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Which Schools Would Be A Good Fit In The FCS?

Northwest Missouri State has won six Division 2 National Championships? Is a move to the FCS plausible for the Bearcats? (Photo Courtesy of The Podyum).

Which Schools Would Be A Good Fit In The FCS?

Last year, we looked at the FCS to FBS transition in a two-part series. Part one focused on how teams have historically performed going from the FCS to FBS. Part two analyzed the most likely candidates to consider a move to the FBS as well as two new programs. When going through the latter part, we found there would be some ideal landing spots in the FCS for certain schools.

We provided VCU and UT Arlington as two choices for a new program to land in the FBS. Biasedly, we like the choices we provided but when we take an even closer look at UT Arlington, there might be a better fit: the Southland Conference. The Southland members reside in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas making for lower travel costs. UTA would probably need to upgrade their facilities that have not been used for college football since 1985 (they have been used for high school football since that time).

UT Arlington is also currently part of the Sun Belt Conference, which makes the decision difficult. Do you forego the FBS conference to save on costs? Will you recoup the money needed for an expansion of the stadium? Is FBS the right fit? Those are only a few questions administrators will ask as they evaluate their options.

We will draw from two groups of teams: Division 1 programs that do not currently have a football program and current Division 2 schools. This list will not include known future FCS teams such as Merrimack College, Long Island University, Dixie State, or Augustana University.

Edit: The fine folks of Twitter have also pointed out that Tarleton State is considering a move to the Southland Conference in Division I. Tarleton State’s study can be found here. In addition, a new stadium built on the West Texas A&M campus along with a feasibility study by Collegiate Consulting could be a signal for an impending move to the FCS.

Let’s take a look at the (potential) candidates below. Please note, these are strictly speculative and this is simply a fun FCS thought experiment.

Northwest Missouri State (Jump Up)

Since 1998, the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats have been to the Division 2 National Championship ten times, winning six of those games. They have become the logical division two candidate to step up into the FCS.

Their current stadium capacity is 6,500, which is on the small end for a move up to FCS. The student population of roughly 6,500 is not ideal and there would need to be additional revenue generated from the Bearcats to accommodate the move to the FCS. It is also not suitable to hold the Missouri Valley Football Conference crowds. It may seem a bit harsh throwing them into the same conference as North Dakota State, but geographically this option makes the most sense.

Speaking of geography, their current configuration in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association is condensed from southern Nebraska to central Oklahoma and only as east to the Missouri-Illinois border. The current set up is tough to beat in terms of travel.

Verdict: It would be awesome to see the Bearcats move up to the FCS and be apart of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. However, that would increase costs in terms of travel and some stadium expansion for bigger crowds, which makes the jump unlikely at this time.

Cal State Fullerton (Restarted)

Cal State Fullerton had a football program until 1992 due to a terrible on field product and low attendance. Since 1995, there have been repeated efforts to bring it back. As this article lays out, there are some hurdles to get over before this becomes reality.

One issue is the 10,000 seat stadium built in 1992. Yes, that is acceptable by FCS standards (compared to other programs as well) but the revenue generated for those 10,000 seats would not be enough to fund the football team. There is a large student population of 37,000 so perhaps there would be enough demand.

The Titans would be placed in the Big Sky Conference, which already has three California based teams. The travel at times might be tough if they have several trips up north each year (and do not forget about the cost of travel for other sports if they all go to the Big Sky).

As of right now, the Titans call the Big West home for their other sports and all of those teams play in California. That is a huge cost addition that is tough to ignore. Even if they only have football sponsored in the Big Sky, the costs increased travel costs would be a huge burden.

Verdict: Unlikely due to the travel costs for the football team and expansion of the stadium. Another worry is the long-term attendance if the school does not do well on the field as happened in 1992.

Valdosta State (Jump Up)

Valdosta State has only been playing football since 1982, but have reached the pinnacle of Division 2 football four times in 2004, 2007, 2012, and 2018. Located at the southern border of Georgia this school would be perfect for the Southern Conference. This is similar to their current conference, Gulf Coast. The travel costs would be similar in this scenario.

The stadium fits 11,250, which is a good size for Division 2. It may need to be expanded especially if they continue to be a good football program in the FCS. The current student population is 11,000, which is on the lower end.

