Philadelphia, PA – The FCS-to-FBS door was never fully shut and it's threatening to fly wide open.
When the University of Montana passed last fall on the opportunity to leave the Big Sky Conference for the Western Athletic Conference, it seemed conference realignment might begin to calm across the FCS, with other schools seeing one of its football powers deciding not to move up to the FBS.
But Georgia Southern's fundraising campaign to make such a move possible and Old Dominion's reported opportunity to join Conference USA has amped up the nervous feelings again for conference and school decision makers. They don't want to be left holding an empty bag, perhaps in the way FBS members Idaho and New Mexico State seemingly find themselves as perhaps the only football- playing schools in the WAC by next year.
In the overall scheme of things, only a small percentage of FCS schools are making the move to the FBS, or will make it eventually. The question is, will it be the wrong mix for the FCS?
The $3 million to $4 million increase in annual expenses that it appears to take an institution to move its football program to the FBS is too much of a deterrent for most FCS schools, let alone that playing in the FBS might not be part of their overall mission.
Still, the prospect of moving to the big time and the big bucks available from conference television packages make it oh-so-enticing to schools. It's why so many FCS schools, such as Jacksonville State, James Madison and Liberty, maybe even reigning FCS champion North Dakota State, are viewed as candidates for future moves.
Massachusetts, Texas State, USTA and South Alabama are making the move to the FBS this season, and Georgia State announced last month that it will follow next year. It's one thing for the FCS to lose programs that aren't national players at this point (although Massachusetts won the 1998 national championship and is a two-time national runner-up). But if, say, recent national champions Appalachian State and Villanova make what appear to be likely jumps to the FBS, and are joined by the most-successful program in FCS history, Georgia Southern, and other rising programs like ODU, the level of FCS football will suffer greatly.
The key for the FCS may be for the influential Colonial Athletic Association not to have too many defections. It's a conference in which basketball decisions matter as much as football - a rarity across the national landscape. Georgia State is gone (although the CAA hardly knew the Panthers) and now Old Dominion could be beating George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, which don't have football programs and are being wooed by the Atlantic 10, to the punch with a potential move.
If Villanova is then picked off by the Big East, the hands of other schools such as James Madison, Delaware and Richmond might be forced into protecting their long-term interests with an FCS-to-FBS move.
It remains a scary, dizzying, uncertain time for all.
Yet as the FCS schools have pushed for playoff expansion from 20 to 24 teams for 2013, they also have made it a point with the NCAA that they seek the governing body's support with improved marketing across the nation.
It's ironic that as college football is in an ugly period of conference realignment in which it's every school for itself, the solution for the FCS just might be for conference members to band together and strengthen their football commitment.
And to close that door.