As new football programs sprout up all over the Atlantic Sun Conference, the league is trying to figure out a way to keep its football-playing members in the fold.
The A-Sun is looking into the possibility of sponsoring football, as half of its current membership either has or is adding the sport in the near future.
It could give East Tennessee State another option as it tries to figure out its future conference affiliation in light of having scholarship football returning in time for the 2015 season.
“It’s a topic of conversation,” A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. “It’s something we’re definitely considering. Our commitment is to make sure we provide every avenue that’s possible.
“I’m confident we’ll have multiple options for accommodating those that want to play scholarship football. As the participation from members of the A-Sun continues to grow, we’d be foolish if we didn’t pursue every opportunity to accommodate those interested in football.”
ETSU has reportedly been in serious talks with several leagues, including the Southern Conference and Ohio Valley Conference.
Kennesaw State will also begin playing scholarship football in 2015, having just hired a head coach, and is said to be eyeing the SoCon as well.
SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino, whose league is losing football powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State next year, recently said he would like to keep a presence in Georgia, leading to speculation that Kennesaw State is headed there.
A-Sun members North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast have looked into adding football as well. FGCU decided against it a while back, while UNF announced Thursday that it will not start a team.
Meanwhile, Mercer and Stetson have new football programs that will play in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League this fall. They’ll join Jacksonville, giving the A-Sun three Pioneer League members.
The Pioneer is one of two Football Championship Subdivision leagues — the Ivy is the other — not to offer athletic scholarships. Interestingly enough, the PFL will receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs for the first time this year. The playoffs have been expanded from 20 teams to 24.
“I think everybody, very honestly, is wisely keeping all options open,” Gumbart said. “I think that the options available to folks will grow with some patience, and we’re hoping to look at some new ways of accommodating those needs. Rather than just business as usual, we’re looking at being creative. Opportunity is what it’s about for student athletes, for institutions, for conferences. The interest in football continues to grow.”
Having some A-Sun football schools combine with the Big South Conference for football has been discussed. The Big South had seven members playing football last year.
“We could partner with someone,” Gumbart said. “Those things are out there. The Colonial has A-10 and Atlantic East schools.
“I don’t know where all that is going to come out. There’s a lot going on. Maybe there will be another program added. New people could decide to play. Non-scholarship schools could go scholarship. There are a lot of dynamics. The next few months will be full of investigation, exploration and discussion.”