Could another team make the FCS-FBS jump?

Good morning!

In case you’re one of the smart people who don’t check their email over the weekend, I dropped a newsletter about the UL Lafayette CHARGIN’ PLAYERS?!? controversy on Sunday. It’s probably in your inbox somewhere.

Since this is the last week of the offseason, I’m going to try and drop a newsletter every day until Saturday. Could be fun! Could be a joyless slog! Only one way to find out!!!

If schools are crafting pitches to join the AAC, they’re being sneaky about it

Back in 2016, when it sure seemed like the Big 12 was going to expand, my colleagues and I were desperate to think of interesting ways to advance the story behind just blogging every half-brained realignment rumor. So we started filing FOIAs to try and figure out how candidate schools were selling themselves to the Big 12.

To our surprise, a lot of those FOIAs turned back actual promotional materials. A few of them were a little goofy (I seem to recall Memphis sending a kinda over-the-top pitch, one that included literally sending Texas Tech some ribs), but honestly, most looked fairly professional. I remember reading these with my buddies and having some quasi King Agrippa moments….ah yes, Colorado State, almost thou persuadest me to support your Big 12 ambitions.

So when UConn announced they were leaving the American to re-join the Big East, I figured, ah, worth a shot, right?

I filed an open records request to Buffalo, Old Dominion, Georgia State, North Texas, Marshall, Southern Miss and UAB, asking for any communication from June 25-July 15 from any university president or athletic director to anybody at the AAC, *or* at a current AAC institution. Theoretically, if an admin at North Texas emailed somebody at Cincinnati to ask about a physics conference, that should have popped.

Buffalo, Georgia State, Southern Miss and North Texas have all told me they have no responsive documents. Marshall, UAB and ODU have yet to respond, but between us friends, if they ever actually do get back to me, I’m not expecting any documents.

Now, does this mean those schools are not trying to get into the AAC? Not necessarily. Is it possible that another school sent an email and I missed it? Yes, it’s possible. I tried to FOIA the most likely public schools, but sure, it’s possible somebody at UMass, or Northern Illinois, or somewhere else took a shot.

All it means is that some of those schools told me they didn’t have any responsive documents. My hunch is that some admins across the country became a teensy bit more aware of what constitutes an open record in their state, wanting to avoid the splash of publicity that came after the Big 12 search.

Maybe nothing is happening at all. Maybe something is, but the relevant parties are being careful to make sure their efforts don’t show up in a document dump. Maybe they actually are sending emails, and some clerk is hiding all the documents for three years. I don’t know.

But hey, you gotta at least ask, right? You never know.

Could North Carolina A&T make a jump to FBS?

I can’t think of a better resource for HBCU sports news than Steven Gaither and his crew at HBCU Gameday. So when he says something like this, I take it seriously.

I’m still looking into this, and as details surface I’ll share them, but I think this is a fascinating thought exercise.

The first question…could they get approval? Previously, you needed a conference invite to jump from FBS to FCS, but Liberty was able to get a waiver. Part of that stemmed from the fact that Liberty had already made an FBS-like financial commitment to their athletic department, and also because no conference invite was coming, thanks to (gestures broadly to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Twitter account).  Would they be willing to grant a similar waiver to a school with a very different situation? And would NC A&T be interested in the independent life?

If conference membership is required, based on current geography, the Sun Belt would probably make the most sense. NC A&T is about two hours east of Appalachian State and three hours north of Coastal Carolina. Those are more obvious travel partners than you might have in Conference USA (with ODU and Marshall). NC A&T’s enrollment of ~12K is close to a few other Sun Belt institutions as well.

Of course, by the time the Aggies would be theoretically able to make a move, will the Sun Belt or Conference USA have the same membership? Could either league swap schools to form more geographically contained units? For my money, this is the most likely place in FBS for significant realignment in the next five years, and how that might impact NC A&T’s plans would be unclear.

Now, let’s assume they find a home. Could they make this work?

On the field, they’ve been pretty good! The team beat FBS East Carolina last season, won 10 games and beat Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl. They went undefeated in 2017, and knocked off FBS Kent State in 2016. Are they North Dakota State? No. But they’ve been one of the best HBCU programs in FCS over the last few seasons. In 2018, Sagarin listed them at 158th, better than FBS programs like South Alabama, New Mexico State, UTSA, Rice, and a few others. They’ve finished above at least one FBS program in Sagarin for at least the last three seasons.

There would be questions about money and sustainability. While the school’s athletic budget is near the top among D1 HBCU programs, at under $15 million right now, it would be the smallest in FBS. The school would also play in one of the smallest stadiums, and sit smack dab between Wake Forest and Duke. Would they be able to build up the fundraising and financial infrastructure to keep them competitive over the long haul?

If it helps, they already have a fanbase. NC A&T officially drew more than 15,000 fans a home game,  more than some current FBS programs. And being the only HBCU school in FBS may present some opportunities to expand their fanbase and reach folks that other schools can’t tap into.

It’s a risky move. Florida A&M tried this once, and it was a huge mess. I’d normally recommend that most FCS schools not try to jump to FBS. If you do, there’s no chance at meaningful postseason competition. Your costs will skyrocket. The risks are significant.

But for some schools, those risks might be worth it. I’d hope that the school is getting some very conservative financial projections, especially since it’s possible we are heading into a recession that may damper donations or consumer spending. But if the school is willing to take its time here, build up that donor base, and keep FBS as an aspiration, hey, maybe it could work!

And hey, FBS could always use more kickass marching bands.

Thanks for supporting Extra Points. Reader comments, questions, concerns, and leaked conference realignment pitches, no matter how small the league, should be DMed to me at @MattSBN, or emailed to [email protected]. And if you enjoy what you read, share it with a friend!

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