Verdict: This would make sense and be a good option. However, VSU does not seem too keen on a move at this time.

Grand Canyon (New Program)

Grand Canyon may seem like a random team, but there are reasons why they might be a good fit. They moved from Division 2 to Division 1 in 2013 when they joined the WAC. In 2017, the NCAA approved the move to Division 1 allowing the Antelopes to be eligible for the postseason. Also, they play in the southwest, which would make them a decent addition to the Big Sky.

There is another factor at play, but it could be double-edged. Grand Canyon has over 90,000 students enrolled, but 70,000 of those students are enrolled in online classes. That is a massive revenue stream if they are to pursue a football program. There are a solid 20,000 students on campus, which is great for GCU, but the question becomes what happens if they are not successful on the field? Does the attendance start to dip badly? How would the fans react (and not just on social media)? Will the 20,000 on-campus students be enough to justify spending money on facilities over the long run?

Speaking of on-campus limitations, GCU would need to build a new stadium to host games. They currently have some impressive new facilities so we know it can be done properly, but cost of a new stadium is always a concern. Travel costs would also certainly be a concern as part of the Big Sky. With the Lopes are currently in the WAC, they have a unique travel schedule at times stretching from Chicago, Illinois (Chicago State is in the WAC) to Seattle, Washington.

There is not much momentum for a football team at GCU right now, but that could change.

Verdict: We will say likely, even if not for another decade or two. Grand Canyon is clearly building something impressive and eventually football will be part of that vision. They may even go for FBS football if the perfect situation arises (Mountain West perhaps?)

Northern Kentucky (New Program)

Northern Kentucky recently moved from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Horizon League. The school was previously part of Division 2. The main reason for the move was due to geography as most Atlantic Sun schools played in southeast with several in Florida.

NKU has a student population of 14,500, which is on the lower end, but not the worst. For a stadium, they would have to build from scratch as none of near campus options could be reasonably fitted to host a football game.

The Norse would fit in well with the Ohio Valley Conference for their new football team. The longest trip would be to northern Alabama to face Jacksonville State. The travel costs would be comparable for the other sports though the inclusion of football would make the travel costs skyrocket due to the size of the roster.

Verdict: Unlikely. Previous estimates made by NKU pushed them towards a path to Division 1 instead of a football team. A new stadium plus all the other costs associated with the introduction of a football team make it prohibitive.

Wrap Up

While we think all the schools mentioned above would be great fits for the FCS in terms of geography and the new conference, it is impossible to ignore the costs. Whether it is a new stadium or just an expansion, that has to be measured against the additional revenue generated. In most cases, it just is not viable to make the move even if all five programs would make for wonderful additions to the FCS. However, the allure of FBS football has not stopped some like Liberty and Massachusetts from making the jump.

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FBS and FCS Changes For 2019 Season

Merrimack College is moving up from Division II to Division I and will compete at the FCS level in football (photo courtesy of Merrimack College).

FBS and FCS Changes For The 2019 Season

The college football season does not kickoff until August 24, but that won’t stop us from getting excited. We will start by detailing the FBS and FCS changes for the 2019 season.

Overtime Rule Changes

We start with a general rule change regarding overtime. The change this season is that teams will go for two instead of starting at the 25 yard line commencing with the fifth overtime. Four overtime periods will be played as they previously were with each team getting the ball. Previously, teams played as many overtimes as necessary with each team getting a possession until one team failed to match the other team in points for that overtime period. In addition, the third and fourth overtimes will still require the teams to go for a two-point conversion.

Another note: a two-minute break has been mandated after the second and fourth overtimes. At least we will have a chance to catch our collective breath.

FBS Changes

Amazingly, there are very few changes in terms of team movements. The one note is that Liberty will be bowl eligible in 2019 after moving up from FCS in 2018. The Flames will remain an Independent team and will once again play New Mexico State twice this season as they did in 2018.

FCS Changes

The plethora of changes to detail will take place at the FCS level. The overtime rules discussed above will apply here as well.

General Schedule Quirk

Thanks to the NCAA’s draconian bylaws, the 2019 season allows for a 12 game regular season at the FCS level instead of the usual 11. Why? Simply due to the calendar. 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and the last Saturday in November (see bylaw 17.10.3 on page 272) allow for the 12 games to be played.

