It was supposed to be a weekend of celebration. Last Saturday, Texas College beat Bacone College 41-24 to secure a share of the Central States Football League championship. Sunday, they would find out who they would play in the NAIA National Football Championship Tournament. But on Sunday, they were told, they weren't invited.
"I'm very displeased and upset," said Texas College President Dr. Billy Hawkins. "It's really about our young men not having the opportunity to compete in the national championship."
The Steers finished 5-1 in conference play and ranked 25th in the country. But NAIA rules state a conference winner must be ranked in the top 20 to earn a playoff berth. That means their tough non-conference schedule that included two NCAA Division II schools, actually hurt them.
"You get penalized for playing these great programs," said Hawkins. "We think it's the right thing to do if you're going to improve your program."
So the Steers will be forced to avoid the challenging non-conference games, or change the system. And at the NAIA President's Council meeting in the spring, that's exactly what Dr. Hawkins hopes to do.
"My position will be at the spring meeting, that if you win the conference championship in the NAIA, you should have an automatic bid into the national playoffs," said Hawkins. "It's that way in basketball."
Hawkins says Central States Football League Commissioner Joe Stigliano has sent a letter to the NAIA asking them to revisit the selection process. The Central States Football League is one of just two NAIA conferences without a member represented in the playoffs. On the flip side of that, five conferences have two teams in the post season, and one, the Mid-States Football Association-Midwest Conference, has three teams.
If Dr. Hawkins and Commissioner Stigliano can't get the rule changed, Texas College will have some tough decisions to make, like passing up big paydays against the likes of Southern University and Grambling State University.
"Coach [Jay] Brown and I have already talked about it," said Hawkins. "We're going to have to look at our schedule next year outside of conference games and really determine, maybe just play all NAIA schools and sit there with a great record to get into the national playoffs. So, we're going to look at it over the next several months and make those decisions."