JU, PFL get booster shot with NCAA playoff expansion
JU football received a booster shot this week when the NCAA Executive Committee gave approval to expanding the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and with it will go an automatic berth to the Pioneer Football League champion.

The approval came after a recommendation by the Division I Championships/Sport Management Cabinet and will increase field size from 20 to 24 teams. The football increase begins in the fall of 2013.

The PFL becomes the 11th conference to get a pass while the remaining three new spots will be given as at-large berths.

The PFL joins Big Sky Conference, Big South Conference, CAA Football, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Northeast Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Patriot League, Southern Conference and Southland Conference with an automatic qualifier.

Plans are for eight teams to be seeded and earn first-round byes and play host to second round games. The NCAA will consider geography and travel costs when putting together early-round matchups.

“We are extremely pleased with the NCAA’s decision to expand the FCS playoff bracket to include an automatic qualification berth for the Pioneer Football League champion,’’ Director of Athletics Brad Edwards said. “The prospect for post-season play is a significant opportunity and a major incentive for our student-athletes. Jacksonville University takes great pride in its football program and the success it has achieved over the last four to five years, winning two conference championships and competing for a third one. To now have this enhanced possibility to compete for a national championship is tremendous.’’

JU coach Kerwin Bell, too, is elated with the decision.

“It’s very significant for the league and for us going forward in recruitment, for the players on board now and for the city and our university within the city,’’ Bell said. “Now if we can win our conference, which we’ve done two of the last four years, we’ve got a chance to represent Jacksonville and JU in a national playoff with 23 other teams for a chance to win a national championship. Anytime you talk about playoffs or championships, it takes your program to another level.’’

Bell, whose team nearly received an at-large bid in 2010, said the automatic berth is proof the PFL is gaining national notoriety.

“We were so close in 2010,’’ he said. “We had a good team and a chance to get in and that was a disappointment. Now to know you have that automatic bid it proves and shows to everyone that people are starting to recognize there is good football in this conference and the winner of this conference deserves the chance to compete for a national championship. It’s going to take our program to another level.’’