When the Marist College football team won the final game of the 2013 season, 33-7 against conference rival Mercer, they had officially done everything in their power to receive the Pioneers Football League’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division I football tournament. Yet, just days after the victory, it was announced that Butler had won the league’s final ranking tiebreaker, and as a result, received the tournament’s final bid.
Both Marist and Butler finished the season with 7-1 conference records to end the year tied as the leagues co-champions. The teams never faced in the regular season and had the same record against common opponents, leaving the tiebreaker up to the discretion of the College Sporting News’ Gridiron Power Index as well as the NCAA’s Simple Rating System.
After deliberations it was announced that Butler beat Marist in five of the seven GPI components.
“It speaks to the high quality of play in the league this season that we had to use all of our tiebreakers to determine our automatic qualifier. We look forward to Butler carrying the PFL flag into the Division I Football Championship for the first appearance by a league member,” said PFL commissioner Patty Viverito in a statement.
Emotions ran high on the Marist campus when the news broke, and understandably, some players were not happy with the ruling.
“Numbers should never be the deciding factor. This is why there needs to be a championship game,” said redshirt senior offensive lineman Phede Celestin.
In response to their decision, the PFL released an official statement:
“Ideally a tie among two worthy teams would be broken by on-field results, either head-to-head competition or, in a next best scenario, differing results against common opponents. In the case of the tie between Butler and Marist, this was not possible. The league instead needed to rely on one or more rating systems or a coin flip. Debate of the options resulted in the PFL athletics directors voting unanimously to use a combination of eight published rating systems collectively rather than any single rating system, including the NCAA SRS which was unavailable for scrutiny during the season and will not be shared publicly until after the championship bracket is released on Sunday, Nov. 24.”
Despite winning eight of their final nine games, the Red Foxes lost their chance at the playoffs due to a technicality. It could have broken the team, the suites up top changed their very futures with the cast of a vote, and yet the squad managed to stay composed and focus on the success obtained.
“This is disappointing news, but you cannot take away from your PFL Championship that you earned on the field,” said head coach Jim Parady.
“We said we were going to make history and we did. I love my team and I am happy to start this change of success in our program. It sucks that we didn’t get the tiebreaker, but it doesn’t take away from our season,” said redshirt senior offensive lineman Peter Evans.
The Red Foxes did, in fact, make history this season, finishing with an overall record of 8-3, despite being projected to place sixth, the teams highest win total in school history. In addition, under the leadership of newly appointed offensive coordinator Nate Fields, the Red Foxes went on to score 378 points, the most in school history.
It’s an unfortunate way to end a lifetime of football, especially for such highly touted Division I athletes. With the announcement, graduating senior quarterback Charles Looney’s time at Marist comes to an end, marking his storied career that includes the single season and career records for completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdowns.
Marist Students React
The decision by Viverito and the PFL did not solely affect the spirits of players and staff, but had serious repercussions on the Marist student body and community.
“I don’t know what it was like in the locker room, but me and my friends were anxiously waiting to hear the verdict,” said senior Anthony Giaquinto. “When we found out we were devastated.”
It wasn’t just one final opportunity for the players to step back on the field, it was the last time that students could rally for the classmates they developed alongside over the past four years.
“I honestly felt robbed,” said senior Terence Post. “There hasn’t been much to cheer for over the past three years. And now, in my final year of school, a technicality keeps us out of the playoffs.”
It’s unfortunate that an unprecedented season of success had to be cut short by an unprecedented ruling from the league. However, it is important to remember that the decision was unanimous and only used as a legitimate last resort.
Never before had two teams been in such deadlock that every tiebreak procedure had been run through. Such an event was so extreme that the PFL was forced to amend their official tiebreaker rulings. The recently added section read,
“If the teams are still tied, the league will determine the automatic qualifier based on the average rank of the tied teams using the seven computer rankings/ratings utilized by the Gridiron Power Index plus the Simple Rating System (if the SRS is publicly available prior to selection weekend). [Updated 11/14/2013]
Clarification: Each tied team will be ranked according to their position in each poll. For example, if Team A is ranked 139 and Team B is ranked 159 in a particular ranking/rating… Team A is ranked “first” for the purposes of this tiebreaker. Once the ranking for each team is determined, they will be averaged and the team with the better average will be the AQ.”
It should be noted that the committee voted unanimously in favor of these rulings. Working objectively, these members came together on a determining set of tiebreakers which they deemed fairest, and as a result, Marist was bumped out of the postseason. A ruling that was entirely fair and seemingly free of bias. Despite the fact that the Red Foxes had a record-shattering season, they simply didn’t perform well enough.
However, the immense success Marist did experienc should not be overlooked. The progress made by the men’s football team should be considered an incredible success for the entire athletics program. Moving from a 3-5 record in 2012, to the league leading statistics posted in 2013 was a huge step for Marist athletics, one that should be cherished and celebrated.
“I’ve had the greatest season of my life,” said senior tight end Albert Wright. “This season has been a blur but it feels good to do everything we said we would since the preseason. At this point the playoffs were just a bonus to what was an incredible year.”