Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Georgia Southern's move to Division I is questioned

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There was much rejoicing and glad-handing from the powers that be in Statesboro that Georgia Southern was movin’ on up in the on-going collegiate realignment carousel.

But not every Eagle eye sees the grass any greener in the Sun Belt Conference.

Pat Douglas – Georgia Southern’s “original runt” when the school reinstituted its football program in 1982 – isn’t so sure that his alma mater did the right thing in trading the “championship” for the “bowl” in college football’s Division I heirarchy.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Douglas, the former Aquinas star who was the only senior among 98 freshman on Erk Russell’s start-up team that quickly became a Division I-AA powerhouse with a record six national championships. “I haven’t been plugged-in real well as to why we’re doing this. I’ve got a hunch it’s why most people are moving around conferences these days – money. I just hate to think of ruining those longtime rivalries (in the Southern Conference). ... That’s good competition and it’s not like we’ve outgrown that conference. I just don’t know that Western Kentucky or Louisiana-Monroe or whoever is going to be that much better competition than what we’re playing now.”

Douglas’ hunch is correct. Georgia Southern sees moving up as an opportunity to present the school as a bigger player in the collegiate landscape by being the small fry in the BIG pond instead of the biggest fish in the I-AA pool.

“Our student-athletes deserve the opportunity to compete and perform on a national stage, and all of our academic people deserve to perform on a national stage as well,” said school president Brooks A. Keel. “This move helps us market the university and get the word out beyond the reaches of Statesboro and our region.”

“In 10 years, I see us competing for championships within the Sun Belt Conference,” said Tom Kleinlein, the director of athletics. “I see us being a nationally-recognized institution for athletics and academics because of the exposure this move will have given us.”

Show of hands, please, if you consider South Alabama or Western Kentucky as “nationally recognized” on par with Alabama or Kentucky due to their long-standing Sun Belt affiliations. Anyone?

Regardless, Georgia Southern joined Southern Conference rival Appalachian State in leaping to the Sun Belt this week. The league also added Western Athletic Conference orphans Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members. With 12 football members, league commissioner Karl Benson expressed interest in creating two divisions and having an annual conference championship game.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are likely to be fixed in the East Division with conference members Georgia State, Troy, South Alabama and Western Kentucky. The WAC newcomers will likely join Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State and Texas State (with non-football members Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington filling the slots in basketball season).

Georgia Southern opted to step up after 65 percent of current students voted to pay $75 a semester to support the move to a new level (the parents who pay had no say).

Those fees will be applied to a 6,300-seat addition to 18,000-seat Paulson Stadium and a new end zone football operations center.

Do administrators really believe those extra seats will be filled by fans more eager to see Troy and WKU than they were to see rivals Furman and Wofford?

Perhaps on Thursday or Friday nights to get on ESPNU?

“I just wonder do you get that much more notoriety or exposure playing on a Thursday night against a team that nobody around here knows anything about than you would playing for and perhaps winning the national championship in what I still call I-AA?” Douglas said.

Last December, Georgia Southern played host in the afternoon to Central Arkansas in a quarterfinal playoff game on the same day Georgia faced Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship in Atlanta. Only 8,888 fans showed up at Paulson for the playoff game.

“We filled up about half of the dad-gum stadium and it was embarrassing,” said Douglas.

“I don’t know if in this close proximity of Athens and Georgia Tech in Atlanta ... you just kind of wonder when are you going to oversaturate it?”

Douglas’ son, Denis, is currently a sophomore at Georgia Southern and was among the 35 percent who did not vote in favor of the fee and moving up in classification. His older brother, John, played football for Georgia Southern and his younger brother, Brendan, will join the roster at Georgia next season, but Denis is just a football fan.

“I hope it works out,” he said. “I love the Southern Conference and it’s all about tradition. Something new to me doesn’t sound that good to me. But all the students were really pumped up about it.”

The football tradition Georgia Southern gives up is competing for a national championship. Six times the Eagles have won the title. Each of the past two seasons under coach Jeff Monken they’ve reached the national semifinals.

