Today it was announced that programs from the Atlantic Sun and the WAC intend to unite to create a “football only” conference, with entry into the FBS serving as the end game. Programs comprising what will eventually become a ten-team conference would include Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, Utah Tech, Southern Utah and Tarleton State and Atlantic Sun football members Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas and North Alabama – and probably UT Rio Grande Valley, slated to launch its football program in 2025.
Why bail on the FCS for the FBS? If you guessed “cash,” you’re probably correct.
The reasoning for the new league is, according to sources, “greater certainty in scheduling and recruiting” and a clear pathway to the highest levels of college football. Also, the schools expect increased revenue through a more lucrative broadcast contract and increased guarantee-game revenue because the games would count toward bowl eligibility if they became an FBS league.Atlantic Sun, WAC teams pairing up to attempt move to FBS, sources say – ESPN [italics mine]
The more the merrier, right? Well, let’s just cool our jets. It’s obvious that programs such as Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin have witnessed the success gained by Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Liberty, James Madison and Coastal Carolina and felt sidelined. As good as FCS athletics may may be, and as deep a tradition these FCS conferences may have, the money, exposure and prestige tagged to FBS athletic departments is the Everest of growth.
If you’re an FCS athletic director, the call of the FBS challenge must be tantalizing. Those are some silky smooth elbows your’e rubbing when you start throwing hands with programs favored by ESPN and Fox Sports. If you have the resources to add the scholarships and build-up the infrastructure to meet FBS requirements, the pie is yours for the eating.
Good for the New WAC-ASun! But this isn’t good for college football, and especially for the Group of Five.
Look at how those who operate the levers of power have come to view G5 football this year. After briefly acknowledging G5 as providing football worthy of notice in 2021, college football power brokers reset the narrative so that only a handful of programs were relevant. This season, the Lords of College Football barely took notice of G5 conferences, auto-selecting ho-hum American programs as G5 representatives of excellence.
It’s obvious that the Power Five is moving to create its own division, and the WAC-ASun plot has provided all the media bullet-points to legitimize the move – the FBS is diluted, there is too much talent separation and far too many mouths to feed.
It’s likely that the SEC and the Big 10 are already setting in motion the gears that make a new Power Division possible. The addition of Tarleton State of the FBS won’t move the needle left or right. Still, it would behove the Group of Five conferences to protect their own brand by leveling some kind of opposition to forming a “football” only 11th conference.
The Sun Belt elevated FCS conferences carefully, choosing schools with footprints that most likely led to FBS success. The WAC and ASun are merely cannonballing into the pool and gambling that a conference made of FCS stalwarts and upstarts will somehow find the same success that Liberty gained on its own – never mind that Liberty mints its own money and can afford all the bells and whistles of building an FBS program without reaching between the couch cushions.
If you want my opinion (note: nobody has asked for it), wait for the rise of Super Conferences and prepare your program to be enveloped by a seasoned Group of Five conference. The transition will go much smoother.
IMAGE: I made it