playoff participants Colgate, Fordham, Lehigh, Georgia Southern and Delaware, were instrumental in swaying the NCAA Championship Committee’s decision.
“Brenda was outstanding in her preparation and presentation of the facts on why the NEC deserved a bid,” said Callahan. “She was diligent and relentless in her approach to the NCAA and coaches committee and slowly over time won them both over. Everyone in this conference owes her a tremendous amount of gratitude.”
In early 2002, Callahan was tapped to serve on the FCS Executive Committee by then Drake University Head Coach Rob Ash. The committee, which was formed in the 1990s was then referred to unofficially as the I-AA steering committee, was charged with the overall promotion and governance from the coaches perspective of FCS Football. The larger conferences all had reps who stepped up right away and Ash thought Callahan would be a great representative for not only just the NEC but a number of the leagues who did not have inclusion to the playoffs.
“Kevin seemed like a guy who would be actively involved on the committee and someone I could count on to provide good input for the group,” said Ash. “He was such a professional that he earned respect of the coaches on that steering committee. At that time there wasn’t any realistic talk of the NEC or PFL getting a playoff bid but there was a huge amount of talk about how these teams could do better, how they would fair against top teams. We [Ash and Callahan] put time in and promoted I-AA football even though we weren’t playoff teams then.”
Callahan, who has been on the committee for nine years running, went on to a two-year stint as president in 2007 and 2008.
Before long Callahan and other NEC coaches and administrators began to push the idea of playoff access for the league. The league applied formally to the NCAA Championships Committee for an automatic bid five separate times, but those applications were denied, most recently after the 2006 season. In addition to the feeling that the NEC teams could not compete with traditional playoff teams (contrary to Weare’s statistical data from the 2005 & 2006 seasons), there were a number of other obstacles to overcome. The first obstacle was that the NCAA has a rule that no more than 50% of the championship field can be made up of automatic qualifiers and eight of the 16 playoff slots were automatic bids for conference champions. The NEC could be in line to earn a bid if another conference lost its automatic berth, since automatic bids are evaluated on a year to year basis after a season is complete. The idea behind that practice is that if a conference or conferences were not performing well in the playoffs another league would “deserve” a shot at sending their champion to the bracket.
The powers that be decided that the path of least resistance would be to convince the NCAA to expand the playoffs from 16 to 20 teams, with the NEC and the Big South earning automatic bids and the other two spots going to At-Large teams. There were potential issues with this plan though, including cost of expanding the playoffs and adding an extra week of games in the limited amount of weeks leading up to the National Championship Game, which was played on national television on the third Friday of December.
With the television contract expiring, the 2010 NCAA FCS National Championship was set for January 7 th, eliminating the time-restriction problem. The NCAA has also moved to regionalizing early round games in an effort to cut travel/lodging costs, paving the way for the invitation to the NEC and Big South.
“With the league (NEC) adding scholarships and becoming more competitive, I think people remembered that Kevin had been a soldier for FCS football way before it was self-serving and that gave him and the league creditability,” said Ash.
“Being included in the FCS playoff is a significant step forward for NEC football,” said MU Vice President and Director of Athletics Dr. Marilyn McNeil. “Having the opportunity for a promised post season experience is a goal for all of our programs. It meets our aspirations of providing our student-athletes the maximum opportunity to compete at the highest level. Our football student-athletes work as hard as our basketball or baseball student-athletes and now have the same dream of competing at the next level that those athletes have always had.”
That dream begins on August 9 th when training camp starts for the 2010 Monmouth University football team.