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‘It’s a gut punch,’ Eastern Washington AD says of FCS snub

Eastern Washington Eagles wide receiver Nic Sblendorio celebrates during the Eagles’ 59-33 win over Portland State on Saturday - the final game of the season, as it turned out. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington Eagles wide receiver Nic Sblendorio celebrates during the Eagles’ 59-33 win over Portland State on Saturday - the final game of the season, as it turned out. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A day after Eastern Washington’s exclusion from the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, athletic director Bill Chaves said he was still “confused and stunned” by the decision.

“I feel for our kids and our coaches,” Chaves said Monday. “It’s a gut punch and easily one of the worst days of my professional life.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Chaves has been in the business for almost three decades.

“I feel like I have a pretty good pulse on these sorts of things, but I’m still blown away and shocked,” Chaves said.

Going into Sunday’s selection show, every FCS pundit had the 7-4 Eagles in the 24-team field. So did Chaves, who had reason to believe the Eagles might host a first-round game this weekend.

Now Eastern moves on – the players to the weight room, the coaches to the living rooms of recruits and Chaves, figuratively speaking, to the room in Indianapolis where the selection committee made its decisions.

“I will continue to be asking a lot of questions,” Chaves said.

Most of the answers indicate that the Eagles’ rugged schedule – the seventh toughest in FCS – wasn’t rewarded. The Eagles lost at FBS school Texas Tech, and its FCS defeats came against three teams (North Dakota State, Southern Utah and Weber State) with a combined record of 28-5.

“If it’s just about winning an FCS game, regardless of that team’s profile, that’s interesting,” Chaves said.

Time will tell if the bad news affects future schedules, but Eastern still has an open date for next year.

“We have a few balls in the air,” Chaves said without giving details. However, Chaves is sure to feel pressure to bring in a lesser FCS team for the Sept. 1 date.

That game is certain to be in Cheney; if it isn’t, the Eagles would have just four home games, as they play a nonconference game Sept. 8 at Big Sky Conference rival Northern Arizona, and Sept. 15 at Washington State.

On the other hand, that strategy can backfire. Big Sky rival Montana all but guaranteed itself a 2-1 non conference record, sandwiching FCS cupcakes Valparaiso and Savannah State around a payday at Washington.

However, the Griz lost at Montana State last weekend, falling to 7-4 and out of the postseason conversation because of that weak schedule.

Other factors, including regional bias, may have played into the committee’s decisions on the 14 at-large teams.

East Coast teams Delaware, New Hampshire and Monmouth apparently played themselves out of the postseason with lopsided losses on Saturday.

Excluding them all would have left Stony Brook as the only at-large team on the East Coast. Perhaps for that reason, New Hampshire and Monmouth both made the field despite lesser credentials than Eastern.

In his weekly podcast, Chaves opined that perhaps the committee “tried to spread the wealth among the conferences, rather than the best 14 teams.”

After the selection, committee chair Richard Johnson of Wofford cited New Hampshire’s win over FBS team Georgia Southern as a major reason for its inclusion. However, Georgia Southern is 1-10 even while playing in the relatively weak Sun Belt Conference.

On social media, New Hampshire received the lion’s share of scorn after its 14th straight appearance in the playoffs. In the last three years, the Wildcats have gone 7-4, yet squeaked into the field each time.

UNH athletic director Marty Scarano has been on the committee each time. According to NCAA rules committee members must leave the room when their school is being discussed. However, they are free to weigh in on the competition.

However, Johnson said that “nobody was voting New Hampshire because of Marty.”