Win Saturday, and William and Mary's football team likely will remain at home for at least two playoff rounds.
Lose, and the Tribe is at the mercy of a system that rewards schools with larger stadiums and fan bases.
That's the assessment of athletic director Terry Driscoll as William and Mary enters Saturday's regular-season finale at Richmond assured of inclusion in the 16-team bracket.
The importance of hosting is evident in the Tribe's playoff record. Since first making the field in 1986, William and Mary is 4-3 at home in postseason, 0-3 on the road.
"Logistically, it's a big deal," coach Jimmye Laycock said. "If you can stay at home and do your thing there, it's a big advantage."
Driscoll said that William and Mary bid above the NCAA minimums to host first-round, quarterfinal and semifinal contests. But he believes a victory Saturday should earn the Tribe (9-1, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association) a top-four seed, which assures advancing teams at least two home games, providing they submitted minimum bids.
"I would certainly be curious to hear the explanation if we were to win and didn't get it," Driscoll said of a top-four seed.
William and Mary is ranked fifth nationally in the Championship Subdivision, Richmond fourth, and the CAA is regarded as the subdivision's premier conference.
"Based on previous experience," Driscoll anticipates a first-round home date even if the Tribe stumbles Saturday. But a loss would drop William and Mary into the unseeded pool of 12 teams, where bids and geography dictate pairings and venues.
The minimum bids are $30,000 for the first round, $40,000 for the quarterfinals and $50,000 for the semifinals. The championship game is contested on a neutral field in Chattanooga, Tenn.
If host schools do not sell enough tickets to cover a bid after expenses, they must pay the difference to the NCAA. Schools retain 15 percent of any profit, with the remainder going to the NCAA to finance the tournament.
William and Mary netted about $50,000 from hosting three playoff games in 2004, Driscoll said.
"It does behoove a school to bid more than the minimum," he said. "The downside is, how much of a financial hit can you tolerate? …
"If you have a large season-ticket base, say 10, 15, 20,000, and the average ticket price is 20 bucks, then you're looking at a potential gate of $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, and you can bid $200,000. Appalachian State, Montana, Delaware, they have the capacity to bid very high."
Those schools routinely sell out home games in stadiums that seat more than 20,000. Conversely, William and Mary has about 2,600 season-ticket holders, and Zable Stadium seats 12,259.
Attendance for playoff games at Zable has ranged from a 2004 semifinal sellout against James Madison to 4,057 for a 1996 first-round contest versus Jackson State.
Driscoll said that bidding schools must submit information on projected ticket sales, facilities, local hotels and potential scheduling conflicts. For example, a playoff quarterfinal Dec. 5 at William and Mary would need a later kickoff to steer clear of a televised home basketball game at noon against Virginia Commonwealth.
"Facilities and money are probably the two biggest (factors)," Driscoll said.
Driscoll declined to reveal how much William and Mary bid for each of the three potential games.
"We want to be as aggressive as we can, and we want to take every opportunity, but we have to be prudent and realistic in assessing," he said. "We were as aggressive as we really felt we could be. I talked to Jimmye about all this and I think he's comfortable with it."
The playoff field will be revealed at 3 p.m. Sunday on ESPNews. The opening round is Nov. 28, with quarterfinals Dec. 5, semifinals Dec. 11 and 12, and the final Dec. 19.
Tickets for William and Mary's games are available at tribeathletics.com. Prices are $27 and $21 for adults, $17 and $12 for youth, $10 for students.
Comfort of home 4-3 Record for William and Mary in home FCS playoff games
0-3 Record on the road for the Tribe
FCS playoff selection show WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday.
SCHEDULE: Opening round, Nov. 28; quarterfinals, Dec. 5; semifinals, Dec. 11-12; final, Dec. 19.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun