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It's OK not to move up to the FBS

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There hasn't been any report of a caravan of cars racing out of Missoula, Montana. All is calm.

The University of Montana football program has moved on from the flirtation that its administration had with the Western Athletic Conference before it decided to stay in the FCS and not pursue potential riches of the FBS. Many in the Grizzlies' rabid fan base supported the decision to remain in the Big Sky Conference.

The prospect of FCS schools jumping up a level, and the many moves of conference realignments in all of Division I, are still dominating college football conversations. Few FCS schools, though, will hit the jackpot with a move up to the FBS, although in the fall of 2012 Texas State of the Southland Conference and Texas-San Antonio's startup program will make the move to the WAC that Montana passed on. South Alabama's third-year program, like UTSA an FCS independent this coming season, is headed to the FBS. Meanwhile, Massachusetts of CAA Football is being wooed by the Mid-American Conference and several others are studying whether the leap in divisions is feasible.

Indeed, the wheels remain turning.

The most prominent decisions are being awaited at Villanova, which is deciding on a standing offer from the Big East, and Appalachian State, which if it decides to move up would be an excellent addition for Conference USA, with the Sun Belt probably the backup option.

As Montana has proven, life goes on after a university decides to stay put in the FCS. Financially, the move was too risky for the Grizzlies, and it is for most schools pondering the move.

Villanova is deciding on a standing offer from the Big East to play at the FBS level.
During this type of decision process, there's a nervous sense of "What now?" among supporters of a program about the fallout of staying in the smaller pond. If the school stays put, will there be another opportunity from an FBS conference in the future if the school decides to reverse course and move up?

That's likely a fear at Villanova and Appalachian State, and it's misguided if it comes into the decision-making process. A school should not force a move because of fear of the unknown.

The decision should be made on dollars (lots of them) and sense (cents won't cut it here). All the pieces have to be in place for a rise in divisions and few schools can pull it off and not become an also-ran in the FBS. A FCS school moving up would have to spend millions of dollars to increase their number of scholarships (from 63 to 85) and coaches, upgrade facilities, add women's scholarships or drop men's scholarships in other sports because of Title IX obligations, achieve academic compliance and meet other minimum standards for joining the FBS.

Villanova is expected to announce its decision in April. Considering all the Wildcats' sports except football play in the Big East, the decision to join the conference in football makes all the sense in the world. Dollar-wise, however, it doesn't add up considering the nature of the football program. 'Nova is a basketball-driven athletic program which dropped football in 1980 only to reinstate the sport on the Division I-AA (now FCS) level for the 1985 season.

The reality is that Villanova, even as a CAA Football power and the 2009 FCS national champion, struggles to draw the number of fans (8,573 on average in 2010) necessary to suggest financial success in the Big East. The on-campus stadium isn't big enough at 12,500, and there are no plans to expand it, which would push the Wildcats off-campus, perhaps to PPL Park, the MLS home of the Philadelphia Union, in Chester, Pa. (Temple already has a long-term lease at Lincoln Financial Field and Penn plays its home games at Franklin Field, making those stadiums likely off-limits).

Most Villanova faculty members are against a move to the FBS, a telling sign when the decision to move up a level should have people abuzz on campus.

The climate at Appalachian State is much more receptive toward moving up to the FBS, something university administration decided against doing in 1998. The Mountaineers eventually won three straight FCS national titles from 2005-07, and is in the midst of six straight Southern Conference titles, so the decision has paid off handsomely in admissions and prestige for the university.

Unlike Villanova, the Mountaineers are one of the bigger draws in the FCS, having led the division in average attendance this past season (25,715), with additional student seating being added for 2011. There's almost a what-else- can-we-do feeling across the campus town in Boone, N.C.

App State is the most-ready FCS program for the jump to the FBS - as much as it would be a great loss for the FCS.

So what now for your favorite program? Well, decisions can't be driven by fear. If a move up to the FBS doesn't make sense today, then a prospective school need not to worry about tomorrow. It's better to make the right decision today and live with it.

Life has gone on in Missoula. It will at other schools that also remain in the FCS - even Villanova and Appalachian State, if that's what happens.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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