WMU's P.J. Fleck rips Group of Five playoff proposal

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
P.J. Fleck

Arlington, Texas — Western Michigan might be here, deep in the heart of Texas, playing for the little guys — the Group of Five and the Mid-American Conference.

But any notion that the Broncos are getting willingly in line behind Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier's recent call for a separate Group of Five playoff — well, you can forget about it.

Unprompted, at the end of his daily press conference Saturday, Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck reacted passionately against Frazier's proposal.

Fleck may prefer an expanded playoff — to eight teams, from the current four, opening a slot for a Group of Five team — but he has no interest in a separation of the Group of Five from the Power Five.

"I do want to say this, I absolutely love the way the Group of Five and the Power Five coincide and mix," Fleck said. "Just because one AD makes a statement like that doesn't mean that the whole conference feels that way, because I don't feel that way at all. One person speaking for the Group of Five or the Mid-American Conference is not how we feel whatsoever.

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"I don't speak for everybody else, but I know us, (we) are not in favor of this Group of Five national championship. I think that's ridiculous."

Interestingly, the comments come from Frazier, the head of athletics at Fleck's alma mater, Northern Illinois, where he was a star receiver.

Fleck pointed out the current system, with a four-team playoff, is still much more fair to the mid-majors, so to speak. The old system, the Bowl Championship Series, basically left smaller schools out in the cold, with no hope of cracking the glass ceiling.

"Is it harder in the Group of Five? You bet. It's a lot harder," Fleck said. "But you know what? There's a chance for it to happen.

"I love the way where we're at. I love the position we're in. And if we're going to feel that way about winning a national title one day, then we're in control of that. We're going to have to schedule nonconference opponents that are going to be ranked in the top 20."

Western Michigan ran the table this season, and sits at 13-0 entering Monday afternoon's Cotton Bowl matchup against Wisconsin (10-3).

Still, being one of just two undefeated teams through 13 games — Alabama is the other — only got Western Michigan as high as 15th in the final College Football Playoff rankings. That's because of strength of schedule. The Broncos did beat a pair of Big Ten foes, but hardly the marquee ones, in Northwestern and Illinois.

Next year, Western Michigan opens with road games at Southern California and Michigan State. Win those two — as unlikely as that seems, especially with star receiver Corey Davis and quarterback Zach Terrell leaving — and then you're in business.

"I think the way it is, is perfect," Fleck said. "If you're in the Group of Five, if you can go undefeated two years in a row, you deserve to be in a national-championship (conversation) and you'll find your way into the national championship.

"Everybody is talking Houston this year, Group of Five team. Goes 13-1 last year, beats Florida State. They beat a top-five team to start the year (Oklahoma). If they would have continued that and went 13-0 or 13-1, I guarantee they'd be in one of those top four spots."

Fleck is in his fourth year at Western Michigan, and has taken the Broncos from 1-11 in Year 1 to the New Year's Six in Year 4.

His name was rumored to be in the mix for several Power Five jobs after the MAC championship victory over Ohio in early December, but Oregon wasn't overly enamored, and he wasn't overly interested in Purdue, and he had no interest in going to another Group of Five school, like Cincinnati.

Fleck believes he coaches the best Group of Five team in the country. And this year, he does.

"I just wanted to make that very clear," Fleck said, wrapping up his passionate take on the issue. "Because my face gets attached to somebody else's quotes from a different school within our league that I completely disagree with."