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NCAA Should Stop Sun Belt's Madness Of Taking Schools Unqualified For FBS

Coastal Carolina is nuts.

The Sun Belt is crazy.

These will not be among the official statements you will be reading today in regards to Coastal Carolina's whirlwind acceptance of their athletic program into the Sun Belt.

The Sun Belt did not make this decision because Coastal Carolina was the most qualified candidate.  They were not convinced by an impressive attendance number or a plan of action that stated exactly how the Chanticleers were going to be able to pay for an expensive, permanent upgrade to the costs and expenses of FBS football.

They picked them because they were in the right place, and were willing to go.

And that's precisely why someone at the NCAA needs to put a stop to the the madness that is the current structure for drafting FBS teams.

Coastal Carolina is a fine school.

I started following their football program in 2004, about a year after they first sponsored FCS football for the first time.  At the time their program was a year old, and doing extremely well on the field, going 10-1 under then-coach David Bennett with a light, transitional year schedule.

It was fun to see them compete in Big South football against Charleston Southern, where a mini-rivalry was born in the conference until a more white-hot all sports rivalry with Liberty was formed.

It was great to see the story of them taking a chance on a former Fortune 500 CEO, Joe Moglia, and having him build a smallish FCS program into one that took semi-permanent residence in the Top 25 over the last couple of years.

Their field, Brooks Stadium, looks and feels like a beautiful, prototypical FCS-level venue.  Recently, they replaced their old turf with teal turf, an idea, frankly, that is pretty cool and in keeping with a multitude of other FCS and FBS schools that have done so, like Boise State, Central Arkansas, and Eastern Washington.

What Brooks Stadium does not say is, "We're ready for FBS play today."

Brooks Stadium looks like a quaint, pretty place to watch a game, with the listed capacity is 9,214 fans.

This is where Coastal Carolina fails the first eye test in regards to their overall viability as an FBS program.

NCAA Bylaw states that an FBS school needs to "average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football contests over a rolling two-year period."

Not only is it impossible for Coastal Carolina to meet this requirement today, it will require at a bare minimum tens of millions of dollars to expand Brooks Stadium to come close.

As a part of the announcement from the Sun Belt today that Coastal Carolina was going to join the conference in most sports in 2016 and football in 2018, a prerequisite was that the current stadium be expanded to a number that at least allows it a fighting change to meet the 15,000 rolling average.

Brooks stadium reportedly was originally made to be "expandable" to 20,000 capacity, but looking at the picture it's hard to see where the room is going to come from for stands, parking, and everything else.

In order to meet the NCAA's minimum standards, the expansion has to essentially start the second Coastal Carolina's season ends and completed in time for the 2016 season.  They will then need to average more than 15,000 fans over the 2016 and 2017 seasons in order to have the first proof that they can actually work as an FBS school - competing with a transitional FBS schedule.

Chanticleer football attendance was actually something Moglia actually addressed when the rumors of the Sun Belt's interest in Coastal was first reported.

“Whenever I’m asked about only the football piece, I said I think this is a business decision so it’s a matter of what’s going on in the market,” Moglia mentioned to The Sun News. “So if we’ve got standing room only and a waiting line for tickets, it clearly tells us we’re probably supposed to start expansion. Now, while we’ve done a good job of getting reasonable crowds, we don’t have standing room only and we don’t have waiting lines for tickets. So from a business perspective, I think you’d want to see that type of demand, but that’s only football. And football, while it certainly matters, is only a piece of the overall landscape that Dr. DeCenzo’s got to look at.”

Coach Moglia went on the record and says he hasn't seen the sort of ticket demand to warrant sponsoring FBS football just yet.  Isn't that a concern before thinking about sponsoring FBS football?

Does this meet anyone's eye test as a potential FBS school?

"While Coastal Carolina’s total enrollment was up to 9,976 students as of last fall,"  Ryan Young of The Sun News reported back in July, "five full-fledged Sun Belt members boast enrollments of at least 20,000 students, according to the most recent available data provided by the schools. Those are Texas State (more than 36,000), Texas-Arlington (34,870), George State (32,000), Georgia Southern (20,517) and Troy (20,000)."

9,976 undergraduate student enrollment is not a deal-breaker for FBS membership - after all, it is greater than the enrollment at Notre Dame (8,609 in 2010), TCU (7,988) and Stanford (8,080).

However, upon entering the Sun Belt, they will become the second-smallest public institution in all of FBS, not including Army and Navy.  Only fellow Sun Belt member Louisiana-Monroe (8,632) is tinier.

Do such small state schools really belong in a football subdivision with a school like Ohio State, which boasts 45,000 undergraduates?

As a part of their Big South membership, the Chanticleers made a decision to offer full cost of attendance only for men's and women's basketball, a yearly expense that was estimated at $140,000 per year more for those two sports alone.

However, it seems reasonable to assume that there will be considerable pressure on Coastal right out of the box to offer full cost of attendance right from the beginning, a move that UL-Monroe already reportedly wants to do.  They estimated the cost for them to be an additional $1.2 million a year, and that number is likely higher for the Chanticleers.

The plan for paying for these new expenses and financing a multi-million stadium upgrade - well, where is it?

Highly unusual for a move to FBS, the university did not commission an external review of feasibility for a move to FBS, instead doing all that analysis internally.

The last two moves into the Sun Belt, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, had those, as well as UMass and most planned FBS transitions.

