When the 2009 national champion is determined Friday night at Finley Stadium, it will mark the end of an era in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
In 2010 the field will expand from 16 to 20 teams and the championship game will be moved to early January, the same week as the Bowl Championship Series title game.
The change was met with mixed reviews when it was announced a year ago, and that remains the case.
"I think any time you're able to provide more access, so more institutions can be part of the tournament, it's a good thing," said Massachussetts athletic director John McCutcheon, who chairs the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee. "We're going to have some learning-curve issues to deal with, probably, the first year that we move to this format, but I think all in all it's going to be a positive addition to the playoffs."
Montana coach Bobby Hauck, whose Grizzlies are in the championship game for the second straight year and seventh time overall, has a much different opinion.
"It's a disastrous decision on every level," he said.
Villanova coach Andy Talley, whose Wildcats will make their first title-game appearance Friday, was optimistic about the changes.
"It will allow more teams to participate, I think it will put more focus on the championship game and it would really help the level of football that we play," he said.
Montana athletic director Jim O'Day and Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb are on the championship committee, and both opposed changing the current format.
While he supports more teams having the chance to play in the postseason -- there are 118 FCS teams -- O'Day said he's very concerned about the physical toll the lengthened season will have on the players and the economics of the switch.
"When we assessed it from our point of view at the University of Montana, we figured it was probably going to cost us another $100,000 to keep the kids over Christmas," O'Day said. "The dorms are closed, the dining services at the university are closed, so we'll have to be (living) off campus and eating off campus."
McCutcheon said the economic issues for the two finalists have been considered and that's something "we're trying to address in some fashion through the championship committee."
The field was expanded from 12 teams to 16 in 1984. Eight conferences award automatic bids to their regular-season champions, and the NCAA selects eight at-large teams.
Starting next season, the field will be comprised of 10 automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams. The new conferences with automatic bids are the Big South and the Northeastern Conference. The Big South, which was formed in 2002, has had one team -- Coastal Carolina in 2006 -- earn an at-large bid, while no Northeast Conference team has ever made the playoffs.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said he liked the 16-team format because with only a few exceptions every team in the field had a chance to win the title.
"I think every team that's in the tournament should have a chance to win the tournament, and that's not the case (with the expanded field)," he said. "They're adding four teams that have no shot to win the thing."
Ultimately, Huesman said, the NCAA "can do what they want. My job is to win games and try to get in it."
The Mocs' only playoff appearance came in 1984.
Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee president Scott Smith initially was strongly against delaying the title game because of the solid local support the event has developed during the past 13 years. Smith said he now believes the switch could turn out to be a good thing.
"As long as it stays on a Friday -- and it looks like it will, at least for that first year -- I actually think it could be positive in that you're away from the holiday parties and the holiday travel, and all of those things," Smith said. "And then people could come out for the game and they don't have 50 other things going on."
Chattanooga and Frisco, Texas, are the two finalists to host the game starting in 2010. Both sides will make their presentations to the NCAA in February, and the host will be announced in early March.