The landscape of collegiate athletics is unstable. Football is to blame.
Conferences have lost members, gained members, rebranded themselves and ceased to exist because of it. Despite having other sports, football remains the driving force behind the conferences.
But, for universities looking to transition their programs from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision, sometimes football falls to the mercy of other sports.
Such is the case at Jacksonville State. JSU has begun the positioning itself for a transition from FCS to FBS.
“The way the landscape has changed in college athletics overall in the country,” JSU Athletic Director Warren Koegel said, “You’ve got to be able to look at what’s best for your university.”
Added JSU President William Meehan: “The thing about FBS, it is a higher level. The first category we’d have to jump into is have an invitation, probably from somebody at the Sun Belt or another FBS conference level. They don’t invite schools unless the school looks a lot like their other members.”
According to President Meehan, transitioning from an FCS to an FBS school was an idea brought about by the Board of Trustees in 2008. In January 2009 the Board put their plan into action when they broke ground on JSU’s stadium expansion project. 15,000-seat Paul Snow Stadium increased its capacity to 24,000 over the next 20 months. It was renamed Burges-Snow Field at JSU Stadium on September 11, 2010.
The stadium was renovated to help JSU meet the attendance requirement for FBS programs. FBS programs must average 15,000 tickets sold for the season. Student tickets are allowed to be counted in that 15,000 minimum. JSU currently sells zero student tickets. Students simply present their student identification card at the gate. The school also keeps no record of the number of tickets sold, only revenue from ticket sales. That makes knowing the exact attendance impossible.
According to a university official, attendance is calculated through estimation some time during the second half of the game. In order to comply with the ticket sales minimum, JSU must keep record of the number of tickets it sells and find method to calculate its student attendance. Koegel believes “the best way to do it is to scan everybody’s student I.D. card.”
“I know at Costal Carolina, we scanned our student tickets,” he said. “We scanned their student cards, their I.D.s”
The ticket sales are only one of the requirements to transition. JSU must also increase its football scholarships from 65 to 85 full scholarships, At the FCS level, schools are allowed to split a full scholarship into partial scholarships. That is not allowed on the FBS level. Every scholarship player has a full scholarship.
Increasing those scholarships will cost the university. JSU currently spends “about $12 million” annually on football alone according to President Meehan. Schools on the FBS level spend twice as much as JSU at about $24 million annually. Doubling the amount of money spent on football is a goal of JSU.
“They (FBS conferences) would look at schools that are spending about the same amount of money that their other conference members are spending,” Meehan said.
Increasing the number of scholarships from 63 to 85 in football would make a small contribution to doubling the football budget. However, that creates another obstacle entirely.
“If you move up, you’ve got to increase scholarship numbers in the sport of football,” Koegel said. “You look at Title IX and everything else, you’ve got to look at the entire package and determine what’s best for Jacksonville State.”
Adding 22 more scholarships for males would put JSU behind 22 scholarships for females. Title IX was instituted to ensure gender equity. Adding another sport is a way of offsetting that. The University remains noncommittal as to which sport is being considered however a source inside the Athletic Department speculated Women’s Beach Volleyball would be the most feasible option. JSU could simply use its Women’s Indoor Volleyball team for competition in the spring. The NCAA does not specifically require compliance with Title IX to transition from FCS to FBS. But, that is not likely something they will ignore should JSU make the move up.
“I’m sure they are going to look,” JSU Compliance Officer Misty Cassell said. “They’re going to look at everything, facilities, student athletes. ”
JSU must make sure the facilities it has can meet the requirements of the new sports. The facilities for its current sports are already undergoing renovations. Football finished in 2010 with its stadium and housing expansion project. University Field is undergoing phase two of its renovations. Phase one included tearing down the old bleachers and building a new grandstand and press box. Sinking the dugouts into the ground is the next step.
Koegel called the Pete Mathews Coliseum “a high priority.” It house offices and locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, track and field, and volleyball. Koegel and President Meehan agreed a new floor, seating, seating configurations, and locker rooms are a necessity. Air conditioning is scheduled to be installed in May 2014. Other sports are not being ignored.
“Baseball is a high priority, soccer is a high priority, track and tennis,” Koegel said. “Tennis, no doubt, we need to have a new tennis complex somehow somewhere. I am doing some cosmetic work over in the rifle range.”
According to President Meehan, this is a process that will take about two to eight years to complete. He cautions anyone who believes once all of these requirements are met JSU will become an FBS school automatically. None of these moves mean anything if not for an invitation from an FBS conference.
“The most important thing is an invitation from a conference,” Meehan said. “You’ve got to make yourself attractive. You’ve got to put on the make-up and be pretty.”