FCS Identity Crisis
FARGO, N.D. (AP) – Football is the only NCAA Division I sport that is divided into two levels, the one that fills 100,000-seat stadiums and the one that gets no respect.
Representatives from colleges in the second subdivision aren’t sure how to fix it.
“Quite frankly, our level of football continues to have an identity crisis,” said Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
For years, this group of schools was in what was known as Division I-AA, a moniker that became a sore spot with coaches from other sports. To them, AA was not OK.
So in 2006, the top tier was renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision and the second level was labeled the Football Championship Subdivision. There are 120 FBS teams, which play in bowl games and are allowed 85 scholarship players. The 122 FCS schools decide a champion through a 20-team playoff format and are limited to 63 scholarship players.
The move to the FBS and FCS monikers has cured some heartburn for baseball and basketball coaches, but it has led to more stammer than glamour for the teams in what was formerly known as I-AA.
“To be honest, Football Championship Subdivision is a mouthful, and it doesn’t make the case for our Division I stature really much better than the I-AA moniker did,” Viverito said. “We’ve tried to fix this for years. It’s a dilemma.”
Six years after the switch to FCS, the NCAA is funding a rebranding initiative that could lead to a new moniker. NCAA officials are not revealing the cost of the plan, nor do they want to end the suspense by releasing a recently completed consultant’s report.
But it’s about more than just a name, NCAA spokesman Damani Leech said.
“There’s other things related to branding. There’s the strategy behind it. There’s the actual messages,” Leech said. “It’s more than just what you call yourselves, but it’s what you say about yourself and how you talk about yourself.”
A group of NCAA staff, college presidents, conference commissioners, coaches and athletic directors is working on details for a brand rollout in 2013, to coincide with the FCS increasing its playoff bracket from 20 to 24 teams.
Some have suggested dumping all subtitles and playing under plain old Division I, but that probably wouldn’t impress anyone, said John Iamarino, commissioner of the Southern Conference.
“The reality is, there’s going to be a label used somewhere to differentiate between the Nebraskas of the world and the Woffords and Georgia Southerns of the world,” he said. “It is a case of do we want to control the label or not.”
Even so, Iamarino believes the subdivision should be careful about changing monikers again so quickly because he fears even more confusion.
“I almost think we just ought to grit our teeth and work a little harder and make FCS work,” he said.
Coach Craig Bohl of North Dakota State calls himself “an old I-AA guy” and said he just recently became accustomed to the FCS label. Trent Miles of Indiana State isn’t there yet.
“I call it I-AA, just because I’m old school and I get confused sometimes,” Miles joked.
Bohl’s Bison know all about a lack of respect. Their championship banner for winning last season’s FCS title was mistakenly mailed to the University of North Dakota.
Regardless of the moniker, subdivision leaders believe there’s much to sell, beginning with good football at a reasonable price. More than a dozen FCS players were drafted by NFL teams in 2012, led by Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick, who went to the St. Louis Rams to start the second round.
Iamarino said football at the FCS level encourages community involvement. Fans can take ownership of their team with access to players before and after the game, which is rare at bigger schools.
“We’ve got a model here with our football that is kind of more in line with what mainstream America thinks about when they think about college athletics,” Iamarino said.