Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. announced on Saturday that a feasibility study recommends a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Championship Subdivision movers have factored prominently into recent conference realignment. Texas State is joining the Sun Belt, UT-San Antonio is bound for Conference USA after just one season of varsity competition, and Charlotte is in the C-USA fray with no football yet played.
Liberty joins Appalachian State, which released its own recent study that suggested a move. Old Dominion is another program possibly in the mix, having added football in 2009 but experiencing immediate success both at the ticket window and on the field. ODU reached the 2011 NCAA Playoffs, and is likely to crack the top 10 in pre-season FCS polls.
Incorporated in a potential move for Liberty is expansion of its stadium to 35,000. The Flames have drawn very well as is, the result of a solid on-field product. Danny Rocco led the Flames to an impressive 47-20 record since 2006, and that success was reflected in regular top 10 finishes for attendance among the FCS.
Rocco left Liberty for Richmond, but Turner Gill was brought on as his replacement. By hiring a coach with BCS conference experience and national attention to the Flames, and his tenure at Buffalo shows a proven track record for FBS success.
Some FCS athletic departments see more monetary opportunities in the FBS, with the lucrative television contracts offered to conferences and revenue sharing possibilities offered in the BCS. Bear in mind, all 11 (soon to be 10) FBS conferences earn a share of a communal revenue stream via the current system.
However, the future structure of the BCS is very much in flux. Its contract with the NCAA expires in 2014, and its future involvement is uncertain. The introduction of a playoff poses questions for just how the lower tier conferences will factor in. A program like Liberty is almost certain to draw the most interest from the Sun Belt or Conference USA, neither of which has ever factored into the big money decisions prominently (or at all).
America’s economic woes were fueled when lenders extended monies to those without the means to pay back the debt. The exploitative system inflated an unsustainable bubble, and like all bubbles, it burst. Likewise, college football has an expanding bubble.
Football broadcasting contracts continue to swell at record rates. For how long are the conferences that bring in the lion’s share of money going to pay into the bubble the others are riding? When the bubble bursts, there are potentially dire consequences. Consider the massive conference realignment of the early 1990s. While the SEC, ACC and Big Ten expanded, there were universities to lose football altogether.
Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State both folded football around this time, with Pacific following not long after. All three were Division I-A members.
To avoid such a possibility, athletic programs must build a self-sustainable football program. Every FCS member entertaining reclassification wants to be the next Boise State, a previous mover that has turned the dream into reality. BSU moved to Division I-A in the mid 1990s. The Broncos were a decent Division I-AA program, but not a powerhouse, yet rose the D-IA/FBS ranks meteorically.
Considered less is Idaho, a program that at very least matched BSU when the two were Division I-AA members. UI made the move up, but languished in obscurity. The Vandals cannot seem to garner interest interest from a conference for its affiliation in FBS, and could be headed back down.
Now, UI is at the disadvantage of playing in a venue more suited to FCS. Liberty is addressing this possible problem with the aforementioned stadium expansion. But is FBS success as simple as If you build it, they will come?