Still disappointed a day after his team did not receive an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons candidly stated that the Rattlers’ absence from the field was more than just the denial of one school.
“I think it is a slap in the face to all HBCUs,” Simmons said Monday during the SWAC coaches media call. “That we are a worthy team but the powers that be felt otherwise.”
The Rattlers had won nine straight games — eight of which were against FCS opponents — after starting the season 0-2 amid the turmoil surrounding its roster. However, that was not enough to get them into postseason play despite being ranked in the FCS coach poll.
“There are some teams that got in that we’re ranked higher than,” said Simmons. “There are teams that got in that we have more wins than. I think it is a slap in the face of us at the HBCU level. Hopefully, this resonates through our community that we speak up like we always have about injustices to our people.”
FAMU, and other schools on the bubble that did not make the 24-team field, pointed to the likes of several 7-4 teams — Montana, North Dakota, Idaho and Delaware — that earned an at-large bid.
In the case of Montana, the Grizzlies lost three of its final four games, including a 34-point loss to in-state rival Montana State in the regular season finale.
Delaware dropped three of its last five still but found a way to get in while FAMU could not overcome, as suggested by FCS Selection Committee chairman Jermaine Truax, a 56-point loss to Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic and Division II Albany State on its schedule.
The immediate opinion after Truax’s evaluation what that Florida A&M needed to upgrade its non-conference schedule or examine playing the Orange Blossom Classic later in the year so as to not have an early season game carry that much conference implication.
While Simmons did indicate Florida A&M was considering other opponents besides Jackson State to feature in the matchup following the 2023 season, the problem — the coach suggested — was the playoff selection process.
‘I see a pattern’
“Do they (the FCS selection committee) feel it is okay to deny a 9-win team with eight FCS wins and loss to an undefeated top 5 team and another loss to a Power 5 team that will play for a conference championship?” Simmons asked. “If they feel that resume isn’t strong enough to get to the playoffs, then I think that’s a larger discussion. It’s not on us to change it. We’ve done what we needed to do. The problem is the way the committee vets teams.”
It was not lost on Simmons that he’s been in this frustrating position before. In 2015, then as Prarie View coach, the Panthers lobbied to be included in the FCS playoffs but did not make it despite going 8-2 overall and 8-1 in the SWAC that year.
Referring to himself as a “fact-finder” Simmons also pointed out other times HBCU programs were subbed from the FCS playoff field, including an 8-3 South Carolina State team in 2019.
“I see a pattern,” he said. “I’m just a fact-finder. I’m just a guy who points out facts. Those are the facts.”
Deion Sanders, who has not been a proponent of Jackson State being in the postseason because it is not financially advantageous, offered support for Simmons on Monday saying his colleague “was absolutely right” in the assessment of how the situation unfolded.
“He is 100 percent correct and I support him,” said Sanders.