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Five-a-Side: James Madison's Jeff Bourne

12:52 PM, Nov 21, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA ( - In the end, the final teams to get into the FCS playoffs and the final ones left out of the field this weekend will be selected subjectively by a committee composed of one member from each of the 11 conferences with something at stake.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the committee members will be well- informed and their findings will show how there needs to be filtering of the facts with concepts that aren't simply black and white because a computer says so.

Think of it this way - do you base all of your decisions in life on what Siri or some computer suggests?

On the surface, the big news with this year's NCAA Division Football Championship playoffs would be that the field increases from 20 to 24 teams, with one of those 11 conference - the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League - finally getting an automatic qualifier, or AQ, for its champion (in this case Butler), and three more teams earning at-large bids to bring that number to 13. The number of seeded teams also will increase from five to eight.

But just as important for selection committee chair Jeff Bourne, the athletic director at James Madison University, and the other committee members is the addition of the NCAA's new Simple Rating System, an RPI-like rating of teams that FCS schools have embraced with a sense of enthusiasm, if not relief, for the selection of at-large teams.

The SRS quantifies the strength of all teams' schedules and results, and will serve as a checkpoint for committee members as they debate the always tough final selections in the field. The SRS results are expected to be released by the NCAA shortly after the field is announced Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPNU).

In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Bourne discusses the new SRS and the playoff selection process.

Let's kick off:

TSN: Can you break down the process that the selection committee will go through this weekend?

JB: We convene on Saturday evening and, of course, the full group of the selection committee will meet in Indianapolis. And we'll sit down and pick up where we left off (by conference call Tuesday) with our discussion on teams and where they fare. We will have the scores, of course, from games that have taken place on Saturday, we'll watch the last several games being played that evening. And we'll start our work to further refine the group and we'll know most of our AQs by then - that always is a starting point. This year, we have 11 AQs, we'll pick 13 at-large institutions.

I think it's important to understand that it's a process, and I use the word 'continue' because we've really been working on this all season. We have a weekly call where we evaluate our teams, use our regional advisory committee, which is really two athletic directors from each of the leagues and they give us perspective and insight into the teams that they've played.

So all that comes together on Saturday evening. We sit down and take a look at all the factors and information that we have available to us to pick the very best 13 teams which will be at-large for the playoffs.

TSN: Is there anything different in going from a 20-team bracket to 24 as far as the pool of at-large possibilities is concerned?

JB: Well, obviously, the number changes, but the dynamics that we use stay exactly the same. The only thing that's out there this year that's a little different than what we've had in the past is a system that was developed a year ago by two professors from Furman University - we call it the Simple Rating System and it's referred to oftentimes as just the SRS.

It's a system that we have been monitoring and using through the fall. It's a more quantitative metrics to help provide another piece of information for the committee on the final selection. It deals with win-loss record, it looks at whether a game was played home or away or a neutral site, and then it also looks at the subdivision of the NCAA where the opponent was from. It's just one more piece of information. Again, it's new, we're still refining it, but it is a document that we're going to refer to.

TSN: Are you finding a lot of people are comforted by the existence of the SRS because it's similar to the RPI system (in college basketball), which so many people are familiar with?

JB: The answer to that is right now we don't know, because it's not been made public and likely won't be until after the selection weekend. But again, I think the important thing for us is that we did listen to the coaches and the athletic administrators and the commissioners over the years to say, what other things are there out there that can be developed or tools that can be used to help us in this process?

It does not mean that subjectivity is still not an important element of some of these decisions, it just has to be. But it does provide for us a more set matrix to take a look at. In my honest opinion, I believe this system is going to be a good system, I think it will still take refinement through this selection process. It can be a very good tool for the committee going forward.

TSN: If it's such an effective tool, would it be odd for an at-large team that's the last team to be selected to the field to be, say, four spots (in the SRS) below a team that wasn't selected?

JB: You'd have to go back and look; we never look at things in isolation. Again, you'd have to see where the team fell on SRS, but we'd also be looking at things like coaches polls and other information that we've collected throughout the year to back that up. There's a lot of information that's shared around that table on Saturday evening and early Sunday morning to reach these decisions.

This is my fourth year on the committee, and I have felt like the committee does a very, very thorough job of analyzing and looking at every one of those teams. And certainly when you as you get down to the last two or three, they're really under a microscope and we work hard to be a position to say, 'Sure, we can defend this decision, and here's why it's a good decision.'

TSN: What is the most difficult task of your committee?

JB: It's a good question. It's diligence, really. I think most people have the illusion that this is a weekend decision. It's not a weekend decision. It starts in early fall and it goes through every game of the season. And certainly this weekend takes (importance).

On behalf of the people who volunteer on to be on this committee, I want to commend them for their hard work and the lack of sleep and the travels for which they don't get anything out of it other than the satisfaction that they helped select the teams. And then from there on, those same individuals who end up going to each of these (playoff) games to watch these teams play out until we get to the national championship in January.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see that there is one particular part that's challenging. I think it's a challenge all year long, and it's incumbent upon all of us as administrators to do what's right for all those young men out there playing the sport of FCS football. And we want to make sure that we do it right and get it right for them.

The Sports Network

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