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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan: UNH and FCS know how to do playoffs; College Football Playoff could take a cue

An artist's rendition of what the UNH football stadium will look like when completed.

An artist's rendition of what the UNH football stadium will look like when completed.

Cowell Stadium was due for a facelift. Okay, it was overdue. But basic upkeep wasn’t the only motivation behind renovating the University of New Hampshire’s football stadium.

In the simplest of terms, teams with better facilities have a better chance of hosting Football Championship Subdivision playoff games. With its upgraded facilities – new lights this year, with new stands, suites and pressbox to follow – UNH will be able to offer more enticing bids to the FCS in hopes of landing home playoff games. That will mean more money for the school and increased odds of winning for the football team.

Although the FCS has made recent changes to prevent schools with the best stadiums from buying home playoff games every year, it’s still a flawed system. But it’s far superior to the Football Bowl Subdivision playoff system that will debut this season.

With the college football season

nearing kickoff, there’s been an increase of news and opinion circulating about the College Football Playoff, and rightfully so. The public has been clamoring for an FBS playoff system for decades, so the current hype makes sense.

There’s no doubt the four-team CFP is better than the old Bowl Championship Series, where computers basically picked the top two teams in the FBS and placed them in the BCS National Championship. Now, there’s a 13-person committee that will release polls starting on Oct. 28 and eventually decide the four teams playing for the national championship.

There’s also no doubt that those first-ever semifinal games on Jan. 1, hosted this year by the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, will be appointment viewing for football fans. Same for the National Championship game on Jan. 12.

The new format will benefit from the giddy excitement that surrounds any new toy. But let’s be serious. Four teams do not make a playoff. The new system might be a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step.

The FCS playoffs had four teams when it started in 1978. It went to eight teams in 1981, 12 in 1982, 16 in 1986, 20 in 2010 and 24 teams in 2013.

It’s reasonable that the FBS didn’t jump straight to the 24-team format. But did it have to start at four teams? The FCS, made up of Division I schools just like the FBS, decided four was too few 33 years ago, and they’ve been upping the number ever since. The FBS could have learned from that history. Instead, it’s trying to reinvent the wheel.

The committee will do its best to put the top four teams into the national semifinals, but that won’t be easy. In fact, it will be extremely difficult. Just look at the last 10 years of the FCS playoffs.

Since 2004, there have been only two occasions – 2006 and 2011 – when all of the top four seeds advanced to the FCS semifinals. Three of the top four seeds made it to the final four just once in that same span, 2008, but it was unseeded Richmond who won the title that year.

Four times in the last 10 years – 2013, 2012, 2009 and 2005 – only two of the top four seeds reached the semifinals. And three times – 2010, 2007 and 2004 – just one of the top four seeds reached the place where the FCS selection committee predicted all four of them would go.

The numbers are a little better for the actual champions. Six of the last 10 champs have been one of the top four seeds. Sure, that’s better than 50 percent, but it also means that four of the last 10 FCS champions wouldn’t have even been invited to the final four in the four-team format.

And in seven of the last 10 years, there were two or more teams in the semifinals that would not have been there if the FCS used the four-team system the FBS thinks is such a good idea. That includes UNH’s run to its first-ever semifinals last season.

Not only were the Wildcats not one of the top four teams in the 2013 playoffs, they weren’t one of the top eight. UNH had to play a first-round game while the top eight teams got a bye. After winning its first postseason game, the ’Cats went on to win two more playoff games, both on the road, against seeded teams (No. 5 Maine and No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana) to reach the semifinals.

That’s what playoffs are all about. Giving teams a chance to prove themselves against the field. Yes, the field does have to get cut off at some point, but cutting it off at four is ridiculous. That’s not a field, that’s a small patch of grass surrounded by sidewalk.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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