The shakeup of college football conferences has produced a domino effect that could help FAMU in a big way. That is, if we act quickly enough.
A big decision in our move to Division 1-A involves conference affiliation. Conference USA, the Sun Belt Conference and football independence are the three main options.
While considering this decision, it is important not to sell ourselves short. FAMU brings to the table a football program with strong tradition, a recruiting presence in Florida, our own television contract and a proven attendance draw in the Marching 100.
Conference USA is the best choice. It fits us geographically, has five financially lucrative bowl game bids and competitive teams. It could also use our help.
C-USA may be losing Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East. Army is also leaving the conference. Thus, C-USA will need to replace these football programs for its own survival.
FAMU will have to make a move soon. According to ESPN.com, C-USA is already in negotiations to bring in Southern Methodist, Rice and Tulsa. Assuming all three join, FAMU’s addition would give C-USA 12 teams in 2005 and the ability to host a revenue generating conference championship game.
FAMU already exceeds the attendance requirements of 1-A, but to fill the soon-to-be expanded Bragg Stadium, it would be wise to play regional rivals. Both University of Southern Florida in Tampa and University of Alabama-Birmingham are in Conference USA.
It’s conceivable that it will not work and we will be looking for other options. In that case, we must play as an independent because it must be said: FAMU is too good for the Sun Belt.
Joining them would clearly defeat the purpose of moving to 1-A. We can schedule four home games on our own.
The Sun Belt desperately needs FAMU. However, we would get next-to-nothing in return. NCAA attendance figures show Sun Belt teams averaged 13,126 fans for home games in 2002. FAMU attracts 20,000 to home games and 70,000 to Atlanta and Orlando classics.
Furthermore, the Sun Belt is a bad fit for us geographically with teams like New Mexico State and Utah State. Competitively, they only get one bowl bid. Conference USA actually sends its fifth place team to play the Sun Belt champion. That clearly shows the difference in level of play.
FAMU could join the Sun Belt and dominate immediately, but we’d be better off scheduling them as homecoming opponents and playing Troy State annually as a regional rival.
In my own perfect world, FAMU would be in an eight team conference with the other black schools that could conceivably make the jump to 1-A: Southern, Grambling, Jackson State, Tennessee State, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, and Alabama State. I’d call it the Big League Athletic Conference.
But as always, FAMU is the leader among HBCUs, and it is up to us to show them the way. Until that day, it’s Conference USA all the way.
Hakimu Davidson, 23, is a graduate MBA student from Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.