FCS championship may gain 'bowl' rebrand

Feb 12, 2016 - 4:18 PM (STATS) - The FCS conferences whose national playoffs have long set them apart in Division I want to go "bowling" as well.

Those 10 conferences still embrace the playoffs, which have grown from four participants in 1978 to 24 beginning in 2013, but they also want to incorporate an idea of two conferences whose champions are not involved in the playoffs - the MEAC and SWAC.

The champions of the two FCS conferences of historically black schools met in the inaugural Celebration Bowl this past December. The playoff conferences want their championship game, played in early January in Frisco, Texas, to be rebranded with the word "bowl" in the title as well.

They believe the Celebration Bowl gained considerably by being marketed within the FBS bowl schedule. The FBS, the upper level of Division I, had 41 postseason games this past season, including the four-team playoff that began with the 2014 season.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference, home to five-time reigning FCS champion North Dakota State, is a driving force behind the possible rebranding of the championship game. The NCAA and ESPN, which along with its partner networks televise the entire FCS playoffs and most of the FBS postseason, would have to approve a new name, an idea presented to them when FCS conference commissioners met in late January in Florida.

The Big Sky, Big South, Colonial Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Pioneer, Southern and Southland conferences also participate in the playoffs, which is composed of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large selections. The MEAC and SWAC are eligible to have at-large qualifiers, although none gained bids in the first year of the Celebration Bowl, while the Ivy League is the only one of 13 FCS conferences not to participate in a postseason.

"The public understands playoffs, so we benefit from that for the first rounds of the championship," said Patty Viverito, commissioner of both the MVFC and the Pioneer League. "But then when it comes time for the championship game, because it's in the mix of what is the bowl frenzy, it gets lost. So we think we can have the best of both worlds by having the playoffs leading up to the 'Football Championship Bowl' - however it is branded, but with the name 'bowl' so that we become part of the bowl lineup."

Interest in the FCS playoffs has risen during North Dakota State's dynasty. The Bison's championship win over Jacksonville State on Jan. 9 averaged 1.35 million viewers during the ESPN2 broadcast, according to Sports TV Ratings. The Toyota Stadium crowd of 21,836 was the largest of the six finals that have been played in Frisco.

Title sponsorship isn't a necessity with a rebranded championship, although the FCS conferences would consider it. The game between MEAC and SWAC champions, played in Atlanta, is officially the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

"To be in the same space, if you will, as the FBS bowls was absolutely tremendous," MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas said. "We were the first game on ABC to start the bowl season. It was branded that way, it was marketed that way, it was promoted that way."

It's exactly the concept the other FCS conferences envision with a possible championship bowl.

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