Move to I-A Signals Progress

Last year I wrote an article for the Famuan on the possibility of FAMU athletic moving to Division I-A. The overwhelming response from several members of the athletic department, which at the time was run by Ken Riley, was the department did not have the money to run a I-A football program, and until they came up with it, no one should expect the move to happen.That was then.Now, the Rattlers are playing their final seasons as members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference before becoming Division I independents next yearSo what changed? Well, for starters, management.With no disrespect to Riley or his tenure as athletics director, what J.R.E. Lee, III, interim director, has accomplished in his 9-month tenure is phenomenal.In less than a year, Lee has added a women’s golf team to the array of sports FAMU has to offer. He has secured the largest television contract ever given to an HBCU-a five-year deal worth up to $24 million. He has also sped up the process of building a new basketball arena and renovating Bragg Stadium.Clearly, Lee has this program moving in a positive direction, and the rest of the department is hopping on board.Athletic department officials realized playing in a few classics and occasionally getting pummeled by a I-A powerhouse wasn’t going to be enough to attract top-notch recruits or get alumni and boosters to donate the big dollars this program needs.In short, it wasn’t going to be enough to take FAMU to the next level.The result was the biggest announcement in the history of FAMU sports. It came in a statement from the NCAA Reclassification Committee on July 21.”Florida A&M has been accepted to play football in Division I-A.”With that announcement, the Rattlers will begin their new journey into big-time college sports, starting next year. A journey that will be a lot of fun, and one that will affect not just the athletic teams, but the school as a whole for years to come.Who’s to say this move will or will not work? FAMU could quite possibly find itself in the same situation as Tulane did this summer, when they were contemplating moving back to I-AA because the school was losing money. Or the Rattlers could end up like Marshall, who won the Mid-American Conference in its first I-A season.As the first HBCU to have a football program in Division I-A, FAMU will be treading into untested waters. But, considering what the revamped athletic department has already done, I’d say Rattler sports are in pretty good hands.

Kevin Fair, 20, is a junior print journalism student from Fort Lauderdale. He is the Sports Editor for The Famuan. He can be reached at