For Some FCS Programs Considering a Move to FBS, Unity May Be the Answer

Jason DuniganCorrespondent IJune 29, 2011

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Jerry Moore of the Appalachian State Mountaineers watches on against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Athletics are becoming a larger part of the college environment each year, and specifically colleges with successful athletic programs playing at the highest level are becoming more attractive to potential students.

Across the country, one can see demonstrated enrollment increases in schools that have been able to achieve national acclaim via their athletic programs.

In particular, FBS-level football programs (BCS and non-automatic qualifiers) are seeing their profiles raised, and subsequently their school brand placed in front of the eyes of thousands of potential students through television.

FCS schools have historically not been as attractive for debatable reasons to networks such as Disney's ESPN/ABC, Fox Sports, etc... Certainly some FCS programming reaches national airwaves, but to an extensively lesser degree than does FBS programming.

Although the belief and truth is that BCS conferences demand the lion's share of television revenue, other conferences such as Conference USA have seen their television access increase, as well as their revenue from network contracts increase.

One thing that cannot be debated is that the desire for live programming, more directly stated—sports programming—is at an all-time high with record amounts of money being paid to conferences for extended periods of time.

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While not every conference lineup can demand the likes of the $3 billion that the Pac-12 conference recently garnered, the trickle-down effect will certainly bode well for other conferences as television negotiations begin.

That brings us to the point of all this: There is ample room for another FBS-level athletic conference, specifically in the southeastern portion of the United States.

In the south, college football is king, and in the southeast, it practically defines a person’s life. For any new conference to have a chance at survival, it has to be housed in the southeast.

Naming this new theoretical conference is for another time, but for the purposes served here, it will be referred to as the "Eastern Mountain Conference" since each school included resides within a state that houses part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Below is a list of schools that seemingly provide the best opportunity for collective success, were these schools to choose to group together and move to the FBS level of college football as a single intercollegiate athletic conference.

The criteria I chose for picking which schools to include in the list was first and foremost, geographic fit, followed by existing stadium size and then by attendance. On-the-field-performance wasn’t taken into account since most of that is cyclical anyway. And besides, someone has to win the conference each year.

One other consideration is that the NCAA now requires a school to have conference membership established prior to moving up to the FBS classification. By having an entire conference form and make the move together, it ensures a successful transition for all programs involved.


Geography was chosen as the first criteria because in order for the conference to gel over time, the schools should be within close proximity to each other. Also, limiting travel expenses is paramount for the participating schools, as well as for fans that travel to the various school venues for athletic events. Easier, quicker access means a larger likelihood that attendance will be higher.

The second part of the criteria was stadium size. As many are aware of the circumstances surrounding Villanova's planned move to FBS football, the issue of adequate facilities is one that has to be addressed. Each school must have a stadium in place large enough to meet NCAA minimum attendance requirements (at least 15,000 average home attendance, once every two years) for FBS standards.

That means a school must have an existing stadium that seats a minimum of 15,000 fans. Larger is better, but to be in the conversation, 15,000 is the opening bid.

If a school does not already have the minimum size facility in place, the school was eliminated as a candidate, mainly because other schools involved in the plan to collectively move up as a conference should not be theoretically held hostage while one or two schools try to find funding to pay for facilities that meet NCAA standards, or have to wait for a new stadium to be built or upgrades to be completed.

The third part of the equation is average attendance. All but four of the final candidates met the NCAA's 15,000 attendance minimum for the 2010 football season. For the four that did not meet the requirements, the excitement and "buzz" generated from the move up to FBS-level football should create a natural increase in attendance. Taking that into consideration with the close proximity of the schools within this new theoretical conference, and traveling fanbases will help conference mates meet those standards.

Further, most FCS teams and fans are used to attending contests that are poorly attended by the majority of the opposing schools they face. The schools in this "Eastern Mountain Conference"are all in the top half of FCS attendance, and most are in the top 25 percemt when it comes to FCS attendance. Larger crowds mean more revenue, and in particular more fan interest across the board.

The 12 schools that made the cut to form this conference are from eight different states. Some of the programs are relatively new. Some have long traditions, while several have expressed a desire or an interest in potentially moving up to FBS-level football.

The beauty of having a conference this size is that scheduling games to meet NCAA FBS scheduling requirements will be more easily met. In addition, a nationally televised conference championship game in football could be an economic boost to the conference and help garner a relatively lucrative television contract.

In terms of non-conference scheduling, BCS schools are paying larger and larger amounts of money to non-automatic BCS qualifying schools for non-returnable games (a game in which no return game by the BCS school is required).

For example, last season West Virginia University from the Big East Conference paid UNLV $750,000 for one of these non-returnable (otherwise known as “one-and-done”) games, and this season will pay Bowling Green roughly the same amount. Keep in mind that Big East Conference schools make less money from television revenue than any of the six BCS leagues.

Although there has been an increase by FBS schools in scheduling FCS opponents on an annual basis, most schools would prefer to schedule an FBS opponent for the one-and-done because of the boost it provides when determining schedule of strength for BCS rankings.

As an entire new FBS conference, the potential paydays for participating in these one-and-done games while the conference grows and matures is nearly overwhelming.

If the conference decides to stage a nine-game conference schedule, it means that only every other year will conference members have to go out of conference to find the NCAA’s required fifth home game to maintain FBS standards.

