A few years ago, I culled through the schools that participate in athletics in a level below the three DI NCAA classifications that might legitimately consider playing football at a higher level.
FBS (Universities that compete at the top level of NCAA football), FCS (mostly small colleges and small private universities that still want to play football, but not at the most expensive level), I-AAA (Schools that have enough sports to be classified as a Division I school, but do not play football).
Simply put, enrollment was my main criteria.
I think in order to play enough sports (with either FBS or FCS football as one of those sports) and not lose your shirt, you should have at minimum somewhere around 10,000 students enrolled.
Athletics are largely funded by student fees. Having less than 10,000 enrolled students would likely make the expense too much for the student body to bear.
Of course their are exceptions to this. Private schools have students who expect much larger costs. A private school can do it with less students, but for ease I stuck with my 10,000 rule.
In some instances, there was minor leeways given to schools that had slightly less than 10,000 because I knew additional factors that made that school more likely to succeed, but those were few and far between.
I think to play FBS football, public universities really should have about 15,000 students enrolled at a minimum. Anything else is pretty risky and potentially a black eye for your university.
I think you can be quite successful at the FCS level with a 10,000-student enrollment. There are several schools at the FCS level that have enrollments of less, but they don't generally do very well.
Aren't there other factors?
Absolutely there are, but in general this article deals with what I consider by far the most important factor.
Other factors that definitely need to be considered include looking at how many students may be close enough to attend games, the size of the surrounding community/communities from which you can draw football fans, the general attitude of the area towards football, the presence of 20-30,000 seat stadium for FBS or a 5,000-20,000 seat stadium for FCS on or near campus, and maybe most importantly the abscense of higher level competition in the area.
For example, The University of Texas-Arlington, a I-AAA school is located only a mile or so from Jerry Jones' new 80,000 seat Dallas Cowboys stadium. UTA has an enormous enrollment (over 25,000 students). That would lead someone who didn't know about the Cowboys to think maybe UTA would be a good candidate to try FBS football.
With the Cowboys there, the general public is likely not to spend money to buy tickets to see UTA's theoretical football program, saving their money to buy Cowboy tickets.
The best UTA could likely do is to have a subsistence-level football program at the FCS level.
That might still be a net positive for UTA and would be very inexpensive to implement, but as you can see other criteria do figure in to the equation.
Why make this list?
Honestly, because I see a cloudy future for FCS sports unless more schools move up into that tier. There are simply too many FCS schools that have no business playing at the FCS expense level.
Conversely, playing at the D-II, D-III, or NAIA level is often the equivilant of playing football in your backyard. If you are going to spend the money, you might as well get the promotional advantage that sports can bring to a university.
Schools like Montana and Delaware are great examples of how an FCS program can generate revenue. You don't have to lose money playing football.
Old Dominion started play this year and is averaging 19,000 in attendance at the FCS level.
A good stadium, good promotion, and good planning can make football into the engine that feeds your athletic program. Why not at your university?
I hope to turn on a light for alumni who finds his or her school on this list. I hope they read it and realize, "Hey my school CAN afford to play at this level" and start working to build alumni and adminstration support to get your school to a level where it can get the maxiumum benefit out of athletics for your university.
Without further ado, the lists:
Good NCAA Division II candidates for upgrading for FBS or FCS
Will one of these schools be the next Florida Atlantic?
(Note: A number of theses schools have part-time students and computer learning remote students bumping up their numbers.)
Team - Location - Affiliation - Enrollment - Conference - Football?
