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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 12 2012

Schnepf: Georgia Southern pursues move to FBS

Fargo - Georgia Southern has high hopes of knocking off top-ranked North Dakota State on Friday night. But it’s their aspirations off the football field that may have more of an impact on NDSU.

With a new athletic director and support from students and the board of regents, Georgia Southern is aggressively pursuing a move to the top division of college football. The FBS.

The Football Bowl Subdivision with the big boys like Alabama, Georgia, Florida.

So long Football Championship Subdivision – where Georgia Southern has won more playoff games than any other team and has six national championship flags waving above its 20,000-seat stadium.

Old Dominion, which lost to Georgia Southern in last week’s quarterfinals, has already announced its intentions of leaving the FCS. And Appalachian State, another FCS powerhouse, is looking at making the move up as well.

“It would be discouraging if a lot of these really strong programs continue to look at it and ultimately make the move,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “Then you start worrying about the strength of the FCS.”

All this FCS movement is a trickle-down effect from all the bizarre changes taking place over the major-college football landscape.

The Sun Belt Conference, down to eight football teams, wants 12 teams so it can host a conference championship game. It has already begun talks with new Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinleim.

He’s the guy who replaced longtime athletic director Sam Baker, who some contend was fired last summer because he was dragging his feet over the move to the FBS.

And just a couple of weeks ago, longtime Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore was fired. Some contend the school wants new blood for its move to an FBS conference like the Sun Belt or Conference USA.

“I would think we are on their radar screens,” Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb was quoted as saying recently. “We’re talking to everybody.”

Yes, right now it is all just talk. But it has heated up dramatically during the last few weeks – enough to have Taylor wondering about the future of FCS.

“A lot of people assume we are looking at it too, but we are not,” said Taylor, whose football program already has one national title during its seven years of FCS play. “We really haven’t talked about it formally. We’re just trying to enjoy what we are doing now.”

Taylor admits that making the move to FBS would be less challenging than the move NDSU made from Division II to Division I. NDSU could probably handle it financially.

But if – and this is a really big if right now – NDSU were to consider following Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to the highest level, it would face two major obstacles: gender equity and conference affiliation.

A move to the FBS would mean 23 more football scholarships. Somehow, a school would have to match those with a women’s sport. Do you add or do you cut?

“I’m sure teams that are making the move would have to consider that,” Taylor said. “They have to consider how it’s going to affect the women’s side of it all.”

The advantage Georgia Southern or Appalachian State has over NDSU in making a move is geography. Those two schools are located in an area where conferences like the Sun Belt and Conference USA are looking for teams. And a school can’t move up without a conference.

Where would NDSU go? It’s not likely they would get invitations to join the Big Ten or the Big 12. The Mountain West seems to be the only other possibility.

“For schools like us, there aren’t a lot of conferences around that make a lot of sense right now,” Taylor said. “It’s pretty limited.”

So when the Bison play Georgia Southern in Friday night’s semifinals for the second straight year, enjoy it. It could be the last time you see Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense for a while.

“Where they go from here, we certainly don’t know,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “I know this: Come Friday, we are excited about playing them at 7 p.m.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com