After Erk Russell left Georgia to bring back football at Georgia Southern, the program’s success helped the Statesboro, Ga., school to grow. The university is now going back to football as an anchor for more growth.
Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein visited Augusta on Wednesday to spread the word and answer questions from the area’s supporters about the school’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, which will take place in 2014.
Georgia Southern announced in March that it was making the transition to the highest level of collegiate athletics. All athletic programs, except soccer, would play in the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2014, and the football team would be eligible for a bowl game as soon as 2015.
Soccer will likely partner with a different conference, which hasn’t been announced yet.
Since the announcement, the move has been met with a mixed response. But Kleinlein said Wednesday that it’s about more than just the ability to play football at a higher level.
“Our goal and mission of what we do in the athletics department is to grow our university,” said Kleinlein, who is in his second year as athletic director after holding an assistant athletic director position at Kent State. “Our job is to get people interested in Georgia Southern University through the games we play and competitions we have and stories we tell. Now, we’re able to do that on a stage we’ve never been able to before.”
As part of the move, Georgia Southern is expanding Paulson Stadium to add 6,300 seats and build a new football operations center. The side of the stadium opposite the press box will add an upper deck. The operations center will include an expanded weight room inside and a miniature turf field for children outside.
Kleinlein said the timetable for completing the expansion is close to being on time after experiencing a wet summer. They remain on track for finishing in late June or July.
He said the move will increase the athletics budget and the number of scholarships. It also led to the addition of a women’s rifle team to fulfill women’s scholarship numbers.
Another key to the move for growth of the athletics and university is the additional revenue gained by scheduling and exposure. Kleinlein said the football game against Florida this season will guarantee the program $500,000. Next year, as an FBS program, the Eagles will play Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Navy, and revenue will be $1.9 million. Advertising could grow with the reality of possible national broadcasts.
“Why do you make the move? You make the move because, when we went to Georgia last year and played as an FCS school, we got paid $300,000,” he explained. “Buffalo got paid $900,000 as an FBS school. There is a value to an FBS moniker that goes in front of your name.”