This last time this occurred was in 2013 and will happen again in 2024. For FCS fans, the likelihood of a permanent 12 game regular season are zero after the NCAA rejected a proposal back in 2017.

Conference Changes – Up From Division II

We start with the two teams moving up from Division II into FCS competition.

Merrimack College is moving from the Division II Northeast-10 Conference to the FCS Northeast Conference. The Warriors will become full Division I members starting with the 2023-24 academic year. They won’t be playing a full Northeast Conference schedule this season, but hope to do so in 2020. As part of the transition, the Warriors are ineligible for the NEC title and FCS playoffs this season.

The second team moving up from Division II to FCS is Long Island University. They too are moving from the NE-10 to the NEC. LIU is merging the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds and LIU Post Pioneers to become the LIU Sharks. The Pioneers were part of the Division II level while the Blackbirds were already at the Division I level, but did not sponsor football. The Sharks will be competing with a 7 game conference schedule in 2019. LIU will be eligible for the NEC title.

Moving Down To Division II

Savannah State will be departing the FCS to drop down to Division II as announced in late 2017. The Tigers were a member of the MEAC since 2010 and now re-join the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). The Tigers were a member of the SIAC from 1969 through 1999 before becoming a then Division 1-AA (now FCS) Independent. The MEAC will have 9 football teams in 2019.

Moving From FCS Independent Status

Two teams are moving from an FCS Independent to the Big South. Those schools are the Hampton Pirates and North Alabama Lions. The Big South will have 8 teams this season.

Hampton left the MEAC after the 2017 season after joining the conference in 1995. The Pirates played as an FCS Independent in 2018 in their transition year to the Big South. They played 10 games (Tennessee State game was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence) and went 7-3. The Pirates are eligible for both the Big South title and the FCS Playoffs.

Meanwhile, North Alabama moved up from Division II for the 2018 season. After a 7-3 season in 2018, the Lions will face a full slate of FCS teams for the first time including 7 games against Big South foes. The Lions are not eligible for the Big South title and are ineligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2022 when their transition to Division I is complete.

Stuck In Indepedence

North Dakota is in their final season as an FCS Independent on their way to becoming a Missouri Valley Football Conference member. North Dakota has left the Big Sky Conference, but maintains the previously scheduled Big Sky matchups. The games will count in the conference standings for the Fighting Hawks’ opponents. UND will not be eligible for the Big Sky title, but can still be selected as an at-large team for the FCS Playoffs.

Future Moves

The Big South is full of changes this year and next. 2019 will mark the final year for Presbyterian as a football member of the conference. They will be an Independent in 2020 and then become a member of the Pioneer Football League starting in 2021. Presbyterian joined the Big South in 2009.

Dixie State, currently a Division II member, will move up to Division I starting in 2020. They will compete as an FCS Independent in 2020 while their other sports will compete in the Western Athletic Conference. Dixie State is part of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Association and currently has no plans for joining an FCS football conference. The Trailblazers will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2024 due to the transition.

Augustana announced their intention to transition to Division I in December 2018. They currently reside in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, but have not discussed a Division I conference to join. It is assumed they will join the Summit League, however, that conference does not offer football. In that case, the Vikings will then have to decide whether they want offer scholarship football or not. This, in turn, will help decided if they land in a conference such as the Pioneer Football League (non-scholarship) or the more geographically appropriate Missouri Valley Football Conference.

More FCS football conjecture can be found here.

Edit: Thanks to the folks on Twitter, both Tarleton State and West Texas A&M have considered moving to the FCS. Tarleton State’s feasibility move can be found here with the Southland Conference explicitly mentioned. West Texas A&M released a bullish statement after working with Collegiate Consulting and they are opening a new football stadium for the 2019 season.

Staying Put

Much to the delight of Stetson fans and alumni, the Hatters are staying put at the Division 1 level. Despite an examination into dropping to Division II or Division III, there will be no change for Stetson’s affiliation at this time. Stetson currently plays in the Pioneer Football League at the FCS level after bringing back the team starting with the 2013 season.

That covers the FBS and FCS changes for the 2019 season and we look forward to the start of the season as well as more content in the next few months!

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