You heard it here at FAU's message board first!
Not bad at all… it's something to build on for next year.
"I don't think there is any way the NCAA is not going to make exceptions for startup teams," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.
I am staying optimistic that the NCAA will reconsider their hard line on the 15k rule. Especially because football is the only sport the NCAA has this rule for and we had many extenuating circumstances.
It hard to figure out politicians, but we do have a good one in our corner that knows how to play the game, so I am optimistic that things will work themselves out.
The NCAA loves to help the little guys and I'm sure they don't want the sunbelt to fold…..
Just keep winning.
Out of focus
Changing NCAA rules, enforcement may affect schools considering jump
By SCOTT GARNER
Is the gap between I-A and I-AA football a chasm or a ditch?
Since 1989, 15 schools have migrated from the ranks of I-AA to I-A. But only five of those teams have winning records during their I-A lifetimes entering 2003 and only six have participated in a bowl game in the same span.
That makes the jump look pretty wide.
But when Troy State beat nationally-ranked Missouri on ESPN earlier this season, the gap looked a little smaller. Georgia Southern has still scored more points than any other team against the Georgia Bulldogs, which offers fans a simple football truth ? good football is good football wherever it is played. The lesson was reinforced when the Eagles stomped Florida International, a team on its way to I-A with 13 more scholarships than I-AA Georgia Southern, by 21 points.
Legislatively, the line in the sand between I-A and I-AA seems clear. In practice, however, the division between the divisions is a changing wall with schools on both sides of the divide fighting to make the rules work for them. Almost every expert agrees that watching how the NCAA handles the division between I-A and I-AA (known as the I-A standards) could change everything from how easily schools ascend to I-A to whether the two sub classifications even keep their current names.
It?s a changing landscape, and everyone with a stake in Georgia Southern football is keeping a close eye on it.
The magic number
There may be no more magic number in all of college football than 15,000.
That is the number of fans, on average, a team must draw to maintain I-A eligibility. It is the most visible and controversial of the I-A standards, which also stipulate a school must have a minimum of 200 scholarships (or $4 million in scholarship funding), 16 sports and at least five home games against fellow I-A schools.
A previous requirement of a 30,000-seat stadium that faced many of the last 15 schools to move up is no longer in effect.
Already the NCAA has pushed back enforcement of the I-A home game requirement by two years to help schools deal with schedules that are often set years in advance.
?The reason the implementation of the five home game rule has been set aside a year is that teams are having a hard time finding five I-A home games,? said John Mulhern, the president of Southern Boosters, Georgia Southern?s athletic fund-raising operation. ?The key there is being in a I-A conference. If you aren?t in a conference, then you could have a hard time meeting that requirement.?<br>
If some smaller I-A programs have their way, the attendance minimum will join the stadium requirement on the cutting room floor. Already, circumventing the attendance requirement has become a blossoming art form.
When Louisiana-Monroe played against SEC foe Arkansas in Little Rock, an NCAA ruling that neutral site games may count as home contests for both schools helped ULM add over 55,000 fans to their home attendance average. In three actual home games since the Arkansas contest the Indians didn?t draw 50,000 fans combined.
Noted I-AA expert and advocate Otto Fad doesn?t pull punches when calling out I-A schools he believes are taking advantage of the system. And he doesn?t have much love for the loopholes, either.
?They went through this whole exhaustive participatory process to come up with the new institutional standards, and then at the 11th hour they?re getting manipulated by the wannabes,? Fad said, referring to the 2001 football oversite study conducted by the NCAA that led to the institutional standards.
But just as the standards are a barrier for I-AA schools seeking a move up, they are also a constant shadow over the programs that operate in the smaller I-A conferences like the Sun Belt, Louisiana-Monroe?s home.
Although it is technically possible for a I-A school to lose membership in the larger classification and be forced into I-AA, many experts believe that is unlikely. Not with some schools pulling out all the stops to make that 15,000 attendance average.
Middle Tennessee State scheduled a concert by Big Boi, half of the popular duo that make up the hip-hop sensation Outkast. The gimmick: the concert was part of a MTSU home football game and concertgoers counted as football attendance. Even so, Middle Tennessee just broke the 16,000 fan barrier.
If the moves to boost attendance smack of desperation, consider the repercussions.
?If you drop below the standards, you would at some point cease to be I-A,? said Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, one of I-AA?s most visible administrative faces. ?That not only disqualifies you from bowls, it starts to disqualify your conference members from playing you. Eventually, a I-A conference would have to drop a member that didn?t count as a I-A game.?<br>
Marshall officials said one of the primary reasons the Herd decided to leave the Mid-American Conference to join Conference USA next season is that six teams in the MAC were not meeting I-A attendance requirements.
But Wright Waters, the commissioner of the Sun Belt, says that the I-A home game rule will actually help his smaller conference in the attendance department. In the past, schools like Louisiana-Monroe would balance their athletic budgets by playing big-paycheck games against unbeatable opponents like Florida, Nebraska and Kansas State. It wasn?t rare to find these schools playing only three or four home games all season.
Now, Waters says, the schools have to play at home.
?We will grow to the competition,? said Waters. ?We will be more competitive as we play against one another, where before we were playing a lot of guarantee games on the road.
?Plus, you?ll have some natural rivalries develop.?<br>
In 2003, five of the Sun Belt schools (Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Idaho, Utah State and Middle Tennessee) all fell below the 15,000 line. Currently, only Middle Tennessee State (averaging just over 13,500 fans per contest) is below the attendance water mark.
Utah State and Louisiana-Lafayette both lend credence to Waters? assessment of the future of Sun Belt football. But Idaho and Louisiana-Monroe both significantly bolstered their attendance figures with ?neutral site? games, although Monroe did meet the attendance requirement with its three ?true? home games this season.
On the other hand, many of the top I-AA schools already pass the 15,000 fan test.
Georgia Southern averaged 16,937 fans for its five homes games this season and has averaged at least 15,000 fans in five of the last six years. Montana routinely draws crowds of 20,000 plus and at McNeese State, Cowboy football is such a way of life that the team draws more than twice the enrollment of the school (6,846 students to 15,986 fans, on average).
In fact, 11 schools from I-AA drew enough fans for the I-A requirement.
?I know we get painted with a broad brush?the I-A and I-AA brush,? said Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker. ?I get tired of getting painted that way. I would stack our program up with what we?ve accomplished with a lot of the I-As.?<br>
Almost everyone, though, agrees that how the NCAA regulates its I-A standards and attempts to breathe new life into I-AA will impact the coming days of Division I football.
?If the NCAA collectively has the courage to stand up and do what?s right, that will create the biggest change you ever saw in I-AA,? said Fullerton. ?Because it will stabilize us and give us new schools to play.?<br>
Publication Date: Friday, November 19, 2004