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Why Do Schools Move to FBS? Also, Upper Midwest and Southern Cal conference previews

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We hit the mailbag, which dovetails with recent rumblings.

Competitively, they're a good match. But can Coastal Carolina make it work?
Competitively, they're a good match. But can Coastal Carolina make it work?
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag

Today's question comes from our own intrepid JT, and if you've noticed all the mailbag questions are coming from staff there's something you can do about it.

JT asks, "What is the benefit for teams like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to move up to FBS? And why or why not should North Dakota State think about doing the same?"

The question is timely, with the recent revelation that the Sun Belt -- the new home of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State -- is now sniffing around Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina. Writing for the Myrtle Beach Sun-News, Ryan Young wrote an extensive piece Saturday on Coastal Carolina's options, and some themes are clear.

You might be surprised to learn that the added prestige of being an FBS program is only the second-most important concern for teams considering a move. Obviously there are tangible and intangible benefits to becoming part of college football's highest tier: more exposure on ESPN, becoming a more attractive (read: not FCS) scheduling option for other FBS teams, and the remote possibility of pulling a Northern Illinois and appearing in a major bowl game.

But the primary driver for any school seeking a move is very simple: cold, hard cash. Young reports that membership in even the Sun Belt, the least lucrative conference in FBS, is still worth over a million dollars a year per school. Coastal Carolina currently receives less than six figures a year from the Big South, after taking into account dues owed the conference. That revenue is almost entirely payouts from NCAA post-season appearances, as the limited television arrangements in place for the Big South are not revenue-generating.

Now, for teams in more prominent FCS conferences such as the CAA or Missouri Valley, the differences are not that stark. Still, taken in a vacuum, there is not a single FCS school which wouldn't make more money each year playing FBS football.

But there's a catch.

There are also requirements these schools must meet. Coastal Carolina would, in effect, need a new stadium as Brooks Stadium only seats 9,214 (although they did manage to stuff over 10,000 into the facility twice last season). That's an expense that simply moving up to FBS won't cover, so in order to make the move the Chanticleers are going to have to find enough donor money to build a new facility or expand Brooks to meet the 30,000 average home attendance requirement. Even then, there's the matter of drawing that many people. While Coastal is certainly gaining in popularity on the Grand Strand, it's still questionable whether even a move to FBS would triple their current attendance, stadium or no.

This is even a problem for North Dakota State; the Bison would would probably have zero trouble meeting that minimum, but the FargoDome only seats 19,000. So even the best team in FBS is facing stadium issues in connection with any conceived move to FBS. Currently only six FCS teams play their home games in stadiums with a capacity over 30,000: Tennessee State (who play home games at LP Field in Nashville) leads the pack, followed by Yale, Jackson State, Penn, Harvard, and Norfolk State.

That's three HBCUs and three Ivies, which means that realistically there is not one single FCS team truly prepared to make the move right this second. Montana, whose Washington-Grizzly Stadium seats 25,200, is the closest. Of course, expanding an existing stadium from 20,000 to 30,000 generally isn't that much of a problem. But it's still something that has to be done, and which costs money.

The other problem teams looking to move up face is Title IX impacts. We've noted before that in reality the difference between 85 full scholarships and 63 equivalencies isn't really that much of a difference competitively, but if one operates under the presumption that a school is using the maximum allowable number of scholarships for women's sports it's still effectively a 22-scholarship gap. So unless an FCS school is actually on the precipice of being in violation of Title IX because they're providing too many opportunities for women, the move to FBS would require the addition of one or more women's sports in order to keep scholarship levels close to even.

That means that you're not just adding 22 scholarship athletes, with their attendant costs -- you're adding 35 or 40 or 50, and that's also not taking into account the cost of the new sports themselves. Do you need new facilities for them? You'll have to pay a coach. Equipment, travel, so on.

So to sum up, for a team wanting to make the move one thing is required above all others, whether it's via donors or increases in student activity fees: lots of money. Money to get the infrastructure not only for football but for one or more other sports built. The new revenue streams from the move to FBS should more than cover the expense of keeping the new programs going. But in the end, depending on those expenses, the move to FBS might be a wash financially. At that point, the question comes back to prestige, and whether the loss of national championship opportunities is worth the hassle.

