If Georgia Southern wants to upgrade to the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, it won’t happen in the next four years.
The NCAA has effectively sealed off D-I to new members – and halted any movement between its subdivisions – for a four-year period, according to an announcement made last week. The decision, which became effective immediately, was approved by the Division I Board of Directors, the highest governance body in Division I comprised of 18 campus presidents and chancellors representing the division’s athletic conferences.
The announcement put a damper on the hopes of numerous Georgia Southern fans pushing for the Eagles to move to the FBS through the grassroots movement SouthernFACTS.org. GSU is currently a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, D-I’s lower tier previously named I-AA.
Georgia Southern president Dr. Bruce Grube is on the Division I Board of Directors through 2009 and was the only member to vote against the membership moratorium. He refused comment for this story, replying in an email that he doesn’t “do sports interviews.”
University of Georgia president Michael Adams, Clemson University president James Barker and Winthrop University president Anthony DiGiorgio, who also sit on the board, all spoke openly about the moratorium. Concerned by D-I’s rapid growth, they felt it was necessary to “pause to look at long-term implications,” Adams said.
According to a September 2006 report released by the NCAA, 99 institutions have joined D-I since 1976, 44 since 1990 and six since 2000. There are currently 331 D-I schools, and the new rule won’t affect the 23 schools currently in the process of joining the D-I ranks.
“The reality is that Division I has become a very popular destination,” DiGiorgio said. “When everybody looked around, there were a growing (number) of institutions that wanted to come into Division I. We felt the judicious and wise thing to do was to recognize the interest in Division I and take a careful look at where we are, what the future needs to hold and make some decisions beyond that.”
While Georgia Southern officials never have announced publicly any formal plans to move the football program up, many Eagle fans have seen former I-AA rivals Marshall and Troy, among others, join I-A and wanted at least consideration of a similar move. Now it appears that option is closed for four years or longer.
Clemson’s Barker, the chairman of the board, said the four-year process will include establishing a study group to “discuss the current standards that apply to Division I membership both for institutions and conferences. There are not many requirements in regard to conference membership.”
The four-year timetable will provide ample time to study, propose and enact methods to manage the influx of new NCAA institutions in all divisions, he said.
Georgia’s Adams said there’s no way to know right now if D-I membership requirements will change when the four-period ends in August 2011, but DiGiorgio said there’s a possibility they could.
“We don’t have goals already determined that we want to get to over the four years,” DiGiorgio said. “I think what we want to do is make sure that Division I remains solid, that if there continues to be a migration process that it’s thoughtful and takes the institution’s best interest into account as well as the interest of conferences and the NCAA. That’s a very complex set of relationships.”
Aside from potential changes in membership requirements, is it possible to foresee what will happen to the D-I landscape at the end of the four-year period?
No, said Adams.
DiGiorgio agrees but thinks there will be a clearer sense where D-I stands and the numerous implications of its continued growth including championships, automatic bids, conferences and migration among them.
“There are a whole set of interrelated things, and explosive growth could have just overtaken the situation,” DiGiorgio said, adding that Division I is following the lead of Divisions II and III, which have recently taken considerable time to perform similar studies.
DiGiorgio said the board had a healthy discussion prior to voting on the moratorium and there wasn’t any significant opposition to it.
“It may not be a perfect solution to the circumstances and there may be some nuances, but it’s an important thing to do for Division I so (we decided to) go ahead and do it now,” he said. “Now is the best time to take a step back and look at it for everybody’s well-being.”