Football playoff for NCAA’s Division III needs to reward best teams



Stevenson’s chances at an at-large bid in 2022 were slim despite finishing the regular season at 8-2 because the Mustangs finished second in the Middle Atlantic Conference.

Note: Brody Campbell is a member of the Stevenson football team.

NCAA Division III football has 238 teams scattered across the country in 28 conferences, all of which get one automatic bid, usually for the conference champion, into the 32-team postseason tournament. So there’s room for only four wild-card or at-large teams to earn an invitation.

That’s not enough.

The expansion of the teams in the D-III Postseason needs to change. Stevenson head coach Ed Hottle said the current format causes problems.

Football coach Ed Hottle (Sabina Moran)

“It is an interesting tournament in the sense that it is not the 32 best teams in the country,” Hottle said. “Based on an AQ (Automatic Qualifier) system, if you meet the criteria, it is how you make the tournament. The challenge with football, it is not as easy as just expanding the bracket. Because we only play once a week.”

There have been discussions about how we can change the week-by-week schedule to ensure that more teams make the postseason.

“Do we do away with the bye week, and play 10 straight? Do we back the season up, which means we come in a week earlier? In my opinion (that) is a non-starter because of the cost of student athletes being on campus and feeding them, housing them, etc.” 

There have been these discussions within the athletic departments about all of these scenarios. Hottle has his own proposal that mirrors what happens in Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision.

“Push the national championship after winter break like FCS. Then you have the kids essentially playing year-round football.”

South Dakota State defeated rival North Dakota State in January in Texas to win the 2022 FCS title, the culmination of a 24-team tournament. FCS has. Division II plays its championship game in December, just as Division III does. 

The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) doesn’t hold a championship, instead turning over the playoffs to an independent corporation, the College Football Playoff. The CFP will expand from four to 12 teams for the 2024 season.

Division II has 169 football schools in 15 conferences, but it has zero automatic bids. Instead, the 169 schools are divided into four “Super Regions,” and a selection committee chooses what it thinks are the best seven teams in each Super Region. The top team in each gets a first-round bye.

There are issues with the expansion overall, though with these discussions already happening, it seems that there will be a change to the format of the tournament, which statistically is the hardest tournament to make in the world. 

Football takes time with their regulation changes as proposed, but with the highest number of teams in the country at the D-III level, it is only right to give everyone a better chance. 


  1. Division I, FBS, 130 teams, 4-team playoff expands to 12 in 2024 season.
  2. Division I, FCS, 125 teams, 24-team playoff
  3. Division II, 169 teams, 28-team playoff
  4. Division III, 238 teams, 32-team playoff