Because -- at least right now -- there's a very, very good argument that North Dakota State is more relevant right now as a four-time defending FCS champion than they'd be playing FBS ball in a minor conference.

Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION UMAC OVERALL
College of Saint Scholastica Saints Duluth MN 9-0 10-1
University of Northwestern-Saint Paul Eagles Roseville MN 7-2 8-2
Greenville College Panthers Greenville IL 7-2 7-3
Iowa Wesleyan College Tigers Mount Pleasant IA 6-3 6-4
Westminster College Blue Jays Fulton MO 6-3 6-4
Crown College Storm Saint Bonifacius MN 4-5 4-6
MacMurray College Highlanders Jacksonville IL 3-6 3-7
Eureka College Red Devils Eureka IL 2-7 2-8
Martin Luther College Knights New Ulm MN 1-8 2-8
University of Minnesota Morris Cougars Morris MN 0-9 0-10

The UMAC joined Division III en masse in 2008, and received their first automatic bid to the playoffs in 2011. That, of course, finally opened the door for all these teams to finally taste the post-season. Except for one small problem; Saint Scholastica is now shooting for their fifth straight playoff bid. The irritating part of this for the other UMAC teams, many of whom have been playing football for decades? CSS has now made the playoffs more often than they haven't; the Saints didn't begin play until 2008.

The UMAC has been around since 1972, when it was born as the Twin Rivers conference. Affiliated with the NAIA before 2008, playoff appearances there were completely non-existent. And while some conferences bemoan the loss of teams moving on to more challenging venues, the UMAC's historical problem has been schools moving on to the afterlife. Of the league's 11 former football-playing members, four have either closed, merged into other schools, or dropped football. The biggest loss was Mount Senario, which won or shared 12 football titles before closing down in 2002.

Saint Scholastica had 12 representatives on the UMAC first team, including UMAC Special Teams Player of the Year and honorable mention All-American K Mike Theismann, the only conference player to be recognized nationally. He has graduated, along with UMAC Offensive Player of the Year QB Tyler Harper, UMAC Lineman of the Year OL Peter Stanley, and two other first-teamers. Not a problem. Seven first-team honorees return along with five second-teamers. In all, 18 Saints were one of the two best players at their position in the league last year. Woof. And this was under a first-year coach. Greg Carlson, who had previously been the head coach at Wabash for 19 seasons before bouncing around for a few years, had started the program. Carlson retured with a career record of 166-102-2 after the 2013 season, handing the reins over to Kurt Ramler. Ramler, a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy (D-III's Heisman equivalent) in 1996 as the quarterback at Saint John's (MN), spent six seasons as the head coach at Carleton before rejoining his alma mater as offensive coordinator. The Gagliardi coaching tree lives on. The Saints are now riding a 22-game conference winning streak, and they're the favorites until someone proves otherwise; their goals are more transcendent, namely finally winning a playoff game.

Northwestern (MN), along with Mount Senario, was the conference power prior to Scholastica's rise. A charter member of the league, the Eagles have won or shared 17 titles. But now they're looking uphill. The Eagles have gone 28-13 (26-9) the last four years, and they've got nothing to show for it except for a share of the 2012 title. Four of the five Eagles named to the UMAC first team return, along with five second-teamers. If it weren't for the Saints, Northwestern would be a lock to win the title. Instead, they're probably going to have to settle for another disappointment.

Greenville has been, in the larger scheme, extremely consistent this century. Last year was the first time since 2006 that their win total deviated from the previous year's by more than one; they've gone 6-5-6-7-7-7-8-9-7 over that span. In 2009, the sole year of divisional play in the UMAC, the Panthers won the south; they won the title outright and shared it in 2012. But like Northwestern, they're trying to climb a mountain now. Five of six first-team selections return, so Greenville will still be a threat.