The Sun Belt currently has two automatic bowl tie-ins – the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl played the week before Christmas and the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., played in January in the vicinity of the BCS Championship game. Last year it placed a record four teams in bowls with at-large invites to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.

While Georgia Southern will be eligible for the Sun Belt title in 2014, it won’t be bowl-eligible until the 2015 season. The Eagles will play their already established Southern Conference schedule this season but without any eligibility for the conference championship or the playoffs.

“I always liked competing for a national championship instead of not a very good bowl,” said Denis Douglas.

Now fans can aspire to attend a pre-Christmas trip to New Orleans and maybe an extra money game per year on the road against an SEC or ACC school looking to pad its non-conference slate with a “D-1” willing to travel.

“I love that school and love Statesboro and Coach Monken has done a tremendous job,” said Pat Douglas of the program he helped start.

“Shoot, I’m rooting them on all the way. We’ll continue to be on the bandwagon and support them 100 percent. I just kind of scratch my head.”

He’s not alone. We can only hope Georgia Southern did the right thing.

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Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/31/13 - 07:14 am
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A Good Move

Moving from FCS to FBS is a positive step. Times have changed with FBS teams drawing larger crowds and FCS teams drawing fewer fans exactly as noted in the story. GSU has always been about moving up since their restart of the football program. This is the logical next move. The FCS should only be a gas station on the way to the bigtime FBS. Savannah’s metro population and athletes can certainly support a FBS team. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Look at the schedule of another new member of the Sun Belt, New Mexico State. They play Minnesota, UTEP, San Diego St., Rice, Boston College and Idaho at HOME this year. On the road they play UCLA, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida Atlantic. Being a FBS program makes it possible.

Enlarge Paulson Stadium a little more and watch the sellouts happen with FBS teams. By joining the Sun Belt, GSU should have home games with New Mexico State, Idaho, Troy and the other schools every other year. Sweet.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 03/31/13 - 12:13 pm
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Some of the smaller...much

Some of the smaller...much smaller Div 1 teams MIGHT come to Paulson Stadium, but at 24,300 seats, it's not a lucrative arrangement. Not trying to rain of this parade...I think it's great for GSU...but there are economics involved with these programs.
And I think that GSU will be eventually be able to hang with these other teams in that conference. They will begin to attract even more talent. ESPNU? Thursday night games?? Yup! Take whatever you can get to put your name out there!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/31/13 - 06:44 pm
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They will get home games with

They will get home games with those in the conference meaning Idaho, New Mexico St, Troy and the others. Plus they can also get as many away big games as they want, now that they are FBS. With time, just as with New Mexico State, they can draw some big schools to Statesboro.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/01/13 - 10:50 am
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It now appears Western KY

It now appears Western KY will leave the Sun Belt and go to Conf-USA. So the Sunbelt needs one more. Liberty and James Madison are the ones being considered.

eagledown
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eagledown 04/01/13 - 12:15 pm
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With all due respect to Mr.

With all due respect to Mr. Douglas but he himself admitted in this article that he has not been "plugged in" to what is going on at Southern. And after reading this article, neither is the writer of it either. The landscape of college football is changing and if we didn't make the move that we made, we would've been left in the dust. The FBS is morphing; it's gaining a playoff system of it's own. In a few years, FCS football will not be what it is now and it does no good to be the Big Fish in the little pond when the pond has dried up. Erk Russell had a dream for this program to one day be able to compete with the Georgia's and Notre Dame's of the world. We can't do that in FCS. The writer even helps me make my own case in his expose. That Central Arkansas game you mentioned is a prime example. Go take a look at what we averaged in attendance this past year at home games; well over 20,000 people. Most of the students have to stand behind their section because there's not enough room. The attendance for that game was so low because of (a) what date it was on and (b) everybody knew we were going to kick the mess out of them any way. Look people who are clinging to the old saying that "well, here we can compete for a championship year in..." need to get on board and realize what's ahead of us. Poo-poo the Sun Belt all you want but the conference is a good fit both geographically and competition wise for where we are now. We can come into it now and be able to compete for a conference title and I shudder to think what Coach Monken will be able to do with 20+ more scholarships. Do you not realize that we have the opportunity to HOST the conference title game in Paulson if we handle our business next year. And in 2015 and beyond, a BCS birth awaits if we win the conference and can have a better record than one of the other at large conferences. Go ahead and let go of traveling to Fargo or some other frigid hole come next December. Look forward to the future potential the move offers. look forward to Georgia Southern continuing to do what we do best: running the ball and winning. Hail Southern! And have a wonderful day!