Wilmington University Wildcats - New Castle, Delaware - PRI - 11,500 - CACC - NO FB
Cal Poly Pomona Broncos - Pomona, California - PUB - 20,510 - CCAA - NO FB
Cal State Dominguez Hills Toros - Carson, California - PUB - 12,082 - CCAA - NO FB
Cal State East Bay - Hayward, California - PUB - 13,124 - CCAA - NO FB
Cal State LA Golden Eagles - Los Angeles, California - PUB - 21,051 - CCAA - NO FB
Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes - San Bernardino, California - PUB - 17,066 - CCAA - NO FB
Chico State Wildcats - Chico, California - PUB - 17,034 - CCAA - NO FB
SF State Gators - San Francisco, California - PUB - 30,125 - CCAA - NO FB
UC San Diego Tritons - La Jolla, California - PUB - 20,339 - CCAA - NO FB
Mercy College Mavericks - Dobbs Ferry, New York - PRI - 10,000 - ECC - NO FB
New York Institute of Technology Bears - New York City and Old Westbury, New York - PRI - 12,755 - ECC - NO FB
Queens College Knights - Flushing, Queens - PUB - 17,639 - ECC - NO FB
Ferris State University Bulldogs - Big Rapids, Michigan - PUB - 12,547 - GLIAC - FB
Grand Valley State University Lakers - Allendale, Michigan - PUB - 23,295 - GLIAC - FB
Northern Michigan University Wildcats - Marquette, Michigan - PUB - 9,400 - GLIAC - FB
Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals - University Center, Michigan - PUB - 9,565 - GLIAC - FB
Wayne State University Warriors - Detroit, Michigan - PUB - 33,000 - GLIAC - FB
Northern Kentucky University Norse - Highland Heights, Kentucky - PUB - 13,910 - GLVC - NO FB
University of Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles - Evansville, Indiana - PUB - 10,040 - GLVC - NO FB
University of Missouri–St. Louis Tritons - St. Louis, Missouri - PUB - 15,548 - GLVC - NO FB
University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves - Anchorage, Alaska - PUB - 16,242 - GNAC - NO FB
University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks - Fairbanks, Alaska - PUB - 9,380 - GNAC - NO FB
Central Washington University Wildcats - Ellensburg, Washington - PUB - 10,145 - GNAC - FB
Western Washington University Vikings - Bellingham, Washington - PUB - 13,069 - GNAC - NO FB
Valdosta State University Blazers - Valdosta, Georgia - PUB - 11,200 - GSC - FB
University of West Florida Argonauts - Pensacola, Florida - PUB - 10,516 - GSC - NO FB
University of West Georgia Wolves - Carrollton, Georgia - PUB - 10,611 - GSC - FB
University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos - Edmond, Oklahoma - PUB - 15,000 - LSC - FB
University of Central Missouri Mules and Jennies - Warrensburg, Missouri - PUB - 10,604 - MIAA - FB
University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks - Omaha, Nebraska - PUB - 14,903 - MIAA - FB
Southern Connecticut State University Fighting Owls - New Haven, CT - PUB - 12,326 - NE-10 - FB
University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks - Lowell, MA - PUB - 13,479 - NE-10 - NO FB
University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs - Duluth, Minnesota - PUB - 10,500 - NSIC - FB
Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks - Mankato, Minnesota - PUB - 14,036 - NSIC - FB
Saint Cloud State University Huskies - Saint Cloud, Minnesota - PUB - 16,000 - NSIC - FB
Grand Canyon University Antelopes - Phoenix, Arizona - PRI/BAP - 13,000 - PAC-W - NO FB
Academy of Art University Urban Knights - San Francisco, California - PRI - 14,000 - PAC-W - NO FB
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawks - Indiana, Pennsylvania - PUB - 14,200 - PSAC - FB
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania Golden Bears - Kutztown, Pennsylvania - PUB - 10,200 - PSAC - FB
West Chester University of Pennsylvania Golden Rams - West Chester, Pennsylvania - PUB - 13,219 - PSAC - FB
Metropolitan State College of Denver* Roadrunners - Denver, Colorado - PUB - 21,109 - RMAC - NO FB
Barry University Buccaneers - Miami Shores, Florida - PRI/CATH - 12,809 - SSC - NO FB
Saint Leo University Lions - Saint Leo, Florida - PRI/CATH - 15,120 - SSC - NO FB
Nova Southeastern University Sharks - Davie, Florida - PRI - 33,135 - SSC - NO FB
The University of Tampa Spartans - Tampa, Florida - PRI - 10,515 - SSC - NO FB
Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez Tarzans y Janes - Mayaguez, Puerto Rico - PUB - 13,148 - IND - NO FB
Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras Roosters y Bantams - San Juan, Puerto Rico - PUB - 21,909 - IND - NO FB
D-III schools that could play football as DI members
Team - Location - City - Affiliation - Enrollment - Conference - Football?