Iowa Wesleyan is most famous as the birthplace of the Air Raid and for foisting Hal Mumme and Mike Leach on an unsuspecting football world. Last year, their second in the league and in Division III, the Tigers posted a winning record. That's notable because IWC spent years getting their heads pounded in while playing in the NAIA's Mid-States Football Association; last year was the school's first winning season since 1994, three years after Mumme left. Three of five second-team honorees return, including QB Caleb Huss. But he'll be without his favorite target as WR Raul Becemi, the Tigers' only first-teamer, has graduated. Iowa Wesleyan may slip a spot, but they'll remain in the top half of the conference.

Westminster (MO), the site of Winston Churchill's epochal "Iron Curtain" speech, rebounded from a 2-8 year in 2013 to get back on the right side of the ledger. They lose QB Joe Plassmeyer, who shared first-team honors with Harper, but WR Mike Washington and DB Kyree Hart return along with second-team DB Bret Robertson. Like the Tigers, the Blue Jays should stay in the upper division; this right here is the cliff.

Crown won six games in 2010, but have only won 10 since. Coming off back-to-back 4-6 years, the Storm lose a pair of first-team defensive linemen in Zach Jusczak and Drew Zoromski. They've probably got the horses to fight off challengers from below, but that's a brutal hit for the defense.

MacMurray was, once upon a time, a powerhouse in the defunct Illini-Badger Football Conference. But last year's three wins was their highest mark since going 3-7 in 2006; four winless seasons have saddled the Highlanders with a 7-72 record since. But MacMurray didn't lose anyone of note to graduation; first-team RB Patrick Hall returns along with second-teamers OL Joe Legendre and LB Danny Williams. The Highlanders have a shot to slide into the top half of the standings. Unlike the other nine teams, who all play their sole non-conference game on September 5, MacMurray faces Maranatha Baptist on November 14 while the rest of the league takes the day off.

Eureka rose up in 2013, posting an 8-2 mark and a third-place finish. It was an outlier; the Red Devils have not won more than four games in any other season since the 20th century. They started 2014 by losing to Knox, historically one of the most moribund programs in Division III, and just kept falling. First-team WR Dorrell Baugh and second-teamers OL Javier Rivera and K Tyler Winders return, so Eureka might bounce back a bit. But that 2013 season is still going to be a nostalgia generator.

Martin Luther spent over a decade generally being a winning program, but since winning the north division in 2009 the Knights have lost the plot. Last year matched their worst outing of the century. MLC suffered no losses of note; first-team DL Ben Ewings and second-team LB Nick Kressin return.

Minnesota-Morris had never won more than six nor fewer than three games in their entire history until last year. The Cougars somehow managed to go 0-10 despite having the conference's defensive player of the year, LB Cody Hickman. The bad news, naturally, is that he's graduated; the school's only returning first-teamer is punter Donnie Mavencamp, and you all know what we say about a team whose only first-teamer is the punter. Second-team DL Drew Marshall also returns, but the cupboard is bare and they've got a new head coach, Robert Cushman, whose puff paragraph touts the academic achievement of his players. Cushman comes off four years as the head coach at Augustana (IL), where he posted 5-5 records three straight years. Morris will have a rough time climbing out of the cellar.

Game of the year: October 17, Scholastica at Northwestern. The Saints squeezed out a 28-24 win last year in Duluth, so if the Saints are in danger this year, this is the day.

Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION SCIAC OVERALL
24 Chapman University Panthers Orange CA 7-0 8-2
rv University of Redlands Bulldogs Redlands CA 6-1 6-3
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Claremont CA 4-3 5-4
Occidental College Tigers Los Angeles CA 4-3 5-4
California Lutheran University Kingsmen Thousand Oaks CA 4-3 4-5
University of La Verne La Verne CA 1-6 2-7
Whittier College Poets Whittier CA 1-6 2-7
Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens Claremont CA 1-6 1-8

The SCIAC is the home of one of the most unique situations in all of college athletics. Because of their small enrollments and the nature of the students who tend to enroll and be accepted in the Claremont Colleges Consortium, the five schools have only two teams. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is comprised of students from Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College, while Pomona-Pitzer represents Pomona College and Pitzer College.

The conference has a long and storied history, and only three schools which have ever been members aren't still in the league: UCLA, San Diego State, and UC-Santa Barbara. Caltech is also a member of the conference, but does not sponsor football.

