Photos Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Conference
There’s something to be said about the Missouri Valley Football Conference only having one conference commissioner in league history. With her football chops and 24 years of experience, Patty Viverito has changed the perception of the MVFC from forgettable Midwest 1-AA football conference to an FCS powerhouse. The MVFC had six teams in the FCS Top 25 for 21 weeks in a row while playing the toughest schedules in the nation. We spoke with Viverito about the challenge of having too many good programs beating each other up week after week.
(This interview was conducted November 3. Patty Viverito’s answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
[image link=”true” src=”4196″ alt=”Patty Viverito presents Missouri Valley conference championships”]
What has the Missouri Valley Football Conference been doing to help its 10 institutions?
I think it’s fair to say that the biggest and most important step we took as a league is when we brought the Dakotas into the league. North Dakota State, South Dakota State and the more recent addition in South Dakota have all elevated the league in a really important way. Some of that has to do with resources that the schools bring. Some of it has to do with just the rivalries and the interest that’s created when you have such great teams and a lot of time built into those rivalries.
Six teams in the Top 25 all year; what does the Missouri Valley have that the other conferences in the FCS lack?
(Laughs) Really good teams (laughs). We’re on a pretty impressive run here. It wasn’t that long ago that we looked enviously on the CAA and some other leagues that were getting more teams than us into the postseason and we felt a little disrespected. We went ahead and did some really terrific non-conference scheduling and came up with really important wins and we really proved how good this league is in recent years and especially last year. We’re continuing on this year.
Does attrition during conference play worry you about not getting as many teams as possible into the playoffs?
We are beating each other up. I think the difference this year from last year is that we’re nine deep this year. We got nine playoff caliber teams and they’re not all going to get in because it’s simple mathematics that tells you they’re not all going to have winning records in the conference. We have a bunch of these teams sitting at 4-4, and really a credit to the poll makers that they still recognize that these are tournament and playoff caliber teams and are still ranking them. They deserved to be ranked.
The respect has been proven with five teams getting in the playoffs in 2014.
How about the teams going and proving it? The teams get in and go out and win. That’s what’s really important, not that they just got in. There have been a lot of conferences that have snuck in teams that were above and beyond what they were expecting and anticipating, and maybe even deserving, then they fall on their faces and don’t advance in the playoffs. They get exposed rather than gain exposure.
Has that carried over into this year?
I think it’s carried over into the rankings and the respect that we’re given. But again, I’m not sure there has been a team, in fact, I almost guarantee there’s never been a team who has got into the playoffs with a 6-5 record and that may happen this year. That might actually have to happen this year because we could very well have a team or two with that record that has multiple Top 25, even Top 10 wins.
Do you talk to the people on the playoff committee about that? What’s their criteria for a playoff team? The strength of schedule? Win-loss record? GPI (Gridiron Power Index)?
It’s not that simple, and a part of the problem is that there’s not a lot of opportunity for crossover competition, or out-of-conference competition. It’s an 11-game season and you only have three opportunities and most of our teams are playing at least one FBS game, those wins are hard to come by, maybe not so for the Bison (laughs), but for most teams they’re pretty hard to come by. Now, we’re faced with the challenges of even scheduling those games. There are fewer and fewer of
those teams that are willing to play our top teams because they have won. We’ll see how that plays out. The Big Ten’s policy about not scheduling FCS teams makes us very nervous. We don’t think that’s good for the good of the game and certainly not good for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Our teams have shown if we can’t schedule them then we’ll go schedule Oregon (laughs). There’s certainly no fear in our teams playing anybody.
Is scheduling nine conference games something you’ll look at down the road?
No. No, it’s suicide. Like, what would we possibly gain from that? We’ve had that conversation… because it seems so logical, “Ten teams, play a nine-game schedule, round-robin.” That’s all fine and dandy theoretically, but if you don’t give our teams an opportunity to win out of conference, all the selection committee has to look at is all of us beating each other up. Look at this year as an example. It would only hurt us when it comes to postseason play.
[image link=”true” src=”4197″ alt=”the 2013 NDSU Bison football team hoists the Missouri Valley Football Championship trophy after their last game of the season”]
The college football landscape is in a unique position with autonomy being granted to the “Power 5” conferences and the gap between them and the “Next 5” and FCS conferences is widening. Could you see a situation where the college football landscape is drastically different in the next five years with the Power 5 breaking away and the Next 5 and FCS conferences merging?
