By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State athletic director Ron Strollo served on the FCS playoff committee the previous four years. With YSU hoping to earn its first playoff berth since 2006, he shed some light on the selection process.
Q. First of all, give us a Playoff 101 from the standpoint of the committee. What are they looking for?
A. Obviously they take the AQs [automatic qualifiers] first and then go around the table — because you have a representative from every conference — and, essentially, they have an opportunity to throw whoever they think [is worthy] up on the board for discussion.
And throughout this process, they’ve been ranking teams. So it’s not like it’s the first time they’ve heard about different schools. And even some of the conference members, they’re assigned another conference to kind of be the outside expert on that conference.
Then they start voting.
I think they can only fill half the bracket of whatever the remaining [teams] are, so if there’s 11 AQs and 13 [at-large] teams, they can only place six or seven on that first vote. And usually that six or seven is pretty clean, because you can still have maybe a team that’s ranked fourth but may not have won their conference. From that point on, the vote gets smaller, so it’s half of that next group and it kind of goes down through that.
Now, some people think they sit there and count conferences and count numbers, but really it comes down to individual resumes against individual resumes until they fill the bracket.
Q. From YSU’s perspective, if you win Saturday, do you feel confident that you’re in?
A. Yeah, I would feel really confident that we would be in that mix.
Q. If you lose on Saturday, what would the committee look at when it comes to YSU?
A. Well, they’re going to look at the conference and they’re going to look at some of the scores we’ve had in our conference.
Although it’s not a formal process, they’ll have strength of schedule and some different things in front of them.
Q. Like GPI and polls?
A. Yeah, although that’s not a formal thing. They actually develop a more formal RPI to use as a tool [called the NCAA Simple Rating System]. No one knows how those numbers are going to work out and who it’s going to favor or whatever.
I think there’s something to say about being the second-best team in the Missouri Valley or the third-best team in the Missouri Valley, so that’ll be one of the things that Troy Dannen, the Northern Iowa AD [athletic director] will talk about when they talk about us or South Dakota State, so that carries some weight in there.
At the end of the day, it comes down to how an 8-4 team from our conference compares to an 11-1 team from another conference like the Patriot League or another conference like that. A lot of times, even though it’s not in writing, it comes down to the committee member saying, ‘OK, who wouldn’t I want to play?’ And that’s where I think sometimes we might have an advantage.
Q. When it comes to bids on home games, what are the things they look at?
A. It starts with seeding the top eight, because the top eight won’t have to play that first week. And we won’t be part of that top eight.
So they take the next 16 and literally try to match them up geographically. And obviously they can’t match up conference schools. So once they have them all matched up, they start trying to place them in brackets, so you look at the likely winner of that [first-round] game, where would they go to play so you can control the cost.
Once the bracket is done, they’ll go through and open the two bids between the two teams. And whoever has the higher bid, as long as the facility is adequate, they’ll more than likely get the home game. So, you could be the 24th team in, but if you bid enough, you can still be at home.
Based upon my experience of being on the committee the last four years, our bid would be very aggressive.
Q. People always have conspiracy theories or talk about politics. How satisfied were you as a member of the committee that they were picking the best teams?
A. (Laughs.) You know, I can assure you there’s no conspiracy theories, but there may be biases based upon there being more schools and conferences in the east, therefore there’s more representatives from the schools in the east. And they may have more of a bias because they’ve seen those teams play or they’ve seen teams that those other teams have played.
And I think sometimes, obviously, when you’re in that room, you have to vote on what you know. It’s not like the basketball committee where those games are all televised and those people are sitting there in front of TVs every night watching games.
So, some of it is kind of a gut [instinct] and if you’ve seen those teams play and they impressed you, then you feel good about it.
Q. They expanded the field to 24 last year. How does that affect this year’s committee? Does it make it easier or harder?
A. I think it’s going to make it a lot harder because before it came down to maybe one spot for an 11-1 team vs. an 8-4 team and now you might have three or four of those discussions going on. I think it’s going to be really difficult for them.
For more details on the process, visit www.ncaa.com/fcs-selections-101.