A true tournament: FCS playoffs evolving with new 16-seed format

Posted at 8:40 PM, Apr 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-30 11:47:58-04

BILLINGS — The NCAA Division I Football playoffs will take on a different look this season with a new seeding format that aims to mitigate the regionalization of matchups that has become commonplace.

In accordance with a recent NCAA Board of Governors decision, the 24-team FCS playoff bracket will increase the number of seeded teams from eight to 16.

The top eight teams will receive first-round byes (as they have in the past) while the next eight seeds will play in the first round and be slotted in the bracket in a traditional style — No. 1 potentially playing No. 16, No. 2 potentially playing No. 15, No. 3 potentially facing No. 14, and on and on.

Seed Nos. 9 though 16 will host first-round games (as long as they provide a minimum bid), and then the remaining eight teams that aren't seeded will be placed in the bracket to play regionally against those secondary-seeded teams in the opening round.

As the playoffs continue, the bracket is designed to take on fewer regional or geographically friendly matchups and instead be based more upon seeding acquired by regular-season merit.

"What it does is it removes a lot of the regionality further into the playoffs, which hopefully will make it into a more national tournament as opposed to a regional-based tournament," said Montana athletic director Kent Haslam, the chair of the FCS playoff committee.

"It just allows more for a true tournament where 16 is playing into 1 instead of potentially having that 10th-best team playing into No. 1 because they're close to each other."

The reason for regionalization in the playoffs previously was to serve as a cost-containing measure. With the new format, the bracket could potentially avoid top-tier Big Sky Conference-vs.-Missouri Valley matchups in the second round, for instance, like the Montana State/North Dakota State matchup from the second round last season.

Essentially, that was a game between two top-10 teams, as Montana State had the No. 6 seed and NDSU was, for all intents and purposes, the best of the unseeded squads. The Bison went into Bozeman and won in overtime, 35-34.

And that's only one example.

"Seeding that next layer, that 9 through 16, gives you a chance to build a bracket that we're all familiar with," Haslam said.

The playoffs expanded from 16 total teams to 24 in 2013. According to a Hero Sports report, the new bracket format is expected to avoid rematches of games that occurred in the regular season.

Haslam said the new format serves as an effort to put a greater stake in matchup integrity in the FCS postseason.

"If you're going to invest in this playoff, and the (conference) commissioners agreed with this, let's seed the teams so we can get away from really good teams playing each other in the second round and you get a potential finalist getting beat out early just because of where they're located geographically," he said.

"It will give this a chance for you to get the best teams seeded where they need to be. Because right after you got done with eight (seeds), you could have been the ninth-best team or the 24th-best team, you're playing each other regionally and you're playing into the second round based on location."