After seven months of consideration, a study committee at Appalachian State has recommended that the school move up to a conference that plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Chancellor Kenneth Peacock will now take the research and form a recommendation of his own for the Board of Trustees. Where the Mountaineers might go to play FBS football, and when, remains unclear.
What is clear, if officials move forward with the plans, is that App State will be leaving the Southern Conference. And that could create an opportunity down the road for East Tennessee State, with or without a football program.
“We’ve looked at all this and had informal conversations,” said ETSU athletic director Dave Mullins earlier this week. “We run into commissioners and ADs at all the meetings we go to, and there’s always talk about what may happen in a year or two years or five years. We just have to continue to monitor it.”
ETSU, of course, spent 25 years in the SoCon before dropping football in 2003 and heading to the Atlantic Sun Conference. App State was already talking about stepping up in football back then, and three national championships since have only added fuel to the fire.
Mullins wasn’t surprised to hear that there’s now an official course of action afoot in Boone.
“It’s something they’ve talked about for a long time,” he said. “They’ve done something pretty unique in FCS football — create a great environment. I kind of compare it in a way to what Marshall did 10 to 15 years ago. They were winning nationals championships out of the Southern Conference, and that created a tremendous community support base.
“In football, Appalachian State may be ready to make that next move; I don’t know about their other sports. We’ll see how it works out. It’s a huge jump — a lot more than just an upset of Michigan — and you’ve got to have the resources to do it, day in and day out, year after year. Marshall, when they made their move, they had some early success, but that has tailed off.”
App State is nestled in an idyllic mountain setting, in a town of about 17,000 people. The school’s enrollment is comparable.
The report released Monday said it would take about another $6 million annually “for its teams to be viable in an FBS conference.” Raising funds and matching up all the numbers in a compatible conference is the tricky part.
“Geographically they’re a little bit isolated,” said Mullins. “They’re in the South, but some of the good mid-major conferences like the MAC are in the North. The Sun Belt is spread all over the country. Conference USA is a lot of money and spread all over.
“I’m not saying it can’t happen there, but it’s just a different ballgame. You have to have the resources and get in a conference that works for you.”
How well the Atlantic Sun works for ETSU has been a subject of some debate. The Southern was, in most ways that matter, a better fit.
Without App State, the SoCon may go looking for another football school. And with a new president coming in the first of next year, ETSU may decide it wants to revive football and could conceivably go back the future.
If not, the SoCon also has three members that don’t field scholarship football teams — College of Charleston, North Carolina-Greensboro and Davidson. ETSU could be the fourth.
• While the football season is about to kick off elsewhere, the fall menu here features men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball. All three teams will be in action this weekend.
The cross country season begins next week.
“I think everybody is energized,” said Mullins. “We’ve got a lot of new student-athletes coming in who are very excited about their careers. Everybody else comes back with a renewed sense of optimism.”
The Lady Bucs play their home opener in soccer tonight against Tennessee Tech. Match time is 7 o’clock at Summers-Taylor Stadium.
The Lady Bucs started their season with a 2-1 loss at Wofford last week, while Tech was losing to Chattanooga and Belmont.
Both teams are young — ETSU has nine freshmen and Tech has 11 — and the Lady Bucs also have a new head coach, Adam Sayers. He wants to see a little sharper play early tonight.
“From a psychological standpoint, we want to make sure that we’re focused and fully prepared from the very first whistle,” said Sayers. “We conceded a goal with less than two minutes on the clock last week.”
• The ETSU men open their season at home Saturday at 6 against Presbyterian.
The defending A-Sun champs’ only competition in the preseason came at Virginia two weeks ago. They led the 22ndranked Cavaliers 2-1 when rain interrupted play on that Friday night; Virginia came back the next day and scored the only goal in what altogether amounted to 118 minutes of action.
• Volleyball, meanwhile, is in Greensboro for a season-opening tournament at UNCG.
The Lady Bucs’ first opponent is Evansville at 3 o’clock today, with a second match set for 7 against the host team. Their opponents Saturday will be North Carolina A&T and Coastal Carolina.
ETSU is coming off a 26-9 campaign, its winningest season since 1978.