Chapman took three years after rejoining the conference, but they finally snagged an automatic NCAA playoff bid last year. It's somewhat mind-boggling, because for years the Panthers schedule had included all seven other SCIAC teams even though membership wasn't forthcoming. But as soon as they became eligible for the conference title, the win total jumped from an endless string of 4s and 5s to 6, and Chapman is now coming off a pair of 8-win seasons. Half of Chapman's 10 first-team selections return, but they lose the league's Offensive Athlete of the Year, QB Michael Leahy, who wasn't even the second-team selection. Don't ask me, man. A trio of second-team selections also return, so Chapman should remain the favorite.

Of note: Chapman is led by tenth-year head coach Bob Owens, who is African-American as is half his coaching staff. Chapman's roster is about 95% white. A tip of the cap to the Chapman administration, for reasons that shouldn't be too complicated to understand.

Redlands has not won fewer than six games since 2006, and slid a step after winning the 2013 SCIAC title outright. The difference in 2014 was a four-point home loss to Chapman. The Bulldogs graduate three first-team selections, but return first-team QB Kevin Russell and DB Connor Hoffman. Perhaps more troubling is the loss of five second-team honorees, and that more than anything puts Redlands on regression watch.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is on a roller-coaster. In 2010, they were 7-2. In 2012, the Stags suffered through an 0-9 debacle. Now they're back over .500. The exacting standards and high cost of attendance at the Claremont Colleges contributes to this, of course. The Stags only had two first-team selections last year; both DL Paul Slaats and SPT Nick Nasse return, along with three second-teamers. They do lose Defensive Athlete of the Year Max Winsberg, a linebacker who, like Lahey, didn't even earn second-team honors. It may not be enough to challenge the accepted order, but another top-half finish is certainly attainable.

Occidental had a run of 10 straight winning seasons from 2000-2009, but they've slipped into mediocrity since. The nadir was a 2-7 finish in 2012. Oxy loses first-teamers WR Samuel Stekol and DL Dallas Gosselin and second-teamers LB Adam Goltche and DB Teran Mawhinney. They have no all-conference selections returning, and that spells trouble for a team which came a field goal from a losing record last year.

Cal Lutheran has badly regressed. The Kingsmen have posted consecutive 4-5 seasons after a run which saw them win 28 straight SCIAC games to cap off a string of four straight conference titles. Even before that, the Kingsmen had only lost 14 conference games in the previous seven years. They lose first-team OL Bryce Fryan, but the returning talent is acceptable; first-team punter Jack McFarland joins second-teamers QB Nick Isham, WR Andrew Worthley, TE Connor Allen, and LB Ronny Camacho. The experience is a good indicator; Cal Lutheran may not contend for the title, but seven wins isn't unrealistic.

La Verne has had one winning season this decade, and even that was just a 5-4 result in 2005. But things are much better than they were at the end of the last decade, when the Leopards only won four games in four years. Still, they recovered from that valley to win 4 games in both 2011 and 2012, but have again regressed. They'll have to move on without first-team WR John Lilly and LB Anthony Arguello, but do return second-teamers RB Travis Sparks-Jackson and DB Connor Truhitte. We're trying not to make a joke about true hitting here.

Whittier, the alma mater of Richard Nixon, has only won as many as four games three times in the 2000s. The Poets had two first-teamers; both LB Trevor Phillips and DB Josh Pride have graduated, and the cellar is the team's likely 2015 destination.

Pomona-Pitzer sports returning Newcomer of the Year RB Aseal Birir, who ran for 1,101 yards as a freshman. He's a chemistry major, so what are you doing with your life? Unlike the other conference award winners, Birir actually made the first team, along with returning OL Grant Frazier. That's enough to expect drastic improvement from a program which has only won five games in five years.

Game of the year: Although Redlands visiting Chapman on November 7 is key, the marquee date on the calendar this year is on September 12 when Chapman visits Northwest Conference superpower Linfield in a clash of the west coast's two conference champions.

Tomorrow

We'll glide east along the Mexican border to check in on the depleted Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and the upstart Southern Athletic Association.