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Friday, May 25, 2012

Appalachian, GaSo Better Look Before They Leap

And so we have entered the latest round of "Pop Goes the Weasel" in college football.

The Big 12 is chasing the ACC.  Florida State is chasing the Big 12.  Clemson is hiding in the bushes waiting to see what Florida State does.  The Big East is chasing anyone with a football team.  The SEC and Big 12 are racing for football dominance, and perhaps forming a not-so-secret secret alliance to get it.

It's getting to be a Pepe Le Pew cartoon, only we're pretty sure that there are multiple skunks and very few innocent cats who had unfortunate encounters with white paint.  Maybe the cat is Notre Dame, being chased by everyone while trying to maintain its chastity as an independent and feigning the illusion that they are above all this money-grubbing and back-stabbing.

They're also pretending to be relevant enough to be above this feeding frenzy, but that's a different column.

The real losers in all of this are going to be the likes of Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Troy, BYU, and others in the "mid-major" category that unofficially exists in college football.  And if they're not careful, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be losers as well.

The Mountaineers and Eagles are in the "No Man's Land" of college football.  They're too big to be in FCS (the artist formerly known as 1-AA).  They have dominated that division, and they really can't continue to "grow" their athletic programs if they stay put.  Appalachian fans have already begun to develop a bit of apathy towards the division.  How can you help that after you beat Michigan in the big house?

At the same time, they have to make a huge financial investment to risk moving up with the "big boys" in FBS (1-A).  While they may reap huge financial benefits, they will be relegated to Tuesday night games on ESPNU and no realistic hope of winning a national title.

All indications are that AppSt and GaSo are movin' on up.  But it is a difficult decision to make.

Now, the decision is becoming even more difficult.  At some time in the future, we are going to see a "Big 64" in college football.  Or perhaps 65, if the imaginary pole cat that is Notre Dame keeps getting away.

When that happens, the Gravy Train to the MAC, Conference USA, etc. will come to an end.  The true title contenders will swallow up the pie that is now cut for those schools.  There will still be money, but it won't be nearly the "cash cow" of the past.

Will the money be big enough to make the move worth it?  Is it reasonable to expect fans to come out for that big trip to Detroit or Shrevport in late December?  Or will the NCAA actually create a three-tier championship that will give teams like the Mountaineers and Eagles a chance to win a title?

Either way, these are huge and uncertain risks for any school considering a jump up to FBS.  I do not envy at all the administrations at Appalachian or Georgia Southern as they consider all this.  What was once a "no brainer" from a financial standpoint now seems as uncertain as ever.

If these two teams leave the Southern Conference, it will create a brief sigh of relief for Furman, Wofford, etc.  Their departure would give permanent FCS members in the SoCon a more realistic shot at a conference title.  But it would also weaken the conference overall and may actually hurt the Conference's chances to win a National Championship.

A lot hinges on what Appalachian and Georgia Southern decide to do.  Most of all, the future of their athletic departments and all things tied to them are at stake.  Before they join the race around the Mulberry Bush, they better thing long and hard about whether or not it's worth the chase for the big bags of cash.  Because those bags may not actually be there.

No, I wouldn't want to be at the top of any athletic department faced with making this decision in the current college football climate.  It will be a shame if Appalachian State and Georgia Southern join the chase, only to realize that what they caught really was a skunk.

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