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NCAA Findings Show Trouble In Schools' Transition From FCS To FBS
A recent NCAA study produced numbers that showed schools like Appalachian State are likely to struggle in the move from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
ASU athletic director Charlie Cobb believes his department’s long run of success suggests a smoother transition than other schools that have made the move.
ASU and Georgia Southern are leaving the FCS Southern Conference to join the FBS Sun Belt Conference, a move that will take effect in 2014.
The NCAA study tracked 19 schools that made the FCS-to-FBS jump over a 32-year period (1978-2010).
Among the findings:
• Football winning percentage dropped from 55.7 to 44.8 percent.
• Winning seasons fell from 64.4 to 37.2 percent.
• A total of 13 of the 19 schools dropped in those two areas; six showed an increase.
• Less chance to win a national title: Almost 90 percent of NCAA championships are won by teams from FBS automatic qualifying conferences, which the Sun Belt is not.
• Fewer athletes get a chance to compete: FCS schools in the top quartile sponsor 23.6 sports compared with 16.8 sports in the lower quartile of the FBS. Average total number of student-athletes dropped from 639 in FCS top quartile to 458 in FBS bottom quartile.
• Higher student fees: The 19 schools increased student fees by an average of $1.2 million annually to cover added expenses of moving up.
“The numbers are what they are,” said Cobb.
“But I think the advantage we have in making the transition is we have built a culture of success here.”
ASU has been the most successful FCS program in the country over the past eight years, in terms of wins (87), national championships (three straight from 2005-07) and attendance (26,358 per game last season, the fifth time in six years the school led all FCS schools).
Since 2005, only Boise State (92) has more college football wins than ASU’s 87, and that includes all the big boys like Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma.
“We’ve built a tradition of people coming to games, being excited about supporting us, especially in fund-raising,” he said.
“I think some of the schools that made the move before us didn’t have that kind of support to help them navigate through the transition.”
While there has certainly been some grumbling and disagreement from supporters about ASU breaking away from the SoCon and not being eligible for FCS national titles any more, Mountaineers fans who write checks have shown they back the move.
“I’ll get an email telling me we’re crazy for making the move, and the next minute I get one that says it’s the smartest thing we’ve ever done,” said Cobb with a chuckle.
In April, the first full month after the school announced the decision to join the Sun Belt, the Yosef Club — ASU’s fund-raising group — announced $603,300 in donations, a single-month record.
When the fiscal year ends on Sunday, the club is expected to announce it has reached the $3 million mark in donations, the eighth straight year it has set a new record for fund-raising.
“We have 105,000 alumni, and the average age is 35,” Cobb said. “About 80 percent of them live within three hours of campus. That’s a young group that’s pretty engaged.”
Cobb estimates it will take about a $5 million bump in the school’s current annual budget of $19 million to make the move up to FBS.
“We think about one-third of that will come from conference revenue, one-third self-generated by increasing ticket sales and fund-raising, and one-third will come from campus, which might include student fees,” he said.
Cobb said the Sun Belt currently pays out about $100,000 per school from football TV revenue, a figure he said will increase to $1 million per school by the time ASU joins the league.
He said there is no TV revenue from the SoCon; the league pays about $400,000 annually to have its football games and other sports televised.
The study indicated the median revenue difference in FBS ($40.6 million) and FCS ($3.8 million) is staggering, but a closer look shows the skewing of numbers caused by top-tier FBS programs and lower-tier FCS schools.
At ASU’s level, these are more relevant numbers — the average revenue of a top-quartile FCS program is $25.6 million, compared to $22.5 million in the FBS’ bottom quartile.
“The old line of demarcation was FBS and FCS, but that line has shifted,” said Cobb.
“Now there are the five power conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC) above the line, and the rest of the FBS is below the line, because the economic differences are so great.”
Cobb is referring to the belief of many that the five super conferences will one day split away and form their own division, leaving about 50-60 FBS schools at a second level.
Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein said that was part of his thinking on making the move up.
“When I looked at what was going on, my concern became: Eventually, if the big split happens, are we now (in the FCS) at the third level as opposed to the second level?” he told ESPN.com.
“Time will tell if we made the right move,” said Cobb. “We’ve been saying for 40 years we would like to play football at the highest level, and we have the opportunity to do that.
“We have the commitment, so we might as well try it and see what we can do.”
Written by Keith Jarrett, Asheville Citizen-Times