September 19th, 2019 12:00pm
The NCAA came out with the 2019 D2 Football Pre-Championship Manual this week and in it the details of a slightly altered championship structure are confirmed.
While the selection criteria and regional alignments appear to be virtually identical to last season, this year there will be a new way of selecting first round playoff match ups.
Each of the four regions will still seed its top four teams. However, the remaining three teams in each region will be un-seeded and can be moved around between regions as the Football Committee sees fit.
The primary reason for the change is to avoid air travel as much as possible in both the first round and potential second round match ups in the playoffs.
The next priority will be to avoid regular season rematches in the first round, as long as doing so does not increase the number of necessary flights.
The final priority is to pair teams up based on what their seed actually would have been. This is essentially what was done in the past.
The threshold for flying versus driving in the D2 playoffs is 600 miles, so in theory, it’s best to look at this new seeding policy in the context of the Football Committee will now try to set up as many first round match ups within 600 miles as possible.
I really didn’t have a very good feel for exactly how much would change going forward, so I went back and looked at the last couple of seasons and retroactively applied the new travel criteria.
Last season there were seven flights in the first round (out of a total of 12 games). By using the new criteria and switching match ups in nine of the 12 games, it would have been possible to only have two first round flights. The way I had it figured, three teams would have switched to a different region from where they originated.
In 2017 there were six flights in the first round. By switching around four games and moving two teams to a different region, three flights could have been saved.
When you really look at this, Super Regions One and Two will be minimally impacted by the change while Three and Four will be majorly impacted. This makes sense if you look at it from a geographical standpoint: SR1 and SR2 are in the eastern part of the country where there is a much higher concentration of teams, so travel distances in the playoffs tend to be shorter. SR3 and SR4 are in the west where everything is spread out and the regional alignment in these two regions is patchwork as is.
The other negative I can see is that for the schools in the western margins of the D2 geography (think NSIC, RMAC and LSC), we are likely to see more first round playoff match ups between conference opponents simply to avoid flights.
It will take a couple of years to see how the Football Committee implements the changes, so I am going to reserve some judgement. But all in all, I think it’s a pretty good concept. Being able to eliminate 50% or more of the flights in the first round alone is going to save money and make it easier for more fans to make road trips in the playoffs.
I have long advocated for a playoff system that more resembles Division III: every conference champion would get a berth, the remaining at large teams would be selected nationally and not regionally, then the 28 teams would be geographically placed in regions.
While this new system doesn’t yet approach what I would ultimately like to see, it does break down the barrier of a strict regional structure and that’s a good step towards a better playoff.