John Gibbs Jr.
Maybe it's time to split up
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Craig Haley - FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The overall growth of super conferences across the FCS has gone largely unnoticed in the last decade.

What isn't hard to overlook, however, is when your favorite team is looking up in the standings and there's, say, nine, 10, 11 teams above it.

Unlike on the FBS level, the FCS conferences with bulky standings don't appear overly interested in breaking into two divisions.

As recently as 2006, there were only two FCS conferences that had 10 or more football members, and both - the Colonial Athletic Association (formerly the Atlantic 10) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference - were split into divisions.

Today, seven of the 13 FCS conference have 10 or more teams, yet only the SWAC is split into divisions - five teams in each - and it plays to a championship game, won last year by Alcorn State.

On the FBS level, a whopping 10 conferences have 10 or more teams and seven of them use two divisions. Most lead into a championship game between division winners.

There's reason the FCS hasn't followed along, however. Until a recent change in policy by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, all but two conferences had been sending their champion to the national playoffs, which start just one week after the regular season ends - over Thanksgiving Weekend - so a conference championship game between division winners is not feasible as it is in the 10- team SWAC, which doesn't participate in the playoffs and plays a championship game in early December opposite the playoffs.

Also, four of the seven largest FCS conferences have an odd number of football members - the Big Sky with 13, and the Mid-Eastern, Pioneer and Southland with 11 each. Still, the Missouri Valley, at 10 teams, and the 12-team CAA remain aligned in one-division formats.

But the CAA was split into divisions over two different six-year periods and that included one season in which the divisions didn't have an equal number of schools. Plus, the CAA sent its automatic qualifier, as well as at-large qualifiers, to the FCS playoffs without a need to host a championship game.

In fact, two of the FBS conferences that have two divisions - Conference USA and the Mid-American - have 13 teams, and they are both split into a seven-team East and a six-team West.

Obviously, having an odd number of teams is not ideal for splitting into divisions. The Big Sky, for one, covets getting a 14th team, presumably the University of Idaho if it ever drops back from the FBS to its former conference in the FCS, and would likely split into divisions.

But just because there is a national playoff doesn't preclude an FCS conference from splitting into divisions. It would still work that way.

When the CAA was split into divisions, the northern schools particularly liked it because they could win the whole region while remaining highly competitive with the Southern schools, which were stronger overall and produced national champions.

Such a split today could look like Albany, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Stony Brook and Villanova in the North and Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Richmond, Towson and William & Mary in the South.

Without using divisions, the standings in the large FCS conferences often are unwieldy. Progress among the bottom programs is more evident when a team is jumping from, say, sixth place to fourth in a divisional set-up as opposed to 11th to eighth in the bigger standings.

The key to much greater change is for the FCS conferences to have an equal number of schools, so the 11- and 13-member conferences each likely need the additional member.

But clearly, the use of divisions hasn't matched the rise of FCS super conferences in the last decade.


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