In 1973, the National Collegiate Athletic Association separated all of the nation’s colleges and universities that contain athletic programs into three divisions. In football, Division I is split into two subdivisions, Division I-A and Division I-AA.
Division I-AA is all that FAMU has ever known. Since entering the division in 1977 FAMU has become one of its top schools. In recent years, the Rattlers have excelled in the division as well as in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winning the MEAC title in four out of the last seven years, and making the postseason every year during that same stretch. Since 1995 the team has posted a 55-19 record (.743 winning percentage), and the offense has been outstanding, averaging 35.9 points per game.
The numbers suggest that FAMU may be talented enough to compete with some of the top teams in the country. So what’s holding the Rattlers back from making the jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A?
“That famous five-letter word- money,” Assistant Athletics
Director Alvin Hollins said. “It would just cost (the Athletics Department) too much money.”
There are two qualifications set by the NCAA in order to become a Division I-A football school. The school must have a stadium that seats at least 30,000 people and the average attendance at home games must be higher than 17,000. Although FAMU averaged 19,088 people per home game last year, Bragg Memorial Stadium only seats 25,500, which is 4,500 seats short of the NCAA requirement.
“There are a lot of things that go into moving to Division I-A,” Hollins said. “We would have to expand the stadium’s seating capacity to 30,000 as well as expand the number of scholarships we offer from 65 to 85. We had to cut our spending this year by ten percent, so we’re in no position to add expenses.”
Hollins also said that the NCAA’s Title IX Gender Equity rule is playing a factor.
The Title IX rule states that in order for a university to be eligible to athletically compete in any division the university must offer an equal amount of scholarships to men and women. Because a football team is twice as large as any other athletic team and because football is only offered as a men’s sport, the Athletics Department would have to compensate for the extra 20 scholarships given to the football team by giving out 20 more scholarships to women, which would probably result in creating another women’s sport.
One of the things that need to happen in order for FAMU to jump to the top division is that the school would need to be guaranteed that they would join a conference, says Hollins. Since 1990, 14 teams have moved from I-AA to I-A. Of those 14 teams, 11 of them have found a home in a conference. Five teams have grouped together to form their own conference, with the addition of two existing Division I-A teams. Four other teams have joined mid-major conferences, including Conference USA, the Western Athletic Conference and the Mid-American Conference. Six of the teams had a winning record last year, and two went to bowl games (Marshall and North Texas).
“I think FAMU should worry about winning a I-AA championship before making the jump to I-A,” said Michael Morton, 19, a mechanical engineering student from Fort Lauderdale.
In 1984, discussions were taking place about FAMU making the jump to Division I-A, when the university and the MEAC parted ways due to scheduling conflicts. Although the talks never got serious, and FAMU eventually rejoined the conference in 1987, the idea of moving up stayed on the minds of many people in the Athletics Department. Toward the beginning of the 1990s, FAMU, along with many other historically black schools, talked about joining together to form a ‘superconference,’ as Hollins termed it, to make the jump to I-A, but that didn’t work out.
“If FAMU did move to I-A, this would be the way to go. That way, they can be in a division with teams they are used to playing,” said Chad Douglas, 18, a business student from Tampa.
Another option that might enhance FAMU’s chances of joining I-A is if the team played several high-quality opponents. When FAMU plays teams such as Miami and the University of Florida (which they will play next season), those schools pay FAMU. This guaranteed money would help the Athletic Department’s budget, but the down side is that the team’s record would most likely suffer, and some people feel that a football team with a losing record may be unappealing.
“Losing for several years in a row would turn any school off, students and alumni,” said Travis Williams, 19, a business student from Fort Lauderdale.
Even though many people would like to see FAMU a part of big time college football, it doesn’t look like the school is ready to make the jump just yet.
“Would I like to see FAMU in Division I-A? Sure. I think we could do well against a lot of teams in time,” Hollins said. “Do I think it will happen? Not anytime soon. Definitely not in the next five years.”