The DII football championship bracket will have a new feel to it for the 2019 season. Simply put, the NCAA DII Football Committee will be able to adjust the qualified teams in the bracket with the intention of reducing the charter flights of the earlier rounds.
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But what exactly does that mean? The selection process set out for the committee on Sunday, Nov. 17 will remain the same: There are still four Super Regions comprised of seven teams, making up a 28-team field. The No. 1 seeds will still get a bye, setting up three first-round games in each Super Region.
The change will be in the No. 5-7 seeds, where the committee will have the flexibility to move those teams out of region or in-region to a closer destination to cut down on flights. For example, the traditional No. 2 vs. 7 and No. 4 vs. 5 regional matchups could become No. 2 vs. 5 and No. 4 vs. 7 if the travel plans make more sense.
This is a move that the committee sees beneficial to the teams, the fans and the tournament as a whole. While it obviously will help to budget, it will give the fans more of a chance to experience game day in Rounds 1 and 2 without the stress of booking a flight.
We sat down with Donnie Wagner — Associate Director of Championships and Alliances — and the chair of the DII Football Committee Daryl Dickey to discuss the changes and what they mean moving forward.
NCAA.com: What led to the change for this tournament?
Donnie Wagner: Over the last three years, the number of flights in the football bracket increased from 12 to 15 to 18. Almost two years ago the committee started to take a look at this to see if there was something else that needed to be done. At the same time, there was a championships subcommittee that was looking at regionalization as a whole and different bracketing models, so DII football looked at it from that perspective, too. But really the flight piece started to drive things.
Every flight taken in the football championship is a charter flight. When the average of those flights is about $100,000, the committee needed to look at things, because that’s not sustainable over time.
The committee started looking at a few different models of the bracketing piece. The one that made the most sense is the one that has been approved through the NCAA governance structure. I feel really confident that the committee will see a reduction of flights. Of course, the committee won’t know until Selection Sunday, but I think it will have the desired effect they hope for in the first two rounds.
NCAA.com: Come Selection Sunday when the seeds are being made, is that something that the committee will reach out to the schools to discuss or is that a decision made in the selection process?
DW: It’s a decision made by the football committee. What the regional advisory committees and the national committee have been told is that nothing will change in regards to selections. Seven teams are still going to be selected from each of the four Super Regions and that process will not change. It’s only once the national committee starts to bracket: seeds 1-4 will stay in what we’ll call their home region. Seeds 5, 6 and 7 are basically at large teams and not seeded and can be placed anywhere on the bracket that can reduce the number of flights.
Now, when you move a team out of region, another team has to come into that region. So if you move a G-MAC team out of Super Region 1, for example, you got to move somebody in. So there are some pieces in play; the committee won’t know what kind of flexibility there is until the teams are selected.
NCAA.com: Do you see that movement as the biggest challenge? Were there any reservations to moving forward with this model?
DW: That’s going to be the biggest challenge. It’s going to take longer on our call than in the past. In Division II football bracketing — No. 1 seed gets a bye, the 2 plays the 7, the 3 plays the 6, and the 4 plays the 5— the bracket took about five minutes to put together once the selections had been completed. This will take a little bit more time, but the committee will follow through the policies the committee has put in place and will see where adjustments need to be made to minimize the flights.
The good thing is the committee can start looking at things as they start to get into the [regional] rankings process in the next couple of weeks and start to look at what options may exist. This way when the committee gets to Selection Sunday, they’ve given it some thought prior to and not just sitting there at noon on Sunday worrying about the bracketing piece. They will have been looking at that to hopefully make things easier for the committee on Selection Sunday.
Daryl Dickey: The reservation would be the unknown at this point. We went back and did the best that we could with three years of data and applied it to this new formula in trying to answer questions, but we’ll never know until we go through it. We have done all that we can to help the NCAA with a sustainable model that improves one that was going in the wrong direction.
DW: There will be flights still. That’s the goal: to reduce that, but there will be teams that have to travel. When you look at the membership whether it’s from Minnesota to Colorado to Texas, there will still be some travel, but the committee hopes to minimize that.
There is a concern that there will be more conference matchups created in the first round. That is entirely possible, the committee hopes that’s not the case. But conference matchups occurred in the first round previously. Will it be more, will it be less, that’s hard to tell.
But keep in mind, there are some leagues that don’t play a full conference schedule. So even though there could be a conference matchup it doesn’t mean they have played during the regular season.
NCAA.com: What are the biggest positives you’re hoping to see? What can fans expect from the new format?
DD: That’s what we found when we went back and applied this formula to three, maybe four years of tournament fields that we had. We were finding that first and second-round games were a lot more accessible to fans. So, the fans and the parents will have a lot more opportunity to get to the early round ballgames, especially when you start thinking about Thanksgiving weekend being in there.
The other thing that was interesting was there are opponents that cross region boundaries that are in proximity and never play each other because they are out of the region. That lends itself to some interesting matchups that can be a little more regional for the institutions they are playing.
NCAA.com: What other changes or concerns do you have for future tournaments in regards to the new bracket initiative?
DW: The alignment changed a few years ago. When the flights went up, that was the first question: was it due to the alignment? We’ve had two years of it and the answer is maybe, maybe not. However, it is something that the committee needs to continue to look at. Yes, there are other alignment possibilities, but the feeling is this provides the committee the most flexibility. But the committee will continue to monitor this, but hopefully, this first year has the desired effect that the committee is looking for.
There continues to be discussion [about expanding teams], but the cost to expand a bracket is significant. The committee needs to see that this bracketing model has the desired impact that they believe it will, and then look at that in the future.