Annex the Valley


Senior quarterback Mark Iannotti holds onto the ball after getting his helmet knocked off Saturday during SIU’s loss to North Dakota State at Saluki Stadium. Iannotti rushed for a total of 88 yards during the game. 

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

The NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision faced a problem this winter: Not enough of its teams won the minimum amount of games to qualify for its 40 postseason games.

A solution could be found in the former stomping ground of the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft.

Five-time defending champion North Dakota State — the alma mater of new Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz — and the Missouri Valley Football Conference have been dominating the Football Championship Subdivision since the turn of the decade.  It’s time to move on up.


Five MVFC teams made the FCS playoffs in each of the last two years, the most of any conference. Six Valley teams have made the championship game in the last five seasons. Could the FBS annex the MVFC to improve its level of competition? As far as I know, there is no plan in place, but here is why it could work.

FBS teams need at least six wins to be considered for bowl games, no more than one of which can be against FCS teams. Despite boasting competition better than many FBS opponents, MVFC teams have had limited opportunities to prove themselves against better competition because FBS teams have no incentive to schedule them.

The way the system works now, a win for an FBS team against Charlotte or Eastern Michigan, two teams that combined to win three games in 2015, could mean more than a victory against North Dakota State or Illinois State. 

The Bison are 5-0 against FBS teams since the start of the 2010 season. Jeff Sagarin’s College Football Rating had North Dakota State ranked as the 36th-best team in all of Division I. 

The second and third-best teams in FCS according to Sagarin’s formula also hail from the MVFC. Illinois State (77th overall) and Northern Iowa (78th) were rated better than 16 teams that played in FBS bowl games. 

The MVFC as a whole is rated better than Conference USA, the Sun Belt Conference and the Mid-American Conference East Division by some of Sagarin’s metrics. NDSU would have been the sixth-best team in the Big Ten, a conference that had seven bowl-eligible teams. ISU and UNI were better than Rutgers, Maryland and Purdue.

A move to FBS would benefit the conference and its schools financially as well. Five Valley teams won at least six games and had winning percentages above .500 in 2015, meeting requirements to be bowl eligible.


That isn’t to say all those teams would have won as many games against FBS opponents, but schedules heavy with C-USA and Sun Belt opponents would more than likely lead to two or three bowl bids, with payouts between $400,000 and $1 million. North Dakota State, especially, would be an attractive option for bowl games, as its fans travel well (Any excuse to get out of North Dakota, I guess). 

One question left unanswered is whether Valley teams would voluntarily leave the FCS system that gives them a chance to compete for national championships and sell out for a payday. Given the financial situations of most mid-major athletic departments, that possibility might just be too sweet to pass on.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307