Conversation heats up on cost of doing business in FCS playoffs

It’s perhaps no surprise that a frank assessment of the FCS postseason by University of Montana athletics director Jim O’Day — one that questions both its finances and long-term viability — has stirred the pot.

After all, this isn’t coming from an outsider, but instead from a program with consistent success. As a member of the Big Sky conference, Montana has won 12 of the last 14 league titles — and claimed the FCS national championship in 2001.

So, when O’Day says Montana is hemmoraging money by participating in the lower-classification playoffs, and then wonders aloud how FBS realignment could rattle the very foundations of that system, it garners attention.

And not just from the locals.

“That drew the interest not only of the commissioners of the other FCS conferences, it got the attention of the people at the NCAA,” Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton told The (Missoula, Mont.) Missoulian.

A blogger at Lehigh Football Nation began the week with a lengthy post, shared around the Web, that aims to refute O’Day’s claims.

Other fans joined in, too, from across the college football landscape — including the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which participates in the FCS postseason; and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which more recently has not.

Fullerton, for his part, strenuously disagrees with the idea that the championship subdivision would begin falling apart if signature postseason participants like O’Day’s, James Madison, Villanova, Delaware, Georgia Southern and Richmond pack up for the FBS. It’s his opinion that the bowl subdivision is heading towards its own tipping point.

“There’s a real concern that the FBS is unsustainable, particularly at the lowest levels,” he said. “The (cost) increase is happening so fast, people are saying, ‘OK, how are we going to sustain this level of football?'”

Does anybody think that this perhaps reasonable, but terribly long-range fear will stop programs from pulling the Rod Tidwell? (You know, show me the money.)

The playoffs, some say, were never about bolstering a school’s bottom line. Nice theory. In today’s unsettled economic times, everything is about the money — one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the proposed Legacy Bowl, an idea that would potentially preclude black college football’s two best teams from participating in the FCS playoffs, has continued to generate so much response (good, bad, and ugly) that moderators at AnyGivenSaturday.com consolidated six giant threads into one spot on their message board.

We began a concurrent conversation about black college football’s haves and have-nots, and how funding plays a central role in the decisions to play these late-season money games — the so-called “classics” — rather than try to advance into the FCS postseason.

Is it time for some underfunded schools to consider not a move up, but a move down? That was brought up in a thread at meacfans.com.

Even in a time of so much uncertainty, there remain those — Fullerton, certainly, is one of them — who are optimistic about FCS football. Some will head off, others in. It will work itself out.

“The FCS is going to become an ever more major player in the future, and the NCAA is going to talk about learning-based decision making,” Fullerton told The Missoulian. “People need to understand that developing your brand and having athletics do what it’s supposed to do for a university, often has nothing to do with moving up a level. You find the level that works for you and you stay there, where you can afford to do it.”

Still, you have here a major player in the FCS saying he’d actually save money by not advancing to the national championship game.

Whether you like the current system or not, whether you agree with replacement pay-out contests or not, that exposes the playoffs as an almost indefensible proposition. It’s a point of pride, sure, but it’s also such a budget strain that even one of the FCS’ richest, most successful programs is talking about walking away.

In the end, Montana’s experience illustrates in the most complete way how the business of college football has become so difficult for small schools. Something has to give.

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