Yes, its Still the Big 3 for FCS
And, it’s not even close. With the early success of programs from the Ohio Valley and Southland in the playoffs, there was a lot of poking and prodding at the top 3 conferences at the FCS level. Well, mostly at the CAA, that had a terrible first round. But at the end of the day, we will have a final that features one team from either the CAA or Big Sky, and definitely one from the MVFC. What’s even crazier, is that this domination has been going on since the beginning of the 21st century.
Since the year 2000, there has been no national championship match up where there wasn’t at least one school from the Big 3 conferences involved. The title game in 2002 in which Western Kentucky defeated McNeese State 34-14, if you want to get technical, was a game in which WKU was in a MVFC transition league while winning this championship. Also since the year 2000, only 3 schools outside of the Big 3 conferences have won championships. The aforementioned Western Kentucky in 2002 (kind of), Georgia Southern won its final championship in 2000, and of course Appalachian State won 3 straight from 2005-2007 (that last one particularly painful if you’re a JMU fan). All 3 of these teams have since moved on to the FBS, and have had relative success since moving up.
Not convinced yet? Let’s keep going. Since 2000, of the 38 teams to make it to the championship game, 10 of them have been from a conference outside of the CAA, Big Sky, or MVFC (11 if you want to cling to WKU). 5 of those spots are taken by two teams, App. State 2005, 2006, 2007, and Sam Houston State 2011, 2012. The last 10 years are even more bleak for conferences outside of the big 3. Since 2008, of the 20 teams to reach the national championship, only 3 have come from a conference that isn’t the MVFC, CAA, or Big Sky. Conferences outside of those are also without a national championship in that 10 year span. And even more telling, since the 2016 season, of the 12 teams to make the national semifinals, only one has been from a conference outside the big 3. *Waves the Texas state flag for SHSU in 2017*.
Now, am I saying all of this to say that no other conference deserves to be seeded, or get national recognition? Nothing could be further from the truth. Programs like Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State have dominated their conferences the last few years along with newcomers Kennesaw State in the Big South and Wofford filling the power vacuum in the SoCon. What has been pretty obvious though is while a lot of these conferences have teams improving/catching the perennial powers, they still lack the depth and quality to have their top teams compete week in and week out to get the preparation needed to beat out teams from the Big 3 that are facing fierce competition almost weekly. Again, this isn’t the fault of these very good programs. Their conference rivals need to do better.
But, I do not think all is lost. Kennesaw State is a very young program, and I fully expect them to continue improving. The Big South as a conference will be getting a right now inconsistent, but team with great potential in North Alabama this upcoming season, and looks like Campbell is trying to make a name for themselves (roll humps!). The SoCon was also a league full of parody looking like 5-6 teams could win it at one point (much like the CAA). I suspect those schools in the deep south will continue to make the necessary improvements to return some of their glory. We all know how serious football is down there. The Southland, while most of the perennial powers left a lot to be desired this year, showed improvements with the teams usually milling around the middle of their league. SHSU and McNeese got punched in the mouth this year, and I look forward to seeing how they respond. There was also great improvements in leagues such as the Pioneer, MEAC, Ivy, and SWAC. While the latter two do not participate in the playoffs, it certainly shows that overall, FCS schools are starting to take their programs more seriously. As for the MEAC, had it not been for Bethune Cookman winning the Florida Classic against arch rival FAMU, the Rattlers would have been the ones going to the Celebration Bowl, and North Carolina A&T would have almost certainly gotten an at large bid for the conference.
I say all of that to say, there’s a lot of good football being played at the FCS level. The engagement that I get on the FCS Fans Nation page has opened my eyes up even more to this fact. I also was covering the Patriot League for a radio show I do, so I wasn’t surprised that Colgate was the real deal, and even Georgetown almost had a winning season! (Yes, Georgetown plays Division I football. The more you know.) All I’m saying is, when people start talking about the CAA, Big Sky, and MVFC being so much better than all of the other conferences, they are not doing so without significant data to back them up. There’s been a very obvious gap between the top and the other conferences since the year 2000, and it’s gotten much worse since 2008. Here’s hoping that we get continued improvement and consistency out of these other conferences in 2019 and beyond. Who knows, maybe even VMI can make a push.