Liberty's Williams Stadium
It may very well be that Coastal Carolina has the financial wherewithal to be able to afford all these things, though James Madison's stadium upgrade to get Bridgeforth Stadium to a capacity of 25,000 fans cost the school more than $62 million dollars.  At Liberty, where Williams Stadium has a listed capacity of about 20,000, Phase 1 of a 3 phase rollout cost $22 million.

Where is the layout Coastal Carolina's new expenses?  Where is the promise that student fees will not be raised?  Where were the specifics on how much will be financed by fans and donors, and how much endowment money might be required?

What's the plan?  Shouldn't there be a plan?

Let's cut to the chase.  Coastal Carolina is not an FBS-ready school right now.  Period.

They could be in a few years, with a lot of ground work to build the fan base, expand the stadium, find the money to fully fund 85 scholarships, fully fund full cost of attendance, and have sufficient proof that they have enough fans to meet the published minimum FBS requirements.

There's nothing to say that Coastal Carolina won't be able to eventually be a school that will work in FBS.

But where's the proof?

The road to FBS is littered with nightmare stories of good intentions and feel-good stories of hopes and dreams.

Take UMass, who went to FBS with a dreamy but ill-conceived plan of renting out Gillette stadium for home games and retroactively building an FBS-ready stadium later.  Currently they will be competing in the MAC for the final time this season, entering an independent schedule in 2016 that highlights their struggle to keep their heads above water.  Next season, they will only have five home games next season, with Wagner (of the FCS), UConn, Ole Miss, Tulane and Lousiana Tech as home opponents.

Georgia State Football at the Georgia Dome
Georgia State, Coastal Carolina's new conferencemate, has also had a lot of documented struggles as they've gone from a start-up program to transitioning to an FBS program.  Playing in the cavernous Georgia Dome with one singular win in the last two years, the Panthers' problems in football attendance and viability have sort-of become the stuff of legend, probably best described by the money drop promotion they had to try in order to get fans.

I'm not saying that Coastal Carolina is going to be Georgia State or UMass.  One the other hand, how do we know they're not?

This is why the NCAA needs to put a stop to this insanity.

Literally the only reason Coastal Carolina can sponsor FBS football is that they managed to secure an invite from an existing FBS conference (the Sun Belt).

They didn't need to meet any minimum requirements, didn't need to demonstrate any viability, and didn't even need to present a financial plan of action.  All they needed were a bunch of dreams, desire and a ticket from an existing conference.

Sun Belt athletic departments resemble in no way shape or form the ACC, Pac 12, Big 10, and other big-time conferences that make up FBS.  In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, people wonder whether the ACC champion will win the nation title.  In regards to the Sun Belt, hardcore basketball fans wonder whether their champion will be a 14 seed or playing in the PIG.

But they are an "existing FBS conference", so they have invites to hand out.

There was no survey taken that demonstrates decisively that the town of Conway, South Carolina is so enamored by FBS football that they will be able to support having a program there.

James Madison's Bridgeforth Stadium
Additionally, Coastal Carolina enter into FBS as the second-smallest public school, indicating the likelihood of it being an uphill battle.

Coastal Carolina today has infrastructure that demonstrably cannot meet even the basic NCAA FBS requirements for attendance.  The amount of money that this will require, conservatively, is tens of millions of dollars.

Additionally, recurring costs of more than $2 million extra a year - and that's an extremely conservative number - will need to be financed.  How?

The reason they were offered an invitation was that the Sun Belt needed somebody, and they were offered the spot without a true due dilligence being performed.

No financial numbers were revealed in the Sun Belt's release today.  Why?  Because they haven't been defined.  Not a single dollar amount has been made public.

Who knows how much the final bill will be for Coastal Carolina donors, trustees, and most importantly, students?  Nobody knows, except, ostensibly, the folks in Coastal Carolina's financial department.

UMass Football at Gillette Stadium
Shouldn't some sort of independent verification of the financials be a part of FBS membership?  After all, as head coach Joe Moglia knows, when a Fortune 500 company is acquired by another there has to be independent verification that their financial numbers are sound.

There is no such requirement that a prospective athletic department is capable of managing the new expenses and responsibilities, and there should be.

There are multiple other schools currently competing at the FCS level that do have the capability of competing and possible thriving at the FBS level.  They already average attendance past the FBS two-year minimum rolling requirement, and have infrastructure in place that can support an average greater than 15,000 fans.  Some even have committed to offering full cost of attendance towards all sports, and have budgeted this in their 2015 budgets.

They have demonstrated on multiple levels that they can work as FBS schools, yet it was a start-up with an immense amount of work to do that was picked instead.

Coastal Carolina is currently competing at FCS.  That's where they should be competing while they decide whether the FCS level continues to be right for them.  If they want to explore becoming an FBS program by expanding the stadium and paying the increased costs, they can do that while competing as an FCS program.  That is how it should work.

Instead, the invite is everything - the only prerequisite you need.

That's a recipe for more UMass' and Georgia State's.

It should not be enough to accept a school for FBS membership simply because there's a conference that wants a championship game.  There should be full financial transparency and at a bare minimum a review of the plan from a 3rd party unaffiliated with the university.

The NCAA should sign off on the viability of a school sponsoring FBS football instead of simply cheering on schools and letting them fail.

Until the NCAA enters the 21st century and puts some real rules in place to demonstrate FBS feasibility, it's the only way that this insanity of accepting unqualified FBS candidates will end.


Anonymous said…
oh yeah? well, a NATIONAL championship and 2 sports sun belt titles later, Coastal has established itself an FBS school. get over it

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