NAIA Football Could Possibly Move to 20 Team Postseason

The first major change to the NAIA football postseason since 1996 could be coming soon.

A task force in the NAIA is considering a move from 16 postseason qualifiers to 20 as early as 2025. The National Administrative Council (NAC) will mull over the issue in advance of the 2023 NAIA National Convention in New Orleans, La. in April.

If approved, the move would allow each qualified conference to have one automatic qualifier. There are currently 13 conferences which participate in NAIA football. To be a qualified conference, there must be six teams in the league. Proposals like this have been brought forth in the past to move to a 24 team postseason but had been shot down based on the shear numbers. The delay until 2025 would be to allow for conferences with advanced schedules to make appropriate changes.

The move to 20 teams would mean 20% of NAIA football teams would qualify for the postseason, a threshold typically used by other major sports in the association. There are currently 99 teams playing in the NAIA division. Men’s Basketball has 233 total teams with 64 qualifying for postseason (27%). Volleyball has 224 total teams with 48 qualifying for the postseason (21%).

The proposal could eliminate the one continuous sticking point every NAIA football postseason where “conference champions rated in the top 20” where seemingly ever year someone is left out or has to fight to make the Top 20. Although, there will be more discussion to determine that portion of the proposal.

It’s a positive step forward for the future of NAIA football which hasn’t seem any major postseason qualification changes in over 25 years. The current structure was adopted at the end of the 1996 season when the NAIA switched from two divisions of football down to one, consolidating the division. That year Southwestern Oklahoma State defeated Montana Tech 33-31 in the final DI championship game while the University of Sioux Falls downed Western Washington, 47-25. The first NAIA football championship was played in 1956 with Montana State and Saint Joseph’s (Ind.) playing to a 0-0 tie in Little Rock, Ark.

I would like to see the elimination of the Top 20 rating provision for postseason qualification replaced with the team only needing to be above .500 to qualify. Then we truly could see every conference champion represented in the postseason with only minor stipulations. It would also eliminate late season open bye weeks where teams would rather sit idle than play a team out of their conference in fear of dropping in the ratings and not making the postseason.

Given the backing of the proposal outside of the football coaches, I do see a 20 team postseason coming to fruition. Previous attempts to expand the postseason were put forward by the NAIA Football Coaches Association and shot down. This time, the proposal has the backing of the conference commissioners which means there’s support for it outside of just the football offices of NAIA schools. Add in the growth of NAIA football to 99 teams and the proposal seems to be on solid ground.

Now onto the next item. . .a multi million dollar sponsorship to seed the postseason into a tournament rather than a championship series that has to be evaluated each round. Obviously, that hill is a much tougher climb. More to come on that after I cash this Powerball ticket…

%d bloggers like this: