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The Best Record Doesn’t Always Mean Home Field; Stadium Quality, Money Plays Role in FCS Site Selection

By Paul T. Choate

Graphic courtesy of Tyler Buckwell and Appalachian Sports Information.

Nov. 20, 2012. The No. 7 Appalachian State Mountaineers ended up with another home game at Kidd Brewer Stadium in the postseason and the local fans rejoiced. But how exactly do the 20 teams get selected and how do those who make the NCAA Division 1 FCS Championship playoffs secure home games? Let’s take a look.

“There is a committee that selects the 20 teams. Five of those 20 teams will be seeded. A seeded team is guaranteed a home field advantage,” said Mike Flynn, ASU assistant athletics director for sports information. “After that, it’s all based on bids put in to the NCAA to host games.”

Bids for home games? That’s right. 

As per the bylaw Criteria for Site Determination in the NCAA Division I Manual, the following criteria are to be used in the evaluation of sites for all competition in NCAA championships: 

(a) Quality and availability of the facility and other necessary accommodations; 
(b) Revenue potential (e.g., a financial guarantee or guideline that ensures fiscal responsibility and is appropriate for the particular event, as recommended by the governing sports committee and approved by the Championships/Sports Management Cabinet);
(c) Attendance history and potential; 
(d) Geographical location; and 
(e) Championships operating costs.

In an email to High Country Press, Flynn went on to further explain the process as per the NCAA Pre-Championship Manual: 

With regard to first-round, second-round, quarterfinal and semifinal sites, in addition to the criteria listed in Bylaw, the NCAA Division I Football Committee shall consider the following additional criteria when selecting playoff sites:

a. Prospective host institutions must submit the following minimum financial guarantees, which shall be 75 percent of the estimated net receipts as submitted on the proposed budget:

First round—$30,000
Second round—$30,000

b. If the minimum financial guarantees are met, the committee will award the playoff sites to the top five seeded teams.

c. When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows: (1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (e.g., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel, missed class time).

d. If a second-round, quarterfinal or semifinal playoff site is not available due to the fact the institutions involved did not submit a proposed budget, the committee will contact the institutions and offer the opportunity to submit a bid at the current round’s minimum financial guarantee level. If seeded teams are not involved, the committee will determine the host institutions by applying the championship site-selection criteria in Bylaw

e. If no institution is willing to submit a proposed budget at the current level, the previous round’s minimum financial guarantee will be offered. If seeded teams are not involved, the committee will determine the host institutions by applying the championship site-selection criteria in Bylaw

f. The committee will consider previous crowd-control measures and crowd behavior of the prospective host institution.

The top five teams are seeded based on their performance over the course of the season, taking into account such things as record and the strength of their competition. So what about the other 15 teams? The quality of the facility is looked at first, including anything from having video boards to TV/replay capabilities to stadium lighting. After that though, a lot of it comes down to money. 

The 24,000+ seats at Kidd Brewer Stadium certainly didn’t hurt ASU’s chances of getting a home playoff game. Photo by Ken Ketchie

In a matchup between two unseeded teams, a team with a worse record could still potentially get the home field advantage depending on their financial proposal, according NCAA Director of Championships and Alliances Damani Leech. 

“If we’re looking at two institutions that both have quality facilities, both are unseeded and there is a significant difference in the financial proposal, then we will nine times out of 10 be at the team with the higher financial proposal as our host,” Leech said. 

Leech added that some schools only put in the minimum bid in their financial proposal, but that some get “significantly over” the minimum. 

“You’re guaranteeing the NCAA a minimum amount,” Flynn explained. “If you don’t make that amount you lose money and if you surpass that amount you make money.” 

Leech said bids were submitted prior to any teams being selected. Any school is welcome to submit a bid proposal. If schools that submit proposals are not among the 20 selected teams, their bid is automatically null and void as they have no role in the postseason. Thirty bid proposals were submitted this year. Only after the 20 teams were selected, seeded and paired did a committee review bid proposals in order to determine who would play at home. Leech said the NCAA does not give out the details of school’s bids, but Flynn described ASU as a school that does “bid very aggressively.”

ASU does have one major advantage over other FCS schools. The third thing the NCAA looks at is attendance history and potential. According to Flynn, ASU leads the FCS in attendance to home football games, despite not having the biggest stadium. Also, in the specific case of facing No. 16 Illinois State, ASU was the clear choice for home field based on anticipated revenue. Kidd Brewer Stadium has over 24,000 seats and almost always has an over-capacity crowd. ISU’s Hancock Stadium in Normal, Ill. seats 7,700. 

So between having a great fan base, a more-than-sufficient stadium and an aggressive bidding strategy, it was hard to imagine ASU not getting at least their first game at home unless they were paired with a seeded team. But what do these home playoff games mean for the area in general? Well, a lot. 

Several local businesses tend to prosper from ASU football games during the regular season, but playoff games are a nice added bonus when they happen at home. 

“I think the one thing that is so great about these playoff games is that these are weekends we had not necessarily anticipated,” said Dan Meyer, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “These games are kind of over and above what people budgeted or expected of the boom of economic impact.”

Meyer said that with some postseason games, you might not see as many students in the stands as during regular season games if ASU has already gone on break, but said the games draw alumni and others from other places who want to see the Mountaineers in the playoffs.

“Certainly our lodging and restaurants and retail will be positively impacted by those extra ballgames, so we look forward to having those extra games,” Meyer said. “Any time the team gets into extra play like this we know that draws attention to the town of Boone.”

The meeting between ASU and ISU will be the first ever between the two schools. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. and tickets are available. Season ticket holders still have to purchase tickets to postseason games, but will receive first dibs on available tickets. For tickets and more information on the Mountaineers, visit goasu.com

To view the full bracket for the FCS Division 1 Championship playoffs, visit ncaa.com/interactive-bracket/football/fcs.