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Playoff Scenarios... Lehigh on the road?

Playoff scenarios?
Lehigh fans are starting to look optimistically at possible playoff scenarios, as well as the national pundits of I-AA. Both are assuming that Lehigh will win their last two games and go 10-1 overall - a pretty lofty assumption with 2 games left against teams who would like no better than to eliminate Lehigh's postseason chances.

At first, I thought if Lehigh goes 10-1, that it would be a mortal lock that Lehigh would at least get a home game, or with (admittedly) a lot of help get the #1 seed in the Eastern bracket. However, it's becoming clear that there are possible scenarios where Lehigh goes on the road in the first round, even if they are 10-1.

Say what? Sure enough, take a look at Matt Dougherty's mock playoff column:

Projected Matchups and Seeds:
Wofford at No. 2 James Madison
William & Mary at Georgia Southern
Hampton at No. 3 Furman
Lehigh at Delaware

Jacksonville State at No. 1 Southern Illinois

Eastern Washington at Western Kentucky
New Hampshire at No. 4 Sam Houston State
Cal Poly at Montana

Yep. Unbelievable but true in the wild and wacky world of I-AA playoff seeding.

Why would this outrage occur, should the "Dougherty seeding" come to pass? The answer: Attendance figures. I-AA wants to pick not just the best teams, but also want to pick the best representatives of I-AA when it comes to home venues. But here's the rub: if a team finishes in the Top 4 seeds (which are reserved for the league champions with the most impressive records), they are guaranteed home games (if they want them) for at least 2 rounds. So you'd never see William & Mary or James Madison (two schools that averaged less attendance per game than Lehigh and Delaware last year) not get a home game if they get a Top 4 seed.

That leaves 4 possible other playoff home games. But since the remaining teams are not "seeded", it's up to the I-AA selection committee to decide which team is more worthy of a home game. And more often than not, it appears to be going to certain teams, like Delaware, Montana, Western Kentucky, Furman, or Georgia Southern.

Were you taking notes? Here's the short version. The committee chooses the Top 4 seeds, but doesn't really have an option to exclude the A-10, Gateway, Southland, Big Sky or SoCon champs if they have 1 or 2 losses. After that, it's a free-for-all based on the whims of the playoff selection committee, which suspiciously have gone more often than not to Western Kentucky, Montana, Delaware, or Furman.

Now, to be fair, it's completely understandable to have some of these teams to host a first round playoff game. Georgia Southern lost to I-A Georgia and #2 Furman. Should Furman win the SoCon title, of course the Golden Eagles should play the first round at home.

Similarly, I have a hard time denying Western Kentucky this year a home game if their only losses were to 1-A Kansas St. and #1 Southern Illinois.

But Delaware, should they win out, will be 8-3. Sure, one of those losses was to Navy, and two other losses were to ranked opponents, James Madison (#4) and New Hampshire (#7). But look down their schedule, and you see only 1 team they have beaten that is still ranked: #10 William & Mary.

Oddly enough, even though Delaware lost to New Hampshire in week 1, they are still considered 5-1 in the A-10. That's because the New Hampshire game by mutual consent was considered a "non-conference" game.

Now, let's say Lehigh goes 5-0 in the Patriot League and goes 10-1. Should a team that goes undefeated in their league really have to go on the road to play a team who lost 2 games to teams within their own division? According to the way the stars appear to possibly be aligning - yes.

It's sad too, because last year Lehigh was in the Top 25% of I-AA schools in average attendance. (This year could top last year in attendance, too.) Of the teams mentioned in Mr. Dougherty's column, only the "magic four" of Delaware, Montana, Furman, and Georgia Southern outdrew Lehigh last year. Two of the playoff teams, William & Mary and New Hampshire, had less average attendance per game than Holy Cross. But with 3 of the "magic four" not being top seeds, Lehigh could get squeezed out of having the chance again to host a home game.

If they do end up having to go to Delaware to play a game, it will just show one thing: the I-AA community thinks of Lehigh, yet again, as not in the same league as Delaware. It will be interesting to see how the Mountain Hawk players respond to being "snubbed", if this indeed does come to pass.

In the meantime, I guess it's time to root for Villanova a week from Saturday.

Coming up: Lehigh/Fordham Press


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