Like a lot of people on Thanksgiving weekend, S.C. State football supporters will be on the road.
Coach Buddy Pough admitted to some disappointment that the Bulldogs must take their second consecutive trip to Boone, N.C., to play Appalachian State in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday after the bids were announced.
He had hoped the team would snare a game in Orangeburg, but several factors worked against the MEAC champion Bulldogs (10-1).
John McCutcheon, the Massachusetts athletics director who serves as the chairperson of the FCS selection committee, explained the process that determines the eight teams that get to host in the 16-team field.
Never miss a local story.
The first order of business is to select the 16 teams - eight conference champions and eight at-large teams - and then seed the highest four teams that will top each bracket. Next they are matched up with teams that do not require airfare to travel to those sites.
In this case, those top four seeds were Montana, Villanova, Southern Illinois and Richmond, which also happened to be top four in the final national poll, and they were paired with South Dakota State, Holy Cross, Eastern Illinois and Elon, respectively.
"The top four are the only ones given a priority to have home field," McCutcheon said.
At that point, the other eight teams were paired, with geography remaining the primary concern. In the Richmond bracket, Elon was sent there, Appalachian State was pegged to face S.C. State. Only then were the sealed bids brought into play, with ASU putting in what McCutcheon called "a very aggressive bid."
He acknowledged that a program such as Southern Conference champion Appalachian (9-2), which won three consecutive national titles from 2005-07, can have a leg up.
"Some schools, in all honesty, have traditional followings that generate money," said McCutcheon, who would not disclose the size of the bids.
In the end, S.C. State's geographic proximity to the Southern Conference and the Colonial Athletic Association, which are widely regarded as the two powerhouse FCS leagues, and its inability to put in an eye-opening bid kept it from playing at home.
Pough conceded last week that S.C. State had to be somewhat cautious in its bid because of the tough economy surrounding the school.
"You don't want to obligate yourself to a big number in these times," Pough said at the time. "We were as aggressive as I could see us being under the circumstances."
Pough also expressed concern Sunday after the release of the brackets that the MEAC's recent struggle in the playoffs - with 10 teams losing first-round games during the past nine seasons - was a factor. But McCutcheon said that does not enter the discussion.
The three teams in this part of the country that received home games - Richmond, Appalachian State and William & Mary - all were higher ranked than the Bulldogs.
If S.C. State can defeat the Mountaineers, it will go to Richmond if the defending national champion Spiders win. But if Elon wins, the determination of the home team between the Phoenix and the Bulldogs would go back to the bids.
Donald Hill-Eley, the football coach at Morgan State who is on the South regional advisory panel that reports to the FCS committee, agreed that it can be a matter of the financial guarantee.
"It comes down to the bidder. These bids most of the time aren't disclosed," Hill-Eley said. "The historically black colleges can't promise $100,000 of gate revenue to the NCAA. You can only promise what you think you're going to make. You're not going into astronomical debt to get a game."
Hill-Eley believes MEAC schools should consider gradually collecting funds from supporters that would go into escrow until the opportunity to make a postseason bid arrives.
In the meantime, he is convinced the most important thing is to win the playoff game - no matter where you're playing.
"The field is still 100 yards long and 53 yards wide," he said.
He also likes S.C. State's chances to snap the MEAC losing streak that dates to 2000.
"More than ever, this is a great opportunity for the Bulldogs, who are better than they were last year, to go in and be victorious against Appalachian State," Hill-Eley said. "This is probably one of the better games in the playoffs."
Even if the Bulldogs are on the road again.