As for the three annual non-conference games, signing to play two BCS opponents each season as well as one other non-conference opponent could mean up to an extra two million dollars per year in revenue for each school if they shop their non-conference openings wisely.

Another consideration when contemplating the possibility for this new conference is bowl game participation. Although the NCAA recently enacted a moratorium forbidding any new bowls from being created, the amount of bowls now available all but ensure this new conference could send several representatives into the postseason, as opposed to just one or two teams that might make the playoffs.

The final reason for this proposal is unity. The economy of our nation is uncertain, and the landscape of college athletics is even more uncertain. A more stable environment for the schools should be something each school strives for.

Obviously some issues such as Title IX and funding of football scholarships to reach FBS standards would need to be addressed and worked out, but the rewards and potential outweigh the risks if all goals are accomplished.

Below are the proposed schools and divisions for this theoretical new conference. The number in parenthesis following the schools names under the divisional headings reflect each team’s individual record following the 2010 football season.

There is visible disparity between some of athletic budgets reported by some schools, but for the most part those large differences can be explained away due to large facility improvement expenditures being included in the schools numbers for annual budget costs.

The Eastern Mountain Conference


  • Youngstown State(3-8)
  • James Madison(6-5)
  • Old Dominion (8-3)
  • Liberty (8-3)
  • Eastern Kentucky (6-5)
  • Appalachian State (10-3)


  • The Citadel (3-8)
  • Georgia Southern (10-5)
  • Georgia State (6-5)
  • UT-Chattanooga (6-5)
  • Jacksonville State (9-3)
  • Tennessee State (3-8)


Appalachian State

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Boone, NC
  • Student Body Size: 17,222
  • TV Market: No. 46 - Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem
  • Stadium Size: 25,000
  • Avg. Attendance: 25,517
  • Basketball Record: 16-15
  • Athletic Department: 20 Varsity sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $16,185,310.00


  • Public Institution
  • Location: Chattanooga, TN
  • Student Body Size: 27,107
  • TV Market: No. 86 Chattanooga
  • Stadium Size: 20,688
  • Avg. Attendance: 12,699
  • Basketball Record: 16-16
  • Athletic Department: 13 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $13,115,269.00

The Citadel

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Charleston, SC
  • Student Body Size: 3,300
  • TV Market: No. 99 Charleston, SC
  • Stadium Size: 22,500
  • Avg. Attendance: 11,445
  • Basketball Record: 10-22
  • Athletic Department: 16 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $11,616,308.00

Eastern Kentucky

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Richmond, KY
  • Student Body Size: 16,268
  • TV Market: No. 63 Lexington
  • Stadium Size: 22,000
  • Avg. Attendance: 6220
  • Basketball Record: 15-16
  • Athletic Department: 15 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $12,309,887.00

Georgia Southern

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Statesboro, GA
  • Student Body Size: 19,086
  • TV Market: No. 96 Savannah
  • Stadium Size: 18,000
  • Avg. Attendance: 17,627
  • Basketball Record: 5-27
  • Athletic Department: 14 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $10,174,594.00

Georgia State

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Student Body Size: 31,533
  • TV Market: No. 8 Atlanta
  • Stadium Size: 71,228
  • Avg. Attendance: 16,750
  • Basketball Record: 12-19
  • Athletic Department: 17 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $17,195,830.00

Jacksonville State

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Jacksonville, AL
  • Student Body Size: 9481
  • TV Market: No. 40 Birmingham
  • Stadium Size: 24,000
  • Avg. Attendance: 17,330
  • Basketball Record: 5-25
  • Athletic Department: 16 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $10,141,416.00

James Madison

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Harrisonburg, VA
  • Student Body Size: 18,971
  • TV Market: No. 178 Harrisonburg
  • Stadium Size: 25,000
  • Avg. Attendance: 16,587
  • Basketball Record: 21-12
  • Athletic Department: 17 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $28,991,789.00


  • Private Institution
  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Student Body Size: 19,200
  • TV Market: No. 67 Roanoke-Lynchburg
  • Stadium Size: 19,200
  • Avg. Attendance: 16,217
  • Basketball Record: 19-13
  • Athletic Department: 18 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: (not available)

Old Dominion

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Norfolk, VA
  • Student Body Size: 24,125
  • TV Market: No. 43 Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News
  • Stadium Size: 19,782
  • Avg. Attendance: 19,782
  • Basketball Record:27-7
  • Athletic Department: 16 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $29,048,014.00

Tennessee State

  • Public Institution
  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Student Body Size: 10,500
  • TV Market: No. 29 Nashville
  • Stadium Size: 68,798
  • Avg. Attendance: 14,861
  • Basketball Record:14-16
  • Athletic Department: 13 Varsity sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $9,607,967.00


  • Public Institution
  • Location: Youngstown, OH
  • Student Body Size: 15,000
  • TV Market: No. 109 Youngstown
  • Stadium Size: 20,630
  • Avg. Attendance: 15,110
  • Basketball Record: 9-21
  • Athletic Department: 16 Varsity Sports
  • Athletic Budget 09-10: $11,842,571.00


State footprint: VA(3 teams), GA(2 teams), TN(2 teams), KY(1), NC(1), SC(1),
AL(1) , OH(1)