In an announcement that would completely change the face of FAMU sports, interim athletics director J.R.E. Lee made public what he had been quietly planning for a while.
FAMU was going to apply to the NCAA for Division I-A football status.
“This was a move that I felt should’ve happened a long time ago,” Lee said. “I’ve always known since I first got here that Florida A&M has all the necessary tools to move this program up the highest level of competition.”
After the board of trustees voted in favor of the move, Lee sent the request to the NCAA. On July 21, FAMU was given a favorable response, allowing the Rattlers to proceed as a I-A team.
This means FAMU is currently considered a member of I-A, making it the 118th institution and the first HBCU in I-A history.
“We [FAMU] are not accustomed to following,” Lee said. “We’re accustomed to leading, to being in the forefront.
FAMU has been placed on a two-year probationary period, during which time it must take the necessary steps to meet the requirements of being a I-A school. Among some of the major requirements, FAMU must have a stadium that seats more than 30,000 people (currently Bragg Stadium seats 25,500). The Rattlers must also schedule no less than five home games annually, or four home games and one neutral site game, which has to average over 17,000 fans per game.
The NCAA’s decision to allow FAMU to operate now as a I-A school is significant. In the 90’s, when a school would be accepted into I-A, the move would not take place until the following year.
“The most significant changes will take place next year, when we add the extra scholarships and coaches, and start working on the facilities,” assistant athletic director Alvin Hollins said.
The football team must also add three new assistant coaches and a recruiting coordinator.
Also, the Rattlers must add 20 football scholarships to the 65 the team currently gives out.
In addition to the move, FAMU also made big news during the summer by announcing a five-year, $7.5 million television deal with the Urban Broadcasting Company.
Last year, then-athletic director Ken Riley insisted there wasn’t enough money for FAMU to make the jump. But the television contract, in addition to other potential resources, “puts FAMU in the right direction,” Lee says.
“You’ll see how much of a fallacy [reports that FAMU didn’t have enough money for I-A] was,” added assistant athletic director Al McCoy.”
In 1984, discussions were taking place about FAMU making the jump to I-A, when the university and the MEAC parted ways due to scheduling conflicts.
Although the talks never got serious, the idea of moving up stayed on the minds of many people in the school.
This year, the idea has turned into reality. FAMU is in Division I-A.
“It’s not our athletes’ fault that they’re not on television, or getting drafted number high [in their respective sports], Lee said. “It’s our fault.
“Well, I’m going to change all of that.”
Kevin Fair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org