University of Texas at Dallas Comets - Richardson, TX - Public - 14,556 - ASC - NO FB
Baruch College Bearcats - Manhattan, New York - Public - 15,500 - CUNYAC - NO FB
Brooklyn College Bridges - Brooklyn, New York - Public - 15,385 - CUNYAC - NO FB
City College of New York Beavers - Manhattan, New York - Public - 13,244 - CUNYAC - NO FB
College of Staten Island Dolphins - Staten Island, New York - Public - 11,263 - CUNYAC - NO FB
Hunter College Hawks - Manhattan, New York - Public - 21,309 - CUNYAC - NO FB
John Jay College of Criminal Justice Bloodhounds - Manhattan, New York - Public - 14,000 - CUNYAC - NO FB
Lehman College Lightning - Bronx, New York - Public - 10,615 - CUNYAC - NO FB
New York City College of Technology Yellow Jackets - Brooklyn, New York - Public - 11,795 - CUNYAC - NO FB
Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers - Henrietta, New York - Private - 13,046 - Empire 8 - NO FB
Johnson & Wales University Wildcats - Providence, Rhode Island - Private - 16,000 - GNAC - NO FB
Rhode Island College Anchormen - Providence, Rhode Island - Public - 9000 - LEC - NO FB
University of Massachusetts Boston Beacons - Dorchester, Massachusetts - Public - 13,433 - LEC - NO FB
University of Southern Maine Huskies - Gorham, Lewiston & Portland, Maine - Public - 10,974 - LEC - NO FB
Bridgewater State College Bears - Bridgewater, Massachusetts - Public - 8800 - MASCAC - FB
Salem State College Vikings - Salem, Massachusetts - Public - 9254 - MASCAC - NO FB
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Engineers - Cambridge, MA - Private - 10,235 - NEWMAC - FB
Kean University Cougar - Union Township, Union County, New Jersey - Public - 13,200 - NJAC - FB
Montclair State University Red Hawks - Montclair, New Jersey - Public - 16,660 - NJAC - FB
Rowan University Profs - Glassboro, New Jersey - Public - 9300 - NJAC - FB
Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders - Newark, New Jersey - Public - 10,500 - NJAC - NO FB
William Paterson University Pioneers - Wayne, New Jersey - Public - 10,970 - NJAC - FB
Buffalo State College Bengals - Buffalo, New York - Public - 11,234 - NJAC - FB
State University of New York at Brockport Golden Eagles - Brockport, New York - Public - 8742 - NJAC - FB
Carnegie Mellon University Tartans - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Private - 11,006 - UAA - FB
Case Western Reserve University Spartans - Cleveland, Ohio - Private - 9952 - UAA - FB
Emory University Eagles - Atlanta, Georgia - Private - Methodist - 12,338 - UAA - NO FB
New York University Violets - New York, New York - Private - 40,870 - UAA - NO FB
University of Chicago Maroons - Chicago, Illinois - Private - 13,400 - UAA - FB
University of Rochester Yellowjackets - Rochester, New York - Private - 9027 - UAA - FB
Washington University in St. Louis Bears - St. Louis, Missouri - Private - 13,527 - UAA - FB
UW-Eau Claire Blugolds - Eau Claire, Wisconsin - Public - 11,140 - WIAC - FB
UW-La Crosse Eagles - La Crosse, Wisconsin - Public - 9880 - WIAC - FB
UW-Oshkosh Titans - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Public - 12,753 - WIAC - FB
UW-Stevens Point Pointers - Stevens Point, Wisconsin - Public - 9163 - WIAC - FB
UW-Stout Blue Devils - Menomonie, Wisconsin - Public - 8839 - WIAC - FB
UW-Whitewater Warhawks - Whitewater, Wisconsin - Public - 10,962 - WIAC - FB
NAIA schools that legitimately could move up
Team - Location - City - Affiliation - Enrollment - Conference - Football?
Lindenwood University Lions - St. Charles, MO - Private - 14500 - HAAC - FB
CS San Marcos Cougars - San Marcos, CA - Public - 9159 - IND - NO FB
Davenport University Panthers - Grand Rapids, Michigan - Private - 12471 - WHAC - No FB
Savannah College of Art and Design Bees - Savannah, GA - Private - 11897 - Sun - No FB
UTB/TSC Scorpions - Brownsville, TX - Public - 17247 - RRAC - NO FB
Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats - Marion, IN - Private- Wesleyan - 15442 - MCC - NO FB