UND, Missouri Valley view break in precedence as committee chair says hosting not just about financials
Jermaine Truax, athletic director at Bucknell, says the committee opted for Weber State to host North Dakota based on performance. UND athletic director Bill Chaves, an FCS veteran of nearly 25 years, says that's the first time he's heard the committee utilize that criteria over the financial component.
GRAND FORKS — The UND football team will hit the road this weekend to Ogden, Utah, to play Weber State for the first round of the FCS Playoffs, but it won't be for the reason many in Grand Forks and around the FCS community believe.
FCS Playoffs committee chair Jermaine Truax said the committee elected to award the home playoff game to Weber State based on performance, rather than a financial bid.
"We're looking at several different factors," said Truax, a five-year committee member from Bucknell. "One is a financial factor. One is a team performance factor. One is a student-athlete experience factor. When we looked for North Dakota and Weber, everything was on par as far as the student-athlete experience, so what it boiled down to was financials and team performance.
"In this case, North Dakota put in a very strong financial bid. No issues. They put their best foot forward. Nothing wrong with the bid. It was a strong financial offer, although we don't disclose those numbers. Ultimately, what won the day was the team performance."
For UND athletic director Bill Chaves, who has nearly 25 years of experience in bid submission at UND, Eastern Washington, UMass and Northeastern, he sees a break from history.
"It's always been understood that bids and what the committee looks at is the financial component," Chaves said. "Should you be greater in that area, you receive a home game. This is the first time I've heard the committee use that criteria ... which is out there ... and weighing that greater than the financial commitment."
From the FCS' Host Operations Manual: "When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows (listed in alphabetical order): (1) attendance history and potential, (2) quality of facility, (3) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (4) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel, missed class time); and (5) team’s performance (e.g., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents)."
Chaves said UND bid 70 percent greater than when the school lost its bid to Nicholls State in 2019.
"What struck me on this one is our financial bid," Chaves said. "We never get the bids given to us even at the end of the tournament, but I have enough connectivity around the country that our financial bid was incredibly healthy. The reason (it was 70 percent greater than 2019) was we didn't want to get outbid financially, and that's what I understand is 100 percent the case here."
Truax said the FCS community has a "misnomer" about the process that it's strictly about the financial ability.
"This has always been the way we look at it," Truax said. "What's unique about this is there hasn't been from a committee perspective a disparity like this between performance of the two teams. It's not always financial. It's not as simple as putting the highest bid and getting it. Nothing is weighted more than the other."
Truax said the committee didn't have any concerns with UND's financial bid or the student-athlete experience.
"No issues with facility, and it's a great community, great fan base," Truax said. "It really was the Weber body of work at 9-2 with a dominant FBS win. Their two losses were to seeded teams in their own conference and depending on what you're looking at those teams are (ranked second and third) all year long. That team performance won the day."
Weber State beat Utah State 35-7 and lost to Sacramento State and Montana State by less than a touchdown. Both Sacramento State and Montana State are top four seeds in the national tournament.
UND finished the year 7-4 and in third place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Chaves would like further clarity on the process.
"We need to be clear on the rules of engagement," Chaves said. "It seems like, in talking with the past chair of the FCS committee, he can't recall or recollect a time in his tenure that after apples to apples, the best financial bid didn't win out.
"Moving forward, there are a couple of things you can do. You could seed 16 teams, so it takes this debate out of the committee hands, then you have a minimum amount to host that game. We have the financial data to put that process in place.
"What's odd is that part of the bracket has to do with saving money based on bus trips, but in this case, a financial bid wasn't chosen for the financial benefit of the tournament."
In a Herald open record request following the 2019 regular season, UND documents show a guarantee offer of $75,003.75 for the ability to host a first-round game. According to the FCS Host Operations Manual, a minimum bid for hosting in the first round of the FCS playoffs is $30,000, growing by $10,000 through the second round, quarterfinals and semifinals.
Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito said she was surprised and disappointed by the committee's decision.
"It's certainly a break in a long-standing precedence that I've understood for years that they make the matchups and when the field is set the committee opens envelopes with bids and the higher number hosts," Viverito said. "They've not made exceptions to that process even when facilities are disparate. That's been sacrosanct. It surprises me and disappoints me. I'm awfully glad North Dakota is in the field and will have the opportunity to play on the road and make a statement."
Viverito said sticking to the financial component removes controversy from the process.
"I think that subjectivity in the selection process is extremely difficult because there are such few data points," she said. "If you have an opportunity to take a variable and make it clean, then it's not about who's deserving because it eliminates that controversy. You can say, hey, it's a bid process. Want to host? Get a Top 8 seed. We've lived with that as procedure for a long, long time. I can't recall any different, and I've been doing this for a long time.
"I spoke with (Chaves) this fall, and he was confident nobody was going to outbid (UND) if he was selected to the tournament and not seeded, so I thought (the Missouri Valley) would have a third team host. That didn't come to pass, and I'm really disappointed. I'm especially disappointed North Dakota has been maligned for not stepping up, and I know that's not the case."