Selection Sunday was celebrated on the Florida A&M campus. Less than 24 hours after FAMU defeated the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 41-20 at the 2022 Florida Blue Florida Classic, there was a late hit… and it came from the NCAA FCS selection committee. Florida A&M was reportedly set to make the 24-man FCS playoff field for the second year in a row but was instead knocked out of the field, leaving a cloud of wonder, confusion and disappointment in their wake.
The Rattlers started the season with an impressive loss to FBS opponents UNC. While the final score of 56-24 was on the board, the key takeaway of the game was the attitude of Vanderbilt transfer quarterback Jeremy Moussa. He showed control in the game and led the Rattlers to score 24 points on one school from a Power Five conference. The Tar Heels would go 9-2 for the season and play for the ACC title on December 3. FAMU’s 24 points against the Tar Heel equaled or surpassed the score against UNC by Virginia Tech (10), University of Miami (24). ), Pittsburgh (24) and Georgia Tech (21).
The following week, Florida A&M had its loneliest week of the season. After battling internal management issues, the team was clearly unfocused. Coupled with the well-oiled machine that represents Jackson State’s No. 5 FCS team, FAMU fell flat with a 59-3 loss. JSU is unbeaten 0-11 for the first time in school history and is looking to win the SWAC championship. A trip to the Celebration Bowl is in store for the Tigers, who are repeating as SWAC champions, where they will compete for the HBCU National Championship.
JSU head coach Deion Sanders has publicly praised the Celebration Bowl, an event developed by ESPN in conjunction with MEAC and SWAC. He has also reiterated that he has no interest in the FCS playoffs.
The numbers just don’t add up
While there are several scenarios that don’t make sense when we look at the records of teams that have been granted FCS playoff bids, one also has to wonder if it’s not some kind of retaliation against SWAC. The JSU Tigers have become the attraction of Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey that everyone wants to catch a glimpse of. The powerful attack, swarming defense and social media-savvy coach have all drawn a lot of attention. Additionally, attendance at SWAC, fueled by JSU’s massive home crowd at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, MS, is the largest conference attendance in the country.
The NCAA is being placed in a position where it doesn’t have access to the most entertaining team in FCS and SWAC. There must be some resentment among committee members about that fact, coupled with the fact that Sanders doesn’t want to make the playoffs.
At 9-2, Florida A&M is one of the top teams in SWAC. The fact that the Rattlers and Jackson State play in the same division virtually guarantees that the winner of the season opener would wear the SWAC East crown. With JSU’s foot on the gas, FAMU was in 2021 and thought they had an opportunity in 2022 to assert themselves and be in a safe position to earn an NCAA FCS offer. By midday on selection Sunday, word spread around campus that the Rattlers were in danger of not making the playoffs. Shortly after the show started, we noticed through Jay Walker’s comment that some people weren’t happy with this field that he was speaking directly to the Rattler Nation. It was unfathomable in a way.
A loss to a potential Conference Champion Power Five school and a loss to undefeated FCS No. 5 team and a possible Conference Champion and a win to a D-II school. The other eight straight wins were at FCS level, with one being the reigning HBCU national champion from South Carolina State and the other seven being SWAC opponents. The FAMU schedule is not unlike most FCS schools.
Let’s see who came in
There are 24 teams in the FCS Playoffs, with 11 teams receiving automatic bids. None of the conference champions, regardless, the record is a question for the field. The arbitrariness of how the committee deemed the 13 free offers worthy is when the gray area comes into play.
Montana State (Big Sky) was 10-1 on the season. Going 9-2, Weber State (Big Sky), North Dakota State (MVFC), Furman (SoCon) and Fordham (Patriot) all deservedly earned their bids. Going further Elon (CAA), New Hampshire (CAA) and Richmond (CAA) were all selected. At this point you can see a pattern.
On the bottom tier of teams, one has to wonder if HBCU conferences have been severely discriminated against. Four teams with a record of 7-4 were invited to the playoffs, and some of them didn’t play well in the latter part of the season. North Dakota (MVFC), Montana (Big Sky), Idaho (Big Sky) and Delaware (Colonial).
Delaware has lost three of its last four games. Montana has lost three of its last five games. It’s a well-known fact that any big selection depends on how a team is playing. Still, these teams got in while FAMU is sitting.
What the NCAA FCS selection committee did was the most obvious form of disqualification and it was not hidden. That means the committee doesn’t care about SWAC and MEAC, even though they are paying members of the NCAA. The committee did its job of tailoring the field and making sure FAMU didn’t get a chance.
It’s not the first time the NCAA has treated Florida A&M questionably
Coming back to the first-ever Division I-AA (now FCS) championship, one has to wonder what was really going through the minds of the NCAA. First, Florida wouldn’t even allow A&M to move to Division I. It took an appeals process before the NCAA finally approved the school. Once in the division, it basically told the Rattlers they had to win their last three games to make the playoffs. This is where questionable NCAA ethics came into play. In every publication, the NCAA expresses that regionality is an important aspect of playoffs and championships. Literally, the NCAA says in its publication, as it has for the past several decades, “Team pairings are determined primarily by geographic proximity.”
To further explain the hypocrisy HBCUs faced, the field in the 1978 championship was the University of Massachusets, Nevada, Jackson State and FAMU. In their own words, Nevada and Jackson State should have played in the semifinals and FAMU and Massachusets in the other. Then why would the NCAA pair FAMU and Jackson State and Massachusets and Nevada? Conventional thinking is that they didn’t want the possibility of an all HBCU national championship game on national television. Questionable decisions by the NCAA regarding HBCUs are not new, but they still leave one confused.
Could Travis Hunter choosing JSU be a problem for the NCAA old guard?
As one explores each option, one cannot overlook the impact of ESPN’s #1 recruit, Travis Hunter, picking Jackson State over Florida State and other schools. Changing hats on signing day caused a reverberation in the college football world. A small black college with no campus in the ballpark, no proper practice ground, and none of the facilities associated with the Power Five schools arms race could grab the nation’s finest recruit. Sanders was the key element in this “flip”. Could this be some kind of turf protection the NCAA is trying to do to demote HBCUs and stop athletes from going to their “preferred” school and playing at their “preferred” conferences?
We may never know the truth. It is highly doubtful that there is a hidden agenda behind this snub. Unfortunately, one thing is certain, if it can happen to FAMU so easily, then no HBCU is immune to the same consequence.