Football Championship Subdivision watchful about departures, 'money games'

Football Championship Subdivision watchful about departures, 'money games'

July 10th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sportscollege

UTC athletic director David Blackburn

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

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The Football Championship Subdivision heads into the 2013 season with at least some measure of uncertainty about what will happen in the years to come, much of which is beyond any of its institutions' control.

On the positive side, the FCS playoffs will expand this season from 20 to 24 teams, opening the door for more postseason opportunities. The expansion increases the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's chances of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1984 -- the Mocs' only appearance.

On the negative side, the FCS is losing some schools, including two of its dominant programs in Appalachian State and Georgia Southern -- nine national championships between them -- who are leaving the Southern Conference after this season. Old Dominion, a playoff quarterfinalist in 2012, also is moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision like App State and Georgia Southern.

Not only are some FCS schools moving up to the FBS, but the opportunity for FCS schools to earn big paychecks by playing teams from the NCAA's top Division I level could be in jeopardy down the road.

The Big Ten is moving toward a nine-game league schedule and has discussed eliminating games against FCS teams, in part to increase the members' strength of schedule. The Southeastern Conference also has discussed going to a nine-game schedule, something Alabama coach Nick Saban -- who has won three of the last four national championships -- strongly supports. Not many FCS teams in the Southeast play Big Ten opponents, but plenty play SEC and ACC teams.

UTC is scheduled to visit Alabama in November, Tennessee in 2014 and Florida State in 2015. According to athletic director David Blackburn, UTC is negotiating with Alabama for another game in 2016.

"My fear is if they do the nine-game schedule it will hurt the teams in the FCS," Blackburn said last month. "I think no matter what happens, there's still going to be a market and a want-to for those schools to play an FCS opponent."

Blackburn said it likely will help UTC get those games if the Mocs continue to improve and become a "sexier" opponent.

UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson, whose Skyhawks open their season at UTC on Aug. 29, are playing two FBS teams this season and two next season. UT-Martin is working on redoing part of its stadium, and the guarantee games are helping finance the renovations.

"I can't go and raise the money that those guarantee games can pay," said Simpson, a former UTC offensive coordinator. "You've got to play one to pay the bills and you play the second one if you've got some projects in mind.

"For us [guarantee games are] invaluable, and I don't know what would happen if those games went away."

Western Carolina is playing Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech and Auburn this fall -- for one reason. In a Q&A post on the Catamounts' website Tuesday, WCU athletic director Randy Eaton said, "The simple answer is money."

The Atlantic Coast Conference has said that it plans to keep playing FCS teams, and the SEC will for at least the next few years. That's one of many developments to watch in the months and years ahead. Among the others are the player stipend debate, which could reappear, and more conference movement, which has shaken up nearly every league in Division I.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.