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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 25 2013

FCS powers make jump to Football Bowl Subdivision

FARGO – Two of the premier residents of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision house are moving out after this season. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are Football Bowl Subdivision-bound, according to multiple reports, and will join the Sun Belt Conference.

The two combined for nine national titles, 26 percent of the total, and are perennial big names on a national FCS scale. Both will be ineligible for the 2013 playoffs and will be FBS eligible in 2015.

It’s a strength-of-division departure that could have North Dakota State thinking hard about its FCS standing – if more schools follow suit. For now, athletic director Gene Taylor said the threshold has not been met.

“I don’t know if it’s a number, it’s more about who (leaves),” he said. “I don’t think it’s a problem right now, I still think there’s a lot of strength in the division, but if more programs go, I will get a little concerned.”

So what schools would cause concern? What if Delaware and James Madison left? Like Taylor, University of North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison said he could not put a specific number of schools on what it would take, “but it would take some kind of migration. … I think we’ll know it when we see it.”

NDSU saw the migration in the 1980s and 1990s when a multitude of schools like Montana State, Montana and Northern Iowa made the Division I move – while the Bison remained in Division II until beginning a reclassification process in 2004. The Division I move has been considered a success, even though it came later than some wanted.

“There were internal struggles as I remember with some of our coaches,” said former NDSU men’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director Erv Inniger. “There were several of us who really wanted to go. Some Team Makers members got involved but there really was never a push. The big thing was the administration wasn’t totally backing it.”

Whether it was a mistake not to move to Division I in the 1980s will forever be debated. But Taylor said it’s doubtful NDSU would sit in the background if another similar movement hit the football program.

“Ultimately, the playoffs is where the strength is and I don’t want it to become hollow winning a championship,” he said. “Right now that’s not the case and I don’t see that being the case with those two leaving. But if more of the strength of the FCS would leave, it would become hollow at some point.”

Inniger, for one, would like to see NDSU move to FBS. “Absolutely, I think it would be fantastic,” he said.

But the problem, he said, is a tough one to fix: the size of the Fargodome. There is no room to grow in the 18,700-seat indoor arena.

It means there is limited room to grow ticket-sales revenue. Moreover, Inniger said, on-campus schools like Appalachian State and Georgia Southern don’t have to share advertising revenue like NDSU does with the city-owned Fargodome.

“You have to have the money,” Inniger said. “You have to put the product on the field and to put the product on the field you have to have money. Where are you going to get it?”

The defection of GSU and Appalachian State – both have set Wednesday press conferences to announce their intentions – leaves the Southern Conference, which includes NDSU quarterfinal opponent Wofford College, with seven football members next year. NDSU defeated Georgia Southern the last two years in the FCS semifinals at the Fargodome.

The advantage of GSU and Appalachian State, in the move, is having an available FBS conference like the Sun Belt to take them in. It’s an NCAA requirement that a school must have conference affiliation before being allowed to jump from FCS to FBS.

Geography played into both schools’ favor – something that NDSU and UND do not currently have going for them. Faison could only guess that the Mid-American Conference may be a possibility should the day come.

“From a financial standpoint, it’s a significant investment,” he said. “At the same time, I can see the benefits of FBS.”

UND is a member of the Big Sky Conference, which along with the Missouri Valley Football Conference is now the two most stable FCS leagues. Both have added teams in recent years, not lost any.

Montana of the Big Sky was said to be flirting with Western Athletic Conference membership a few years ago. The WAC no longer has football.

Other than the MAC, the Mountain West Conference would be about the only reasonable FBS possibility for Big Sky or western-based Missouri Valley programs.

But for now, athletic directors like Taylor are in a wait-and-see mood.

“It’s something to keep my eye on, that’s for sure,” he said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia