Aside from financing the move to Division I-A, FAMU’s biggest challenge will be getting into a conference.
“As of right now, we don’t know what conference we’re planning on going into,” said interim athletic director J.R.E. Lee III. “Conference USA and the Sun Belt very well could be two options considered but we don’t know as of right now.”
Tradition is one of the main things that allow a football school to remain independent and successful. It helps with scheduling games against key opponents, establishing a strong fan base and attracting more recruits.
FAMU is in the process of upgrading its facilities to accommodate more people and to give athletes better resources. The final stadium is expected to hold over 40,000 fans and the new arena is supposed to be state-of-the-art. However until those buildings are complete, most schools will likely prefer playing at home over traveling to Tallahassee.
Furthermore, with the new NCAA rule taking effect next season, all I-A schools must have five home games against I-A competition. Being in a conference allows for certain guaranteed games.
In order for this move to be successful, fans must be willing to pay more for tickets, and to travel to locations farther than Atlanta or Orlando. For example, Conference USA includes schools as far away as Wisconsin.
Should the team join C-USA, the basketball program will have to compete with Top 25 powerhouses like Marquette, Cincinnati, and DePaul. The volleyball team will also have intense competition against teams like No. 22 Louisville.
“They haven’t really told me what conference we’re going into,” said women’s head basketball coach Debra Clark. “All we’re focusing on is this season and then when they make the decision they’ll let us know.”
Moving to a new conference will affect all sports. The basketball and volleyball teams have been playing top Division I opponents for a while, so the transition may be a little easier for them. In fact, men’s basketball coach Mike Gillespie has scheduled at least three games against top opponents this season.
When FAMU does move to its new conference, it may be leaving behind some things held dear to the heart of the campus.
For many, the appeal of watching Oklahoma’s marching band as opposed to Jackson State’s Sonic Boom would not be the same.
The vendors selling assorted FAMU apparel along Wahnish Way may have to end their businesses. The NCAA has a license that protects the selling of team gear to ensure outside sources aren’t earning revenue the school should be reaping.
“I don’t think we should have gone [to Division I-A],” said Eric Polite a freshman architecture student from Atlanta. “The schools we played before were fun and now we’ll be playing predominantly white schools.”
FAMU has two years to become compliant with all of the rules and regulations set forth by the NCAA. So the final decision of what conference they will join will not be made any time soon. For right now, the team is simply trying to get through this year.
While FAMU was in the MEAC, it was the conference champ over 30 times since 1937. The school also won 13 national titles.
Lee says FAMU should not have any trouble getting into a conference. “The odds of us being accepted to whatever conference we do decide to go into are very high because Florida A&M has so much to offer.”
Dominique Drake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org