Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The FCS-to-FBS door was never fully shut
and it's threatening to fly wide open.
When the University of Montana passed last fall on the opportunity to leave
the Big Sky Conference for the Western Athletic Conference, it seemed
conference realignment might begin to calm across the FCS, with other schools
seeing one of its football powers deciding not to move up to the FBS.
But Georgia Southern's fundraising campaign to make such a move possible and
Old Dominion's reported opportunity to join Conference USA has amped up the
nervous feelings again for conference and school decision makers. They don't
want to be left holding an empty bag, perhaps in the way FBS members Idaho and
New Mexico State seemingly find themselves as perhaps the only football-
playing schools in the WAC by next year.
In the overall scheme of things, only a small percentage of FCS schools are
making the move to the FBS, or will make it eventually. The question is, will
it be the wrong mix for the FCS?
The $3 million to $4 million increase in annual expenses that it appears to
take an institution to move its football program to the FBS is too much of a
deterrent for most FCS schools, let alone that playing in the FBS might not be
part of their overall mission.
Still, the prospect of moving to the big time and the big bucks available from
conference television packages make it oh-so-enticing to schools. It's why so
many FCS schools, such as Jacksonville State, James Madison and Liberty, maybe
even reigning FCS champion North Dakota State, are viewed as candidates for
Massachusetts, Texas State, USTA and South Alabama are making the move to the
FBS this season, and Georgia State announced last month that it will follow
next year. It's one thing for the FCS to lose programs that aren't national
players at this point (although Massachusetts won the 1998 national
championship and is a two-time national runner-up). But if, say, recent
national champions Appalachian State and Villanova make what appear to be
likely jumps to the FBS, and are joined by the most-successful program in FCS
history, Georgia Southern, and other rising programs like ODU, the level of
FCS football will suffer greatly.
The key for the FCS may be for the influential Colonial Athletic Association
not to have too many defections. It's a conference in which basketball
decisions matter as much as football - a rarity across the national landscape.
Georgia State is gone (although the CAA hardly knew the Panthers) and now Old
Dominion could be beating George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, which don't
have football programs and are being wooed by the Atlantic 10, to the punch
with a potential move.
If Villanova is then picked off by the Big East, the hands of other schools
such as James Madison, Delaware and Richmond might be forced into protecting
their long-term interests with an FCS-to-FBS move.
It remains a scary, dizzying, uncertain time for all.
Yet as the FCS schools have pushed for playoff expansion from 20 to 24 teams
for 2013, they also have made it a point with the NCAA that they seek the
governing body's support with improved marketing across the nation.
It's ironic that as college football is in an ugly period of conference
realignment in which it's every school for itself, the solution for the FCS
just might be for conference members to band together and strengthen their
And to close that door.
The Sports Network