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April 13, 2014

BEARKAT ATHLETICS — Sam Houston State has long way to go before jump to FBS is realistic

HUNTSVILLE — When Texas State began looking at making the jump from the Football Championship Subdivision to the more lucrative Football Bowl Subdivision about 15 years ago, it opened eyes at Sam Houston State as well.

Being an FCS school, formerly Division I-AA, has always been a branding issue for the Bearkats in wanting to be viewed as a bona fide Division I program.

With the Bobcats being in the same Texas State University System, it made sense for the Bearkats to explore their options to see what it would take to put themselves in a similar position, athletic director Bobby Williams said.

Texas State joined the Sun Belt Conference in the 2013-14 academic year after initially joining the now-defunct Western Athletic Conference in 2012.

“When we changed and branded the FBS and FCS, I think it was good thing, but also with television dollars, conferences changing and moving, it all came down to schools’ perception of who they were playing with,” Williams said. “It’s impacted movement and it’s mainly driven by football, television and football perception. Whether we like it or not, the perception of who you are is based on where you’re playing football.”

Williams recalled being on a leadership council group several years ago while listening to a speech by Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim and other prominent basketball coaches refer to their respective institutions as FBS schools.

It struck Williams because these weren’t programs from “one-bid leagues,” rather the mainstays of the NCAA Tournament that didn’t appear to need the FBS branding.

“Who dreamed the mid-major up?” Williams asked. “Do we want to become I-AA basketball? We don’t. Everybody cheers for the mid-major and the team that comes out of the mid-major and that’s the great story, but what does it do for you? You become a I-AA program, so to speak.”

Funding, facilities and FCS supremacy

Ever since those conversations by Texas State from the late 90s, Sam Houston State has focused on dominating the Southland Conference and becoming an FCS power.

There were some shining moments before the back-to-back national championship appearances in 2011 and ’12 (FCS playoff appearances in ’01 and ’04; NCAA basketball tournament berths in ‘03 and ’10), but a feasibility study from four years ago showed the Kats needed to improve facilities as well as become a perennial contender in the Southland and FCS.

Sam Houston still needs to increase its athletic budget before moving up is realistic.

Even with the increase in enrollment in the last four years, which amounts to more athletic fees paid by students, Sam Houston would need about $7 million more in its annual budget to compete in the Sun Belt Conference and $70 million in athletic facilities, Williams said.

It would take even more to compete in Conference USA, somewhere around $15 million more in the annual budget and $100 million in facilities, the athletic department has projected.

“We’ve been successful in spite of our financial situation. We’ve never let that hold us back,” Williams said. “We wanted to make football good and consistent. You want to keep improving yourself. If we’re good, then we make ourselves more visible and attractive.”

The Sun Belt is looking to possibly add a 12th football school as a travel partner for conference newcomer Appalachian State. The league is expected to make a decision by June 1.

Schools reportedly under consideration are Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Liberty and James Madison.

 

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