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Hot Talk About Charlotte - UNC-Charlotte, That Is

(Photo Credit: CLT Blog)

No, this isn't a blog posting about Rep. Anthony Weiner's latest Twitter dust-up, though you might think it from the title.

But another sort of dust-up seems to be occurring in the world of FCS football programs.

It's a different sort of strange tale than Mr. Weiner's - one of UNC-Charlotte football, Conference USA, the Atlantic Ten, and a bunch of athletic conferences that seem unwilling to add the 49ers to their conference lineup.

It also offers a huge opportunity for another FCS conference as well. (more)

What you need to know about the nascent 49er football program is that they are coming into existence in 2013, and that their football advisory committeein 2009 - in a fit of school spirit, perhaps? - publicly recommended that the 49ers play FBS-level football as soon as possible:

If the Charlotte 49ers begin playing football by 2012 – as the school’s football feasibility committee has recommended – their first destination would be the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA).

After that, the committee has recommended a jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) as soon as possible.

“If you’re looking at (FBS) conferences right now, the situation is going to be limited,” said Bill Carr, CEO of Carr Sports Associates, a Florida-based college sports consulting company that has worked with colleges interested in starting football programs. “But you’ve also got a very fluid situation.”

Said Gene Corrigan, a former NCAA president and commissioner of the ACC who is now a consultant: “Leagues in (FBS) are always looking for schools to join. It won’t be a problem for (Charlotte).”


“If we were to bring somebody in, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be permanent,” said Big South commissioner Kyle Kallender, whose league includes five football-playing schools. “But if we knew it was a stepping stone for something different down the road, we’d probably have a tough time going in that direction.”

“(Charlotte) could hang out for a few years as an independent,” said Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino, who added that his league wouldn’t consider Charlotte as an interim member. “It would be a challenge with scheduling, but that would probably be the least disruptive way.”

Remember those last two quotes.

Whats somewhat ironic about the FBS recommendation is that once upon a time, UNC-Charlotte was a basketball-only school that was a part of not only one, but two conferences that now sponsor FBS football - and would probably enthusiastically have encouraged them to join.

In 1976, the 49ers joined the Sun Belt conference, a premier mid-major conference in basketball at that time. Only one year after joining, the 49ers, riding F/C Cedric Maxwell made the Final Four with resounding victories over Syracuse and Michigan.

The Sun Belt now sponsors football - they first did so in 2001 - but at the time the Sun Belt comprised of mid-major basketball programs as their major focus.

1991 would see Charlotte move from the Sun Belt in a bizarre merry-go-round ride.

The first move was to the now-defunct Metro Conference one of two conferences that would soon merge to become Conference USA. Conference USA was (and always has been) a strange mish-mosh of basketball schools and insitutions with FBS football aspirations.

There the 49ers would stay - stubbornly remaining without a football program, despite the presence of teams like Alabama-Birmingham, Louisville and Memphis - until Conference USA, raided by the Big East in 2004, broke apart and Charlotte decided to join the Atlantic Ten.

At that time the Atlantic Ten still sponsored an FCS conference - until the CAA took over operations in 2007.

Still with me?

The point is Charlotte has had many opportunities to start FCS or FBS football - had they done so while the A-10 was still administering the CAA, in Conference USA, or even if they had just stayed in the Sun Belt instead of joining the Metro Conference.

One take on the situation were that Charlotte was kicked out of Conference USA for the reason that they didn't have football. If that's true, had they announced plans in 2003 to start a football program they'd be in Conference USA today.

Now, however, the 49ers have painted themselves in a corner.  The Sun Belt, with a low-level FBS conference, isn't calling.  Conference USA, with a low-level FBS conference, isn't calling.  That means that Charlotte is in FCS from now into the forseeable future.


Saying you plan to be in FBS as soon as possible has not been, to say the least, an effective recruiting pitch for FCS conference membership.

The results of the 49ers football study have been a major pain in the rear end for Charlotte chancellor Phil DuBois and athletic director Judy Rose, who have taken every opportunity to deny that they want to go to FBS:

Dubois acknowledges that when the 49ers' football feasibility committee publically recommended moving up to FBS, their chances at finding a temporary conference might have been hurt.

"We've got to crawl before we walk, walk before we run," said Dubois, who added that he didn't agree with the FBS recommendation. "The committee did an outstanding job, but we needed to say we're going to start football as an FCS program and just do it the best way we can."

As for the reactions from Mr Iammarino, the SoCon commissioner, and Mr. Kallender, the Big South commissioner, remember those two quotes from 2009? These comments from today's announcement that the SoCon and Big South rejected their overtures for football-only conference membership will seem awfully familiar:

"There were a lot of positives," said Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino. "But we already have a very diverse membership. And the elephant in the room was the temporary nature of what their membership would be. Everybody had to think about that."

Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander wouldn't comment specifically on any contact he had with Charlotte.

"We've had conversations with any number of institutions about potential membership," said Kallander, whose league office is in Charlotte. "Anybody in our region would be a possibility."

It doesn't look like many minds were changed this week even though, as an FCS football school, the 49ers - if they aren't actually planning to compete in FBS - would, on paper, be quite a nice prize, even if it were only for football.

Sitting in the weeds of all of this is the CAA, whose commissioner, Tom Yeager somewhat mischievously offered Charlotte membership in the conference in March - but in all sports.

With the rejection of the Big South and SoCon, the CAA seems like the only place that the 49ers can go.

With UMass heading to the MAC, Rhode Island out the door next year, and Villanova possibly joining the Big East, even football-only membership makes a lot of sense for Charlotte and the CAA. The CAA has lost a lot of football members recently, and adding Charlotte in football is probably the best candidate for expansion next to Stony Brook.

It would be a lot better for the CAA, of course, if Charlotte joined in all sports - it would be quite the crown jewel for Yeager in basketball, adding a third Final Four team to their basketball portfolio even if more recently the 49ers have struck more tin than rock in terms of hoops. (UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Charlotte would become an instant rivalry.)

But Charlotte would also offer a low-risk, high-reward situation for the CAA in football as well, offering a sort-of newcomer rival in Georgia State, not to mention Old Dominion. In addition, there's the TV market as well- Charlotte is a huge one, the 24th biggest in the entire US.

Once upon a time, Atlantic Ten basketball was seen as a prime destination for a mid-major basketball. But what about now? You can make a very strong argument that CAA basketball is every bit as good as Atlantic Ten basketball. (Hey, I did!)

What does the CAA have to lose, really? Temporary conference moves sometimes end up as permanent ones, and while the Charlotte consultants were gung-ho about FBS membership, the chancellor seems a lot warmer to the CAA vision of football than Conference USA.

If the end result of this tale is Charlotte joining the CAA in all sports - and Charlotte in FCS football for now and the forseeable future - it's Yeager which will have really gotten one over on the Big South and the SoCon.

And if it's part of a larger CAA move that includes Stony Brook in all sports as well? Mr. Yeager will have even more to celebrate - and Big South commisioner Kyle Kallender will have nobody but himself to blame. After all, he could just have easily had Charlotte as a football-only member.


Chris Beaver said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Beaver said…
great article, nice read and good job summing it all up!

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