A couple of things are in play here. First of all, the Power 5 conferences all have long-term media rights agreements, some with their own networks and some of them even have conference rules that say if a team leaves, they leave their media right behind. Like, they have put golden handcuffs on the teams that are in the Power 5 and I see very little movement during the current television contract until those play out and we’re probably talking eight to 10 years. I think there’s a lot of stability at the top, and I don’t see much motivation to change the way they operate given NCAA granting them autonomy. They control all the football revenues through the college football playoffs, so there’s not much incentive for them to break away. The only thing that might change that is if the legal landscape changes the way we do business in a dramatic way. And even the most recent legal decisions have really supported the collegiate educational model. Those court cases are far from being resolved so I think until both are resolved, and it might go to the Supreme Court, it’s hard to make any reliable predictions because that could change everything. That being said, I don’t see anything out of the landscape that’s triggering major shifts like we’ve experienced a couple years ago. What I think has happened is, they (Power 5) have separated themselves so dramatically from everybody else, and especially the Next 5, in a way that puts those five conferences in a really difficult situation because they don’t have the means to keep up and there’s probably no turning back either. They’re in a tough spot. I wouldn’t want to be wearing their shoes at this point in time. I think they’re in a tough spot.
I guess what got me thinking was the decision of the Power 5 to require cost-of- attendance and just seeing the trickle-down effect of that ruling last January. What was your reaction when NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen told you NDSU is going to implement full cost-of– attendance?
I know that it’s going to cause some angst within the league and within the subdivision. I don’t know how much of a game-changer that is. I don’t know. I thought it was interesting that several individual institutions, who are pretty predominant, came out immediately after that and said, “We’re not following suit.” So it didn’t create this avalanche of change that I think some people might have anticipated. But when you got Montana State and schools in the Colonial and CAA saying, “It doesn’t change what we’re doing.” Then we had schools in our own league say, “It’s fine, and it’s not going to change the way we do business.” I think that the next two recruiting cycles, depending how it plays out and depending on how much of a difference maker it is, may change the way FCS operates. But for most of the FCS, I don’t think cost-of- attendance is in their budgets.
What’s changed within the conference since NDSU joined eight years ago?
I would say it’s become the standard bearer, not just for the Missouri Valley Football Conference but for the entire FCS. They’re the envy of this subdivision and for very good reason. Not just because they win – and they win a lot and they win with class – but they’ve got this incredible fan base that again, it’s really the envy of the subdivision. But what that’s done in our league is opened eyes in a way that causes other teams to want to emulate them – both on and off the field. We had a bunch of sellouts this year across the league. That was really unheard of five years ago. And it’s become almost commonplace for our teams to sell out the big games now. That’s really encouraging. We also have a lot of schools that are investing a lot of money in their programs with facilities and again, with coaching staffs, as you’ve already mentioned with some schools anteing up for cost-of-attendance.
It was announced in October that Judy MacLeod would become the first female FBS conference commissioner 30 years after you were one of the first females to be a conference commissioner.
I’ve known Judy for a long time. She was in the Missouri Valley when Tulsa was in the league, so I’ve had the pleasure of working with her and she’s a terrific administrator and a good friend. I wish her well. And she’s absolutely totally capable of running that conference and she’s got the football chops, time on the men’s basketball committee and she’s paid her dues, and I think it’s going to be great. We’re going to have a female in the room with the FBS conferences now. We got a lot of women in the FCS room when it comes to the commissioners meetings and that’s changed pretty dramatically just over the last couple of years.
What’s allowed for that shift to happen?
Presidents became comfortable hiring women and that’s what gave me the opportunity. It was back in the mid-80s and there were a bunch of football schools looking for a home because the Missouri Valley had dropped football at the time. We were in the Gateway, a women’s league at the time, and I had ten presidents who were really comfortable working with me and said, “Let Patty run the football league.” If they’d gone out looking for a football commissioner and just opened it up as an open search, that might not have been an opportunity I would have been given because there were no female football commissioners at the time. I’d like to think my being in this position for a long time and having some success has given some credibility to a women’s ability to run a football league.
So some would say you’re somewhat of a trailblazer?
(Laughs) Blaze away.