Now that he’s had a chance to see exactly how the new Football Championship Subdivision playoff format plays out, Bill Chaves is an admitted convert.
Eastern Washington University’s fourth-year athletic director was a bit skeptical of the FCS’s decision to enlarge its postseason playoff field to 20 teams and play its NCAA Division I Championship Series title game in early January – a full three weeks after the completion of the semifinals.
Chaves’ concerns didn’t vary much from those of the general old-school playoff populace, who worried that delaying the championship game from is traditional late-December time slot would stretch the season out too long and, perhaps, cost the teams and institutions involved some momentum.
And then, of course, there was the very real possibility of having the FCS title game shoved out of the public consciousness by the crush of Football Bowl Subdivision matchups that take place following the holidays.
But now that Eastern Washington, the No. 1-ranked FCS team in the country, has earned a chance to play for a national championship against Delaware on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, Chaves has warmed considerably to the new format.
“Now, having gone through it, I have a completely different perspective,” Chaves said. “If we had been forced to make the old one-week turnaround, we would have done it. I mean, we put a man on the moon in ’69, so it would have occurred.
“But there is no doubt that having that time frame – 21 days – has given people a better opportunity to purchase their plane tickets, to breathe a little bit and to get past the holidays, which I think is a tremendously advantageous for this particular game.”
Eastern, which was on the hook for 1,000 title-game tickets, has taken advantage of the layoff between the FCS semifinals – in which the fifth-seeded Eagles knocked off defending champion Villanova – and next Friday’s title game to sell over 1,300 of the 10,000 tickets that have already been purchased.
And an impressive list of former EWU players – including Michael Roos, the Tennessee Titans’ all-pro offensive tackle who was so instrumental in helping fund the installation of the unique red Sprinturf in the Eagles home field that now bears his name – have indicated they plan to attend the title game.
Chaves is also convinced that the three-week layoff will make for a better on-field performance by both of the teams involved.
“From a team standpoint, you’re kind of in the middle of this unbelievable grind, if you will, of playing 14 games just to get to the championship game,” he explained. “And the new format gives the players a little bit of time just to catch their breath and decompress.
“Hopefully, that will be beneficial for both teams.”
If Chaves is looking for an “Amen!” to that last statement, he can probably get one from Delaware’s head coach K.C. Keeler, who played in two NCAA Division II title games as a linebacker for the Blue Hens (1978-80) and coached his alma mater to a NCAA Division I-AA championship in 2003 and a Division I FCS runner-up finish to Appalachian State in 2007.
“This is different,” Keeler said of the new format, “because you have that time after your last (semifinal) playoff game until the national championship game, and we just feel that it gives you more of a bowl experience.
“And it also gets your kids healthy. We probably would have missed five or six players if we’d have had to play the Friday following our (semifinal) game against Georgia Southern.”
Keeler also likes the fact that he, his staff and his players had some extra time to reflect on what they’ve accomplished up to this point in the season.
“You never could enjoy it before,” he explained. “The (semifinal) game was over, and you were scrambling to get your plans and get down to Chattanooga (Tenn.) – or, when I was a Division III coach, down to Roanoke, Va.
“Now, you get a chance to enjoy it a little bit, take your time and get prepared. I like it a lot better this way.”