Back away from the cliff when it comes to the FCS

By Marcus Traxler Managing Editor

Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to catch your breath when it comes to conference realignment in college sports. It’s by no means over, especially with regards to how it affects SDSU but a more interesting story about posturing is breaking out in college football’s little brother division, the Football Championship Subdivision.

You know it well because it’s the route SDSU embarked on last November for the second time in four years, pounding the living daylights out of Eastern Illinois, 58-10 before meeting their match against North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS national champions.

Right now, the FCS (formerly the I-AA division) is good notoriety for the schools that have success, like NDSU, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Those are football schools through and through and both the Mountaineers and the Eagles are moving up to the big boy division, the Football Bowl Subdivision and will join the football smattering of a conference known as the Sun Belt, which consists of Arkansas-Little Rock, Troy University and South Alabama, among others.

Recent stories in the newspapers in Terre Haute, Ind., and Youngstown, Ohio, have shed local light on what the future of FCS football is and what it could possibly mean for the schools in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. I think it’s all overwrought and inflated but with some of the cream of the FCS crop moving up a division, it provides time for a natural pause. 

Moving up doesn’t, however, work for a few reasons. 

With the move from FCS to FBS is a need to fund 22 more scholarships, moving from 63 to 85, an increased donor base and usually a boost in stadium size and season ticket holders, the reasons against moving stack up quickly. It’s not cheap by any means.

Closer to home, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State have all been rumored to move up to FBS over the last few years. Some of those schools (Penguins and Panthers) have solid football traditions but that can’t be said for everyone. When you consider that most schools don’t turn a profit on athletics, it can be tempting to make a leap for the FBS. But is it worth piddling in mediocrity forever just to make a bowl game at 6-6 every once and a while?

Actually, there are people who believe this is the case.  

Look at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers had measurable success, including a 2002 national title and were previously members of the Gateway Football Conference, which served as the precursor to the current Missouri Valley Football Conference. They jumped to FBS in 2009 and finally reached the apex of college football in this great country, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012, losing to Central Michigan. They’ve also struggled to get the program on stable footing. They’ve had three coaches since 2007 and have gone a combined 25-48 in six FBS seasons. 

Would anyone classify that as a success? Hardly worth it, in my opinion. And the Hilltoppers have hired motorcycle-ridin’, co-ed cavorting Bobby Petrino to keep things afloat. Good luck. 

Boise State is the school that has had the most success since moving to FBS in 1996, they’ve been to the Fiesta Bowl twice and have gained immeasurable notoriety for its time at the top of college football. But that’s not realistic. Missouri State will not be rocketing up to the top of the college football world ever. 

I’ve tried to look at this locally and I’m picturing it now with the foes up north. Could you imagine NDSU and their braggadocios fans moving to FBS? They’d be happy until they realized they would need to add 15,000 seats to the Fargodome and join the dumpy Sun Belt Conference, like Idaho has been forced to. I can hear Bison fans now: “If only Fargo was a bigger TV market, then the Big Ten would be a lock.” 

For all of the talk, it won’t happen at SDSU. The Jacks have gained as much publicity from two men’s NCAA tournament appearances as the rival Bison have from a pair of FCS football titles.

As they say during Lent around here, “there’s bigger fish to fry” for the Jackrabbits and SDSU’s conference colleagues can afford to cool it about FBS.