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 04/01/13 - 05:01 pm
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River, of course, you are

River, of course, you are right. Thanks for the correction! I don't know where my big head was...I think I was writing as if they were remaining in the old league, rather than moving up! It would help if I remembered to THINK, and then write!
I know my wife will think I'm crazy, but I would love to get to the point where we could go to Statesboro on Saturdays when Southern had a game and when Georgia was either off or out of town. We used to do that, but now we wouldn't know where to park or tailgate. Used to go to the big field behind the stadium, but that's not there anymore, is it?

jross1981
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jross1981 04/02/13 - 11:56 am
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So Now You Care About What We Do!?!

Scott, all of your concern about whether this is the right move or not for Georgia Southern rings a little disingenuous. The coverage of this fine university by both you and the Augusta Chronicle has been lackluster at best since I've started reading the Chronicle. A quick search of your own website shows that besides one sentence blurbs in your weekly "educated guesses" on college football matchups that this is the first article you've written dedicated solely to Georgia Southern. The Chronicle's coverage is no better, with everything but the area's national signing day stories being written by the Associated Press.

And here lies a telling example of why we should make the move to the FBS. Georgia Southern is 80 miles from Augusta (actually 10 miles closer than UGA), has a sizable alumni population in the area, regularly recruits talented athletes from the area, and is a consistent winner at its level of competition; and yet the best the area newspaper can muster are articles pulled off of the AP wire and one article that boils down to "Ehhh... Maybe you're better off where you're at". My point in this isn't that Georgia Southern should receive coverage on par with UGA; but with the strong connections to Augusta that Georgia Southern has we deserve better than we've been getting. It's obvious that you and the Chronicle (along with many other publications) feel that the FCS subdivision doesn't warrant dedicated coverage, so what's the use in us staying in it? You speak of national championships, but that is what athletes strive for, not athletic departments. Athletic departments strive for public interest, which generates cash inflows. And being in FCS isn't getting it done.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/02/13 - 05:46 pm
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I waited and waited for a

I waited and waited for a story about Ga Southern moving up. I posted a couple of comments wondering why there was no story. Afterall, there had been a press conference. A couple of days later we get this negative piece. I don't get it either. Did the Chronicle not even send a reporter to Statesboro for the press conference?

85GaSoEagle
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85GaSoEagle 04/04/13 - 02:35 pm
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Georgia Southern opted to

Georgia Southern opted to step up after 65 percent of current students voted to pay $75 a semester to support the move to a new level (the parents who pay had no say).

See what's possible when you have a captive audience and a PR department?

I'm supporting my school, but this is an ego move by the president, that's far from a no-brainer. See the NY Times piece on the perils of FCS schools moving to FBS. I also resent that president Brooks Keel says he "respects" those who disagree with this, but then in the same breath dismisses them as "afraid."

kaplony
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kaplony 04/05/13 - 01:16 am
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The thing that should tell most this article is misinformed...

....is the fact that it it titled "Georgia Southern's move to Division I is questioned"

How long has Georgia Southern been DI again?

Maybe instead of panning the movement of GSU to DI-FCS, the author should educate himself on who is and isn't actually NCAA DI schools.

Personally, I find it hard to agree with an opinion of a writer who obviously is less informed than I am.

Stick to ugag fanboy pieces and quit embarrassing yourself on real news articles Scott.

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