By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One important aspect of this year's expansion of the FCS playoffs is that it makes it more possible for conferences like the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Ohio Valley Conference to have multiple playoff teams.
Both conferences just need to do something positive with their opportunities.
OVC teams have not won a playoff game since 2000 - a span of 14 games - and MEAC teams have been winless since 1999 - a span of 13 games.
Had the field not expanded from 16 to 20 teams, the OVC likely would have had two qualifiers anyway, Southeast Missouri State (9-2) with the automatic bid as the conference champion and Jacksonville State (9-2) as an at-large selection.
The MEAC, however, would have gotten only Bethune-Cookman (10-1) in as its champion. South Carolina State (9-2) benefited from the two additional at- large bids as one of the last teams to get into the field.
Bethune-Cookman is making its first playoff appearance since 2003. The Wildcats earned the MEAC's auto bid after tying for the conference title with South Carolina State and Florida A&M. They have a first-round bye over Thanksgiving weekend and will open postseason play on Dec. 4 by hosting playoff staple New Hampshire (7-4). The visitor from CAA Football is making its seventh straight appearance - a current high in the FCS.
People within the MEAC have complained that its conference teams have not faired well over the last decade because of difficult first-round pairings. This year's opening games provide hope for success.
The OVC boasts two FCS champions in the 1979 and '82 Eastern Kentucky squads, but its teams have struggled mightily in the playoffs in recent years, losing by an average of 26.3 points in four first-round games since 2007.
The conference has had multiple qualifiers 17 times, and this year's two qualifiers were strong enough to earn first-round byes.
Jacksonville State will stay at home on Dec. 4 for its first playoff game since 2004. The Gamecocks will host Southern Conference co-champion Wofford (9-2) in the second round.
Meanwhile Southeast Missouri State is reveling in its first-ever playoff appearance, but coach Tony Samuel and the Redhawks have to travel all the way to Eastern Washington, the No. 5 playoff seed, for a second-round game on Dec. 4.
"It's a great situation for us. It's a great opportunity for us to take our program to another level. We just have to take care of business," said Samuel, basically summing up the opportunity for the four MEAC and OVC teams